More To That

An illustrated, long-form blog that delves deeper into the things that make us who we are.

The Inner Compass

You may not know this, but I was a professional musician for a number of years. In my mid-20s, I was certain that this was the path for me, so I quit my stable finance job after saving up enough to pursue music full-time.

Throughout my time as a musician, I made a lot of beats, but I also found myself doing something that I didn’t anticipate. Rather than making beats day-in and day-out, I was spending much of my time trying to get my music heard. I was submitting my music to blogs, trying to collaborate with popular artists, and finding ways to distribute my work through labels.

To put it simply, I was investing a lot of energy into fulfilling my desire to be validated by others.

The reality is that if I redirected that effort into the music itself, that would’ve increased the chances for it to be heard. If I took more time to improve the quality of my art, then these improvements would’ve been the gateway to reaching more ears.

However, the reason I didn’t do that was simple: I didn’t believe in myself. That’s it, really. Because if I did, then I would’ve put more energy into discovering what my potential was. I would’ve looked inward and challenged my creative abilities to make something that stretched the boundaries of what I already knew. But since I didn’t trust my commitment to this craft, I attempted to outsource that commitment to others in the hopes that they would elevate my music for me.

This resulted in a lot of questionable habits that crept in over time. I was hanging out with folks that weren’t bad, but weren’t the best people either. I was drinking more than I wanted to, perhaps as a way of dealing with my discontentment. I was dragging myself to the computer to make my beat for the day, doing it more out of obligation than love.

Yet I refused to refer to myself as anything but a musician, primarily because I didn’t know what else I’d be.

There’s nothing more dangerous than believing that your passion is a virtue. Because when that happens, you’ve deceived yourself into equating your passion with something that’s inherently good, and you’ll neglect the signs that may be showing you otherwise. In the case of my music, I made the mistake of believing that this was the way I’d express myself to the world. That music was what made me a creative person, and that without it, I would cease to be the person I felt like I should be.

But I became increasingly disillusioned with my relationship to the craft, as I couldn’t ignore how I was treating it as a vehicle for external validation rather than as an instrument of inner growth.

And it was here where I embarked on a project that changed many things for me.

In a quest to reorient my relationship with music, I decided to make music everyday for 60 days (and post my result each day). The goal of this project wasn’t to be heard; it was to do it for its own sake. It was ambitious, but that’s exactly what I needed at the time.

In addition to the day’s beat, I also added something that I felt would be fun. I was going to publish one or two paragraphs of text that described how I felt while making the beat, which would introduce another dimension to my creativity. After all, making instrumental music does a decent job at conveying emotions to a listener, but does a terrible job at communicating an idea to them. So I thought that writing would be a good way to bridge the gap.

Well, the good news was that I created music everyday for 60 days. The disappointing news was that the writing part only lasted for 2 of those days.1

But here’s the thing. Those 2 days were enough to show me that there was something interesting about this craft. I enjoyed writing those paragraphs for those first 2 beats, but just didn’t have the energy to continue doing so after hours of making a beat each night (this was also on top of a full-time finance job that I took later in my twenties). Regardless, the seed was planted that I liked sharing ideas through my words, and that this was an avenue worth exploring.

After initially publishing my ideas on a Medium blog for 2 years or so, I decided to start a new project called More To That. I wanted to combine my love for philosophy with my childlike curiosity, and use the synthesis of the two to create illustrated pieces that made philosophy accessible.

This was a new creative endeavor, and I realized just how much I cared for it. But this time around, I made a conscious effort to not go about it like I did with my music. Although my relationship with music was revitalized after the 60 days project, I had no intention of starting More To That in the same way that I did with my music. To put it succinctly, I wanted to use my inner compass as the guide for this endeavor, and shut off the thirst for external validation as a result.

My goal wasn’t for my pieces to go viral by being strategic about how I was going to distribute it. No, I was going to focus on the quality of the work itself, and devote my energy into becoming a better writer throughout. I was going to leverage the hard-earned lessons from my time as a musician, and to be much more mindful of how I treated my time as a writer and illustrator.

To give you an idea of how this looked in practice, I created four big posts before I published a single one. They were Knowledge Is Not a Thing, A Framework for Knowledge, Travel Is No Cure for the Mind, and another one called The Human Paradox which I’ve never published anywhere (maybe I’ll share it one day). Each one took me anywhere between 100 – 120 hours to do, and keep in mind this was before I knew if anyone would read them. All I cared about was that I enjoyed making them, and that I was learning so much about myself in the process. Through this period, I learned that writing and illustrating was something I really can spend hours and hours doing, without expecting any particular result. This was such a different way of thinking from my time as a musician, and it was immensely liberating. My inner compass would now be my guide, and nothing else.

Well, fast forward 5 years, and More To That has turned into something I didn’t imagine it being when I started. It’s now my full-time job, and I can confidently state that there is an audience for my work.

But through it all, I’ve stuck to my commitment of that inner compass. I don’t do SEO, I don’t thirst for other creators to share my work, and I don’t have some grand social media strategy to grow my audience. What I focus on is the art itself, and have everything else come as a byproduct of that.

Now, if there’s one undeniable fact about human beings, it’s that we are social animals. We depend on one another in all sorts of ways, and this is a beautiful part of our nature.

But at the same time – you and me, me and you – cannot be alike. This is true not just from a biological perspective, but also from a psychological one. No two people share the same genetic code or the exact set of personality traits that make them autonomous agents navigating this world.

The way I see it, there are certain things you should depend on others for. Your relationship with people is what develops your sense of trust. You can only learn compassion by being in communion with others. There are many virtues that cannot exist outside a shared, collective humanity.

But there are certain things that you have to cultivate within the bounds of your own mind. Not because you’re withdrawing from the world, but because you need to figure out what it means to be uniquely you. How can you know yourself when you didn’t choose yourself? You didn’t choose your genes or your consciousness, so the journey of self-exploration starts by figuring out all that was given to you.

And for most of us, the starting point of this journey will be the one of self-worth. We all start as creatures of imitation, and if we never take the time to explore the depths of who we are, this is the route we stay on until the day we perish. But if you know that self-worth can be cultivated independent of what others say or think about you, then your existence will continually be validated by the timbre of your own voice.

Self-reliance is about believing in your intuition and acting upon your curiosity. That’s it. And once you’ve committed yourself to this, the inner compass requires no other guide.


If you enjoyed this post, consider joining the More To That newsletter. You’ll be notified when a new post is up, and will get access to personal reflections that you won’t find anywhere else.

As a welcome gift, I will send you a 10-page ebook called How to Discover Great Ideas, and a pack of colorful wallpapers for your phone.

If you want to learn how to write posts like the one I shared above, check out The Examined Writer. It’s 3 hours of self-paced material, all designed to elevate your writing practice.
If you’d like to support the many hours that go into making these posts, you can do so at my Patreon page here.


For three more stories and reflections of this nature:

The Arc of the Practical Creator

The Problem of What Others Think

Make Classics, Not Content

"How do you find your ideas?"

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