If you’re like most people, you probably charge through your ever-growing “to do” list, with the promise that you’ll give yourself time to work on that novel, blog, [INSERT CREATIVE PASSION HERE] when you’re done.
But you never get around to it. Partly because other people are only too happy to throw more items on your list. Partly because you’re exhausted and want nothing more than to curl up on the sofa with Netflix at the end of the day.
Worse, you beat yourself up over this failure. Or you lie to yourself. You tell yourself that you’re lazy, that you need inspiration, that you’ll write/paint/sculpt when the kids are older.
Whether you’re trashing your psyche or practicing self-deception, the end result is the same: Another year—or five—passes, and your creative passion remains abandoned.
That’s fine. Maybe that novel or poem was a passing fancy. Maybe it wasn’t something that you would have wanted to invest months, if not years, creating and refining. Perhaps you’re just as happy and satisfied having spent that time caring for your family or earning enough money for a fabulous annual vacation.
However, if you’ve ever had the niggling sensation that you really need to pursue that project . . . You’re probably right.
Take This Litmus Test
A decade or so ago, I was participating in a mastermind group, and our facilitator asked each of us to write our obituary. We had come together for the express purpose of growing our respective creative businesses. By focusing on the end of our journey and how we defined success, we would (hopefully) gain insight into the paths we were currently pursuing.
My big revelation came from recognizing how little material wealth mattered in my definition of success. If I built a multimillion-dollar agency that allowed me to travel the world and to retire early, I would still consider myself a failure if I hadn’t pursued my creative writing ambitions.
That exercise served as an important wake-up call, albeit one that I didn’t heed for another four years. Even so, this realization percolated in my subconscious until I was ready to act.
If you’ve never done this exercise (or even if you have), take some time and try it now. Spend 30 minutes or so reflecting upon the span of your life. How did you spend your time? Do you see yourself continuing on your current path? Or did you make a radical change somewhere along the road? How do family and work figure into the journey?
When you’re done, reflect upon how you feel about this imagined life. Does it fill you with joy? Regret? Ambivalence?
No wrong answers here. But if you’re not wildly thrilled with the current result, consider what shifts would make you proud of your life story.
In contemplating the creative life—usually, when berating myself for not doing more up to this point—I keep thinking of the adage, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
If you truly feel compelled to pursue a creative passion, then do it. Don’t wait for permission. Say “yes” to yourself. Say “yes” regardless of whether or not you’ll ever receive external validation in the form of a book contract or a fat commission or a solo exhibit. Say “yes” for the sheer joy and hell of it. Say “yes” because this is your life and, at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to be happy with how you invested your time.
The rest of the world—including those who love us—will always demand more. Like Cinderella’s stepmother, our bosses, colleagues, family, friends and acquaintances will be all-too-happy to support our personal goals and desires . . . after we do this “one last thing.”
Stop being a “good girl (or boy)” and put yourself first.
Don’t be a jerk about it and get fired in the process or let the kids starve. But find an opportunity to carve out time for your pet project. Often, this time comes early in the morning, before everyone else wakes up and starts making demands. Some people squeeze it in before bedtime, but the danger here is that we’re usually too tired to create, once a full day of decision fatigue has sapped our mental faculties.
Whether you give yourself 15 minutes or an entire hour (or more), try this practice consistently for at least a week. If you’d like, experiment with 10- or 15-minute increments at different times of the day. This flexible scheduling will help you figure out the time that best supports your creative energies.
After one week, you should have a good idea of where this creative time best fits into your jam-packed life. More importantly, you should start noticing some small, but significant changes:
- Thinking about your creative project excites you, and you’re looking forward to your next session.
- You have more, not less, energy to tackle the other items on your to-do list.
- You feel happier overall, knowing that you spent at least part of the day on your priorities.
Don’t believe me? Go ahead and try it. Please share the results in the comments. If you run into challenges, share those, too. Somewhere is a solution that’s perfect for you.