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Issue 169: Rage and anger as creative fuel
Anger is one of the many emotions human beings go through. Even with other emotions that are perceived as “negative,” anger is complex because of the nature of the aggression. Bad things happen when anger is not kept in check, which is why it is naturally depicted as a fiery red. Like fire, when anger is controlled in a proper manner, a lot of positive things can come out of it. Fire can destroy, but it can nurture, support, and accelerate.
Phil Jackson, the man who coached Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant to a total of 11 NBA titles as a coach, talks a lot about how the ability to take negative energy and turn it into something powerful is what makes great players. The ability to make sense of negative energy and frustrations to limit distraction and turn it into a positive outcome applies to any profession. Let’s look at the benefits and how you can embrace controlled fury.
Focus is a source of power
When my brother and I were growing up, our parents signed us up for Tae Kwon Do, a Korean martial arts style focused on direct kicking and punching. One of the techniques we learned was the kihap, the shout a fighter makes when performing a move. Ki generally translates to "energy or life force" and Hup means "coordinate, gather, and concentrate." The purpose of the kiup is to increase power through proper breathing, increasing confidence, and intimidation. In order to earn a higher ranked belt, you’d have to perform a test. One of the tests was breaking wooden boards with a certain punch or kick. I was always terrified of this; constantly afraid of being unable tobreak the board or accidentally kicking the fingers of the board holders (never happened!). Every time I took a deep breath, channeled my emotions, and let out a yell as I executed a punch, the board broke. The way I viewed it, the act of the kihap was emotion transformed into a physical force.
In 2011, Matthew Vaughn rebooted a struggling X-Men movie franchise with X-Men: First Class. It’s one of my favorite comic book films and there is a scene that reminds me of controlled fury. In this scene, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) are training at the mansion. Charles tells Erik to use his mutant powers to turn the giant satellite in the distance towards them. He can’t do it. Charles says to him, "I believe that true focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity."
Charles reads Erik’s mind and revisits memories of pain and joy. Upon another attempt, Erik channels his emotions and successfully moves the satellite with a joyous success of achievement.
Creating an alter ego
In the book "The Alter Ego Effect," author Todd Herman explores concepts of having an alter ego to enhance performance. The book covers examples of high performers who channeled their emotions (often rage and anger) into a productive way. Beyonce turned into Sasha Fierce during her performances and Kobe Bryant became the Black Mamba on the basketball court. Even the nerdly neighbor in Family Matters, Steve Urkel, transforms Stefan Urquel (clearly a reference to The Nutty Professor).
I’m not a believer in bringing your whole self to work, not because of what you might think. I view my work as a profession and craft. My preference is to separate my personal life from it. Bringing your own Black Mamba to work allows you to focus on what needs to get done. The workplace can be similar to the gym where you come with a specific purpose—channeling all the emotions into a positive output.
For builders of software, it sounds ridiculous to channel energy like what I mentioned above into drawing rectangles in Figma or writing lines of code; not the same transformation as breaking a board. It’s more allowing the focus in thinking; allowing you to do deep work at a high level.
Rage as creative fuel
"The fire that burns brightest in the Raider organization is the will to win." —Al Davis
Making and building are therapeutic activities for me. I channel my rage and anger into creating something. This could be a story or poem, artwork, or a piece of software. Controlled fury is the fuel to your creative ambition.