Review: Things Are What You Make of Them by Adam J. Kurtz

things are what you make of them book


A good friend of mine has no hesitation about diving head first into uncharted territory. He’s the one running down the dark path into the forest. I’m the one packing a knapsack, making sure the batteries in the flashlight are fresh, and making all my notes on a map.

I freely admit I sometimes spend too much time researching or preparing, and that’s something I’ve tried to shift away from. It’s far too easy to label consuming content “work”. Eventually, you need to take what you’ve learned and put it into practice.

Over the past few years I’ve been particularly interested in books on motivation, happiness and fear. Authors like Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth make some valid arguments, but some of those books can be a heavy lift. While I’ve learned some good stuff from what they’re written, I don’t see them as books to re-read.

I spotted Things are What You Make of Them a few weeks ago while browsing at TYPE bookshop in Toronto. As I flipped through it, I thought “Do I REALLY need another book like this?” The reason I walked to the cashier with it was the relatable and friendly tone. This is a small, non-intimidating book you can open to any page and get a little pick-me-up.

I had the book sitting on my desk for a few weeks, and finally picked it up on a morning when I was feeling particularly yukky with a headache. It’s a short, easy read, and I got through it in about an hour.

The only type-set copy in the book is in the intros. All the other messages are “hand-written” on faux torn-off notepad pages. In fact, each page in the book is perforated, so you can tear out and post a page that’s particularly important to you. Personally, I would have a hard time ripping a page out of any book I own, but it’s an interesting touch. We’re a culture of skimmers—me included—so the short messages are easy to digest. The tone is like something you would hear from a friend. There’s a bit of scribbled-over potty-mouth that just made it more real.


things are what you make of them book



  1. How to Get Started
  2. 8 Things Every Creative Should Know
  3. How to Get Over Common Creative Fears (Maybe)
  4. How to Stay Sane When You Work from Home
  5. How to Get Over Comparing Yourself to Other Creatives
  6. How to Be Happier
  7. Using Your Power for Good
  8. What to Do When You Fail
  9. How to Begin Again
  10. Working with Friends & Family
  11. How to Be Yourself
  12. How to Keep Going
  13. Simple Tips for Success


What resonated with me

  • It’s not perfect: This is something I’ve grappled with and learned to (mostly) let go. I talked about it here.
  • Forget the “destination”: It’s not so much about a goal but the process. Learn to enjoy the process.
  • How to be yourself: I strongly believe that artwork that comes from a place of honesty, and your personal experiences, will resonate more strongly. This is all about finding your “genuine voice”.
  • Adam makes a few mentions about being nice. This is something we’re increasingly forgetting about. As a society, we could use more “nice”.



There’s a risk that volumes like this can be banal. I was reminded of the Simpson’s episode where they were playing musical chairs, and the teacher says, “Everyone’s a winner!” I appreciated that the writing didn’t simply sprout flat platitudes.

If you’re working alone you may not always have the benefit of a cheerleader or mentor. Being creative takes some tough skin, and requires cultivating a certain mindset. I’m sometimes harder on myself then I need to be, so this book is a good reminder that we all face the same insecurities, and that we can work though them. While this book may seem be geared towards new creatives, I’ve been working for over 30 years and still find sound advice.

Will following the tips in this book solve all your creative problems? Probably not, but it will at least help put things in perspective. Planning is good, but means nothing if you don’t put it to use. And yes, he talks about this in the book.