Using negative space to figure out what you want

Written by Sol Orwell

If you’re interested in art, you’ll know of the concept of negative space – instead of drawing the subject itself, you draw the space around the subject to help bring the subject to focus.

By drawing around the object, you help bring clarity to it.

Note how the area around the plane is what is ‘drawn’ in

The infamous vase/two faces image is an excellent example of it – without explicitly drawing the vase in the middle, the negative space created by the two faces looking at each other helps bring focus to the vase itself.

Negative space is interesting because it brings a level of abstraction.

You can also start doing some cool stuff:

I love this example

We can apply this level of abstraction to ourselves.

What is your negative space?

Usually, when someone asks you to describe someone else, you talk about they’re for. Likes. Interests. Actions. Keywords that describe an individual.

What if we did the opposite?

Instead of defining what someone is for, why not define what they are not for. What they are against. Whatever is left (the negative space) is what someone is for.

Instead of defining what you are for, define what you are against. Then whatever is left is what you are for.

This may seem redundant, but at times it can be harder to define what matters; by defining what doesn’t matter (or is not of interest) helps us hone in on what does matter.

Addition by subtraction

Instead of being for something, figure out what you are against. What remains is what you are “for.”

Knowing what you don’t want

The most recurrent question I get is “what do you want? What are you working on?”

My reply is circuitous – I tell you what I’m not interested in working on. What I don’t want to do.

What don’t I want?

  • More responsibilities (having actual employees is enough responsibility for me)
  • The feeling that I owe someone. In any way
  • eFame / publicity (thus my disdain for how most people operate within social media; also why I don’t have Instagram)
  • Attend events – I’d rather bring people together on my own
  • Listen to audio or video messages (seriously, I always reply with a “Sol doesn’t do video”)
  • Receive freebies (an extension of ‘owing someone’ – more on that later)
  • A complicated life

You might read the above, and think “good grief, Sol is a particular kind of asshole.”

And you’d be 100% correct. As part of my culling mindset, I’m not here to make you happy; that’s your job, not mine! I’m focused on making myself happy; on making my life enjoyable.

Know what you don’t want, and embrace it wholeheartedly. If someone doesn’t like it – fuck them; you’re living your life, not the one they think you should.

My policy

One of the downsides of having an audience is people always want to send you stuff.

(Talk about #firstworldproblems meets #lookatme).

“Umm that sounds awesome” you may be thinking. But consider the why behind it: there’s usually a desire/motivation behind it (a hope that the receiving person will promote said book/product/course/whatever).

(I’m definitely not saying it’s always true. But it’s true enough times…)

There’s a certain level of quid-pro-quo that I don’t ever want to be involved in.

So, to make my life easy, I made a policy page.

My policy page outlines who I am – I’m Sol, and I am Switzerland. When people ask me for my address, I just send them a link to that page.

I won’t promote your stuff.

I won’t be an affiliate.

I won’t share your stuff.

I won’t even give a testimonial.

I don’t want your book as a gift. As a friend, I’m going to buy it because I want to support your work!

I do what I do because I want to, not because of any kind of obligation or expectation.

(This is why I’m so particular about SJO being an outlet for me, not some kind of tool for me to sell consulting or coaching).

Every time someone asks me for something (my address, a testimonial, affiliate deal, etc) I just send them to that link.

There’s no confusion. There’s no negotiation. It’s who I am, for better or for worse.

And if someone doesn’t like it? Not a problem – remember, one is not here to impress others.

If you’re struggling to figure out who you are, try the opposite. Fill out the negative space, and let that guide you.

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