Chase Jarvis is an award-winning artist, entrepreneur, and one of the most influential photographers of the past decade.
He has created campaigns for Apple, Nike, Red Bull and others, was a contributor to the Pulitzer-winning New York Times story “Snowfall,” and earned an Emmy nomination for his documentary Portrait of a City. He also created “Best Camera”—the first photo app to share images to social networks, and is the founder of CreativeLive, where more than 10 million students learn photography, video, design, music and business from the world’s top creators and entrepreneurs.
In addition to everything else, he has a new book: Creative Calling: Establish a Daily Practice, Infuse Your World with Meaning, and Succeed in Work + Life.
Chase Jarvis argues that creativity isn’t a skill—it’s a habit available to everyone, and through small, daily actions we can supercharge our creativity and rediscover our personal power in life.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Chase about happiness, habits, and creativity.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Chase: I’m a huge advocate for cold therapy. I’ve got a cold-plunge pool at home, but a cold shower works, too. However I’m feeling when I roll out of bed, cold water leaves my endorphins pumping and my mind clear. It’s better than a cup of coffee. Mood and energy and self-care in general are a huge and under-appreciated part of creativity. We can be the most talented whatever in the world and making stuff can still be mentally, spiritually, even physically demanding. You need gas in the tank. Grit your teeth, crank that faucet, and step into a new day.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Being happy is simple, but not easy. You have to figure out what your creativity is calling you to do and then follow that path no matter where it leads. Anything less leads to a life full of regret.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
You can’t begin to change a habit until you’ve figured out which of your habits don’t serve you. For example, I used to pride myself on being able to function with very little sleep. I thought it was a special skill to be able to spend four or five hours in bed and then spend sixteen or more hours on a grueling photo shoot. Couldn’t have been more wrong. Just because I could function on insufficient sleep didn’t mean I could bring my best self to my work.
Once I figured that out, I started to prioritize sleep. I use a daily habit tracker so I know how many hours of sleep I get each night. I don’t always hit my 7 hour goal, but it is a practice and I now know that good sleep makes a dramatic impact on my effectiveness and my quality of life. Plenty of good, deep sleep is essential for everyone. I don’t care what anyone says or that so-and-so only needed three hours a night. You want to make good work, learn about sleep hygiene and develop good sleep habits. The real special skill is learning to sleep well.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
I’m a Rebel, which makes a lot of sense to me. I’ve felt the pull to do things my way all my life, and I didn’t really feel like I’d found my place in the world until I learned to listen to that pull, not fight it.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
I’m the CEO of CreativeLive in addition to being a creative artist and now an author. The demands of my role are far and away the biggest obstacle to keeping my habits intact and taking care of myself. I’ve had to do a lot of work to figure out how much of what I do is truly important and effective. For example, I used to fly back and forth between my home in Seattle and CreativeLive’s San Francisco office on a regular basis. Some of that travel was necessary and some really wasn’t. The key was finding the right balance, so now I travel some of the time and Skype into meetings when that will work and guess what? The world didn’t end.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
I loved my grandfather very much. When I was in my twenties and still unsure of my path, he died suddenly and unexpectedly. Without a doubt, his death hit me like a bolt of lightning. When I learned he’d left his collection of cameras to me, I decided to take them to Europe with my girlfriend (now wife) Kate and try my hand at photography. That ended up being a decision that changed the course of my life.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
Yeah, some people say ‘fake it till you make it’ but I like to say make it till you make it. Faking doesn’t do anything for anybody. Making is how you grow, how you change your situation and how you add meaning to your life.
Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?
I went to graduate school for philosophy, where I first encountered books like Heidegger’s Being and Time and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Not saying I agreed with everything these guys had to say, but philosophy in general opened my mind to new modes of thinking, new possibilities.
In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?
Yeah, the idea that artists make art all day and then the cream just rises to the top. No. Making and sharing the work only represents half of the time you put in to your creative calling. Artists need a community of fellow artists for support and a community of fans to receive the work and provide feedback. Community takes time and energy to build and maintain, and the work of maintaining your community, of giving and giving and giving to it without expecting anything in return, that never ends no matter how successful you get. The people at the top are the ones who figured this out before they were famous.