Sitting by, waiting for insight to strike – that’s rarely a reliable strategy.
Insight follows movement. Insight comes when we pick the pen, put down our excuses, and begin to work. Even if the first three drafts suck (they usually do). And even if we fail to meet our expectations (we usually do).
It’s rare for anything I make to turn out as great as I wanted it to. But I can at least try to meet my expectations. I can at least try to put in the reps.
The accountant who’s writing a novella behind their boss’s back feels “safe” behind a spreadsheet than on a call with a publishing house. “I’m not an accountant,” they say. And yet they show up everyday to keep being one.
We’re less fraudulent doing something we hate, and more fraudulent doing something we love.
Yes, we get busy. Yes, it feels as if we’re up to our necks in paperwork, with nothing on the horizon but deadlines. Yes, we take on too much for one person to handle. We wouldn’t wish all these deadlines on our worst enemy. And yet we take them on ourselves.
We litter our horizon with deadlines and due dates. We sign up for courses. We take on projects, assignments, tasks. We even have the audacity to start projects on the side, to start our own blogs, podcasts, newsletters. And so we tell ourselves and others, “I’m swamped with work.” As if it’s an accident. As if we’re trapped in a pool of mud, with no rope to grab onto.
We can reframe this.
Instead, we can choose to swim. We can choose to see these projects as opportunities that lead to better projects, which lead to better projects, and so on. We can be grateful that this project, however meticulous and banal, can lead to something better. We can be grateful that this online course will transform how we show up in the world. And we can keep using our creativity as an endless supply of connection.
“I’m swimming with work” means you’re glad – proud – to be working on this. (Unless, of course, you hate swimming.)
Are we in balance? Are we ready? Have we taken care to do our work at a steady pace? Will we move quick enough to get things done on time, and slow enough to see obvious oversights?
The fighter who prepares the best is usually the fighter that wins.
And the best way to prepare is to accept that a bunch of unexpected stuff is going to happen. That way you won’t be jolted so easily by a curveball or foul play. And so the unexpected becomes expected.
My buddy Greg Frontiero just launched the first iteration of his new coffee. It’s fucking delicious. It’s so delicious that I had two cups of it. I weigh somewhere around the 115 lb range, so it doesn’t take much coffee to make me feel like a chimpanzee on LSD. But I’m two cups in and I feel just fine.
Go check out what Greg’s brewing up over at Noo Wave. I highly recommend it.
Writing a blog post, recording a podcast, speaking to an audience, delivering something creative — these things take effort. And not only because writing something burns calories (I’m guessing it’s no more than the amount you burn while you sleep). But because it takes a lot of effort to say No.
To say No to notifications.
To say No to checking to see if the world is on fire (spoiler alert: it kind of is).
To say No to all the incoming requests for your time.
Is it selfish to say, “no — all this external stuff isn’t as important as writing the first chapter of my book”? — Probably depends on what the book is for. But if the book you’re writing is going to change readers minds about something, if it’s going to improve their lives, make them smarter, healthier, possibly sexier — then get as selfish as you want.
The temporary selfishness required to create something remarkable leads to your name being immortalized as selfless. I call this selfless self-expression. Selfless self-expression practically requires you to be as selfish with your time as you want. To create something because you need to, not because the world needs it. The world doesn’t need another podcast. The world doesn’t need another cookbook or how-to video. There’s millions of those already.
So why make anything? If everything already exists, why bother? If there’s a gazillion podcasts, books and blogs and how-to-knit-a-sweater videos — why bother?
Because if you don’t bother, you’ll end up kicking yourself for never having bothered to press record, click Publish, or – at the very least – send that postcard to grandma.
You should bother because you need to. You should bother because it’s keeping you up at night. You should bother because your future self will thank you for it. Your past self will thank you for it, too. “Thanks for finally bothering to make something. Now all that time you didn’t spend making it actually means something.”
Ultimately, you should bother because if you don’t, I’ll continue bothering you about starting until you finally do.
This morning I caught myself trying to shave as fast as possible. My rationale: this bodily regulation is unnecessary and detrimental to my goals of being successful; shaving is a waste of time, and so I need to shave as fast as I can.
What’s a bigger waste of time? Boring stuff you have to do because you’re an animal with hair? Or a project with too many oversights because you were in a frenzy?
The Rule of Suck: the first one is going to be very, very, embarrassingly not so good.
What to do?
Do the next one. And the next one after that. On and on, serving up hundreds of works to an audience who trusts that you’ll get it right — eventually.
Here’s Paul McGrath (great name), on pancakes and what they teach us about creativity. I told him on Thursday that this was my favorite read of the week. It’s now Saturday, and I’m still standing by that statement.