Kurt Vonnegut’s Powerful Advice For Life: How to Grow Your Soul


Kurt Vonnegut

Back in 2006, a group of students at Xavier High School were given an assignment from their English teacher. They were asked to write to their favorite authors and ask him or her to visit the school. Five of those students chose Kurt Vonnegut. He was the only author to write back.

Because he was 84 at the time, he said he was too old to make public appearances, even describing himself at one point as an old geezer and resembling an iguana.

But he did offer an important piece of advice. Here’s what he said.

“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow…Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives.”

Then he suggested an assignment for the class.

“Write a six line poem about anything, but rhymed…Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody.”

“Then tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals [sic]. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.”

Growing Your Soul

Weirdly enough, I’ve been telling people to do this a lot lately.

I get lots of emails from readers who are looking for advice. Generally speaking, I get asked two types of questions.

I’ll be asked how to do something. When I get asked this, I’ll reply with an honest and detailed account (often pages of advice) of the best course of action to the best of my knowledge.

But usually I get asked by people about what they should do.  They’re trying to find some direction and looking for their life’s purpose.  They want me to tell them what decision they should make.

I find questions of should much more difficult to answer.

I try to give as much honest useful feedback as I can and explain what I would do in that situation, hoping that guides them to a good decision.  But what makes it hard is that I can’t pick a path for that person – after all I’m not them.

We all live our own lives and need to make the decisions we feel will improve them in order to make us happy. If I make that decision for someone else, then it’s no longer their life, it’s mine.

So for those who feel lost and are looking for some sense of direction – something they should be doing, I tell them to make some art and explore their creativity.

Here’s why.

Creativity isn’t just a process of making art – it’s about discovering your inner self and bringing it out into the open. Creativity gets into your mind and soul and brings out new ideas and thoughts you may never have known were there.

It may sound weird, but creativity can give you a better sense of who you are, your life, your direction and what’s important to you.

I know this because it happened to me.

For much of my life, I’ve struggled with a sense of purpose and direction. I’d ask myself “where am I going?” or “what do I want out of life?” and get vague answers in return. I’d search out advice to no avail.

What gave me a sense of clarity and focus on what I really want out of life was writing, especially when I started this blog.

I started this blog over four years ago with a drive to help other people seize the day and get more out of life. From the emails I get from people, I’d say I was successful. But strangely the person who it’s helped the most is myself.

By regularly writing for this blog, I kept digging into my thoughts and emotions to make sense of what was going on in there. What I bring out often surprises me. In one instance, what I wrote was so revealing that people messaged me to tell me just how brave I was to write about it.

The more I exposed myself creatively, the more I experienced what Vonnegut described as becoming. I got to know myself better and became more sure about what I want out of life in order to confidently find purpose and direction.

So I hold Kurt Vonnegut’s advice closely to my heart because it has helped me in ways it’s hard to describe. Simply the act of creating has helped me discover more about myself and guided life decisions more than anything else I’ve ever done.

I’m with Vonnegut on this advice: get creative. Paint something, write a poem, act, play music, start a blog. Dig down deep into your soul and bring out ideas and thoughts you never knew were there.

Explore the deep recesses of your mind and lay them out in front of you. It’s fine to show it to others, but it’s more important to show it to yourself. Even if no one sees them, you’ll have already won – you’ll have grown your soul.
photo credit: vhauri

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  1. Ollie Benson says:

    Thanks for the great read Steve! I genuinely love reading every post you have and this one was really enlightening! Thank you! 😀

  2. Wonderful post Steve!

    I came from the IT world. So I was feeling kind of dumb for quite some time.
    I realized doing art for creativity only recently. And I feel how it develops me and helps me become smarter.

    I wrote a guest post at Pick The Brain about finding what you really want to do in life.

    I used a complementary approach. It’s a simple exercise that helps you find your passion.

    But obviously using art to develop and refine it is the best way to act on it.

    • It’s great to hear that you’ve found a way to do art and that it’s been improving your life. I’ve found writing makes me smarter too. Many times when I’m writing, I have to look things up and do research. I learn a lot of new things that way.

  3. Steve,
    Doing something creative without really knwoing whether it will work or where it will go is something we should all try. Too much introspective analysis can leave us thinking in circles.
    There’s something about the creative process, in particular writing, that brings about clarity and purpose.
    I did weeks of writing as part of following Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Words that have never seen the light of day since. I believe the process was part of unlocking my own adventures in writing.

    • You remind me of a story. When I was writing my first book, I had several chapters written and a ton of notes to work with. Suddenly the hard drive crashed and everything was lost – including the book. Not only that, but it was during a difficult time in my Master’s degree program.

      I was so devastated that I didn’t know what to do – so much stuff was going on in my head. My wife told me to write about it and get it out. That worked really well. I felt better and could finally move on to start writing the book from scratch again.

      You’re right about introspective thinking. Sometimes it can leave us going in circles. Getting it out in some artistic way can organize those thoughts and help you move on.

  4. There are many of us out there that would love to know what our passions are. I’m always jealous of people I’ve met (or am related to) that figured that out early on.

    I need something to strive for. When I don’t have that, even if it isn’t my ultimate passion, I feel lost and adrift. Now I have a couple irons in the fire, and even if they don’t work out, at least I’ve had some direction. Hopefully that will ultimately bring me closer.

    • I always try to find some direction to work towards too, even if it doesn’t ultimately work out. Sometimes going in the wrong direction can be better than just standing still. Even if you realize it’s not where you want to go, you’ll at least discover that so you can realign yourself. Sometimes it feels like trial and error.

  5. Steve, This is possibly the best advice you could dispense to someone in search of their purpose or their truth. And like you, I’ve found doing this via my blog has been the one thing that has transformed my own life. At one point, I was constantly told that I should write but I didn’t see any value in it. And thought, wow, it sure is going to take a long time to write a book. But you don’t have to write a book or paint some famous painting. With creativity and art, it’s the process of it – not the final destination. Same with the soul, I guess:) You’re not trying to reach soul-realization (ok maybe we are lol) but you’re taking the journey. You’re practicing. And your gift is in the pursuit of your creativity. Not only do you get more clarity about yourself and your life, but the more you get clear on you, the more good things start unfolding in your life. That’s what I’ve noticed for me anyway. Thank you for this post and keep spreading the message.

    • That’s the good thing about creativity – it doesn’t have to be good or famous in order to be beneficial. Besides, it’s a good thing to make bad art because that’s how everyone starts. Every great writer and painter was a beginner at some point. I want to focus on the process anyway. For me, writing has helped me be self-reflective and given me an idea of where I want my life to go.

  6. Hi Steve,

    This reminds me of when I was in high school I thought I wasn’t creative because at one point I had trouble writing poems. I completely forgot about other aspects that involved creativity that I was really good at, like drawing and thinking outside of the box.

    Having started a blog myself I am constantly reminded of how creative I am and can be not to mention how much I’ve grown.


    • I’ve heard that a lot from people – that they didn’t think they were creative for one reason or another. I’m a writing instructor so I hear it all the time. People say they just can’t be creative and they don’t see a reason to explore that side of themselves. It can take a while to find a way you like to express yourself, but it’s worth it.

  7. Like Tammy said, I don’t know that I figured out my passions quite as early as I would have liked. I’m embracing that concept of growing my soul more and it’s amazing how many great things have happened and how much sweeter life has become.
    Isn’t your trip soon? You must be excited!

    • The trip has already happened. It was early January, almost immediately after the start of the new year. It was a great time though. I learned something important that I’m going to write about in a future post – more o that to come.

  8. Being creative, focusing on our passions, and doing work we enjoy really can reveal a lot about our self’s. I’ve seen a lot of growth and learned a lot while writing my blog the past several years. I think it has helped me more than my readers:)

    • It’s good to hear that you’re getting a lot out of writing your blog. It’s kind of win-win situation, isn’t it? People come to your blog to learn things and you learn from writing it. It’s good when that happens.

  9. I concur what Peter has said. Writing has a magical clarification ability.
    If nothing else, you can always write a journal. I’m a big proponent of journalling.

    Grrowing your soul… copied to my quotes repository!

  10. Love this

  11. Back in 1995, Kurt Vonnegut came to speak at my university. He became my favorite writer shortly thereafter. As a teacher, I taught Mother Night, which is my favorite book of his. Many lessons to be learned from that one as well. Thanks for keeping his memory alive!

    • I would have loved to see him speak at my university. I’ve really enjoyed many of his books so I would have loved to hear him talk about them.


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