“The daily grind.” The phrase describes monotony, yet it also captures how too many Americans exist: We wake up, slog off to the workplace, and detach—for eight hours becoming an extension of will, a means to another’s ends—before returning home to do it all over again tomorrow. Society loves cogs, rewarding those who click into slots with minimal friction, yet we often take this mentality to an extreme. We become addicted to grinding for grinding’s sake, to pursuing ends even when we hate the means, to seeking external validation at the expense of internal validation. Is it any wonder we’re so miserable? In The Spark and the Grind, Erik Wahl describes how he managed to escape the grind after his business came tumbling down, growing into a creative mindset that, while not devoid of grind, was fueled by sparks.
On its face, Wahl’s book focuses on creativity—on how fusing “the spark” to “the grind” yields optimal creativity. But it’s also about life, because creativity is at the core of a well-lived life. Wahl asks: What’s the best way to approach the world? To live? His answer is deceptively simple: The best way to live is to live. In offering this solution, Wahl is not asking you to revolutionize your activities so much as to revolutionize your approach. As Robert Frost observed, the “play’s the thing”; by defamilizarizing the ordinary and “staying foolish,” one cultivates insights—”sparks”—without abandoning routine’s grind, which Wahl acknowledges as a necessary anchor.
Wahl wants you to rediscover inner play, thereby realizing how even a slightly-tweaked outlook can go a long way in making even the most mundane tasks novel. By embracing the daily grind in a more open way, your mind generates new ideas, making you both more effective and more creative. This interplay of spark and grind fuels more than just your creative sense. By approaching familiar things in unfamiliar ways, one discovers that creativity is not contradictory but complementary to discipline; one discovers new insights that transform work, relationships, creative endeavors, and—ultimately—life. For stagnation’s antithesis is change, and change requires rediscovery, which necessitates approaching life with a fresh—creative—mindset.
In The Spark and the Grind, Wahl is offering a way to unlock the nascent power of creativity, yes, but he is also offering a way to unlock life’s treasures—to experience again the wonder you felt as a child at what you now take for granted. His observations are relevant to anyone with a pulse.
Whether you’re sitting in a cramped cubicle plugging numbers into a spreadsheet or editing the manuscript to your novel for the seventh time, try Wahl’s approach: Infuse some spark into your grind. Plunge into your work and be present, and you will develop new insights that will touch every aspect of your life. Sometimes life is objectively mundane, yes, but more often we are the greatest barrier to our own happiness. Stop trying to exert so much control; control yields a tepid existence. Try the braver path. Try the freer path.