We often hear the expression “carving out” a niche in corporate board rooms and career conversations.
On my recent trip to Himalayan monastery, I saw artists, surrounded by all kinds of tools and chisels, carving out beautiful designs from blocks of wood.
This got me thinking on what it really means to ‘carve out’ anything – whether it is a business strategy or a career or life itself, for that matter.
At its core, “carving out” is a way to “carve in” and elimination is at the heart of it. Unless we don’t eliminate everything that does not engage our heart and mind, we will not carve out something unique. How often do we question what we do and stop doing things that we do only to remain compliant with expectations of the outside world?
“The soul grows by subtraction, not addition.”
– Henry David Thoreau
If you are carving out according to a pre-determined formula, you will carve out things that every one else is carving out (which is fine if that’s your goal). At the heart of shaping our unique strategy, career or life is our underlying need to express who we truly are. And our need to express ourselves can be as unique as we ourselves are (unless we start thinking that we are not). So, when it comes to carving out, we have to first connect with our deeper motivations and then work inside-out. Most people however look for formulas to succeed and take an outside-in approach.
“None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
In actual wood carving, one wrong stroke of chisel can change the shape of creation. But the process of carving out in real world has to be guided by trial and errors. We are seldom handed over our gifts. Just like natural resources buried deep under the ground, our gifts as human beings are buried deep under. It takes a lot of intention, iterations, trials and failures to identify what all truly lights up our heart.
In the end, it is about focusing on possibilities. You can treat things as a simple dead block of wood or as a possibility. Everyone faces constraints and roadblocks but focusing on possibilities means to ask, “What can I still do? What’s still possible?”
Because the art of carving out starts from envisioning possibilities and ends with bringing those possibilities to life.