When the Pope asked Michelangelo how he knew what to cut away when he was sculpting the statue of David, Michelangelo reportedly answered “Simple. I just chipped away everything that didn’t look like David.”
There are two kinds of processes that artists use when making their art. The first, used by Michelangelo when sculpting David, was a Subtractive Process. You start with something—a block of marble or a hunk of wood—and you slowly chisel, carve and otherwise remove bits of that something until what you’re left with is the finished product.
The other process is an Additive Process. There you start with nothing—a blank canvas, a hunk of clay, an empty lot—and then you paint, shape, mold or build until you have the finished product. Think Van Gogh, Alberto Giacometti or Frank Lloyd Wright.
To create the life you want in retirement you need to use both the Additive and Subtractive Processes.
You need to channel your inner Michelangelo and remove everything that doesn’t look like the life you want. You need to make the “Stop Doing” list that I’ve talked about here many times before and then begin to chip away, purge, streamline and simplify.
At the same time, you need to figure out what you really want out of this life and start adding, shaping and building. What will you do? How will you pay for it? Who needs to be there? What skills do you need? You have a blank canvas. Paint a Rembrandt. You have an empty lot. Build Fallingwater.
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” ~Michelangelo