Get Obsessed

2 Apr

It’s a tough thing, staying dedicated to your art while also holding down a job. As if it wasn’t hard enough to get through your commute, make dinner, get the chores done and just catch up with your loved ones at the end of the day—maybe if you feel ambitious getting a workout in.

Nope, we’ve gone and made everything even more complicated by throwing a passion in the mix. How can one ever manage to keep a life in order and also chase a passion?

When conversations of this sort start up, the phrase “life balance”starts cropping up. Well … you can take your life balance and shove it. (Click here to tweet that)

Get specific. Get narrow. Get your blinders up and keep your head down. You’ll get much farther with your art if you get obsessed.

From all I’ve read about individual thought leaders and building expertise, from the real-life masters I’ve encountered, from my own trial-and-error experiences, I’ve concluded that if you want to be great at something, balance is the enemy. (Click here to tweet that)

We spread ourselves too thin in this life. There’s too many distractions. But greatness requires prolonged, narrow, intense focus.

Just ask Malcolm Gladwell, or Steve Jobs, or Paul Farmer. It takes a lot to leave your mark on this world. Do you want your passion to do this for you? Get obsessed.

Obviously, I don’t advocate ignoring your family or casting off your day job or other extremes. Let’s keep our heads screwed on.

But I do advocate for finding your own ways to ensure that your passion is one of your top priorities—every single day.

This can mean many different things. Some days it may mean going to the library for a few hours for quiet focus time. Others it may mean lugging an extra laptop to work so you can pursue your passion on your lunch. Others it may just mean going home from the party earlier than everyone else

But the point is, keep your passion at the top of your mind, always within your vision. Shape your life around it, don’t just give it the loose time change that’s left over at the end. Let your passion be a passionate, all-consuming fire within you. (Click here to tweet this)

Otherwise, it is even really a passion?


How do you get obsessed? 

Guest Post at The Write Life

31 Mar

Today, in addition to my ongoing contributor role at The Write Practice (today’s post: 3 Steps for a Better Critique Experience), I have an additional guest post up at not-to-be-confused other writing site The Write Life about how to building a writing business, even if you already work full-time.

These are both fantastic resources for writers, so after you check out the posts, take a look around the sites!

How to Budget Energy for Creatives

16 Mar

An article in The Washington Post caused a stir this week by pushing back against Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” philosophy. The author, Rosa Brooks, argues that instead, women should fight for the right to Lean Back:

“Ladies, if we want to rule the world — or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions — we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us.

We need to fight for our right to lean back and put our feet up.”

As much as I enjoy leaning back and relaxing myself, this hardly seems like a recipe for success unless your only measurement of success is how many books you read.

For those of us who aspire to do a little more, those of us with ambitions and creative passions, leaning back will never cut it. Because for most of us, art is something we do on the side. It is work on top of the other work we do to support ourselves and our families. Pursuing passions is the opposite of Leaning Back. (Tweet this)

As Brooks rightly points out in her article, living this kind of life takes a toll. When Brooks tried the “Lean In” philosophy, she says,

“Soon, the rewards of leaning in doubled.

Then they quadrupled. Then they began to increase exponentially.

I leaned in some more. I ate protein bars and made important telephone calls during my morning commute. I stopped reading novels so I could write more articles and memos and make more handicrafts to contribute to the school auction. I put in extra hours at work. When I came home, I did radio interviews over Skype from my living room while supervising the children’s math homework.

And I realized that I hated Sheryl Sandberg.

Because, of course, I was miserable. I never saw my friends, because I was too busy building my network. I was too tired to do any creative, outside-the-box thinking. I was boxed in.”

So how do you navigate it in a way that won’t burn you out?

Well. You don’t do what Brooks did. Don’t volunteer for everything. Instead, you need to learn to budget your energy—much as you would your money and your time.

How do you budget energy? Glad you asked. I have four tactics (Tweet this):

1. Know What Matters to You
You can’t save your energy for what matters to you if you don’t know what those things are. If you’re a creative with a passion, one of these things should already be obvious—your art. But what about at your work? Your home life? Your values? Clearly defined priorities in every area of your life will help guide you to step up for the projects that give you energy.

2. Say No to Things That Don’t
When you volunteer for opportunities and demonstrate passion for your work and do that work well, more opportunities come your way. Brooks noticed this herself. This is great, but as Brooks found out, if you take every single one of them, it can also be a problem. (I’ve written about this before, check it out.)

Don’t let other people shove off their priorities onto you, and don’t worry that if you turn down one opportunity you’ll lose out on others. In my experience it’s just the opposite—it’s when I’m clear about my interests, skills, and time that the opportunities that best match my goals come to me.

3. Build Boundaries
Sometimes you agree to take on one piece of a project, but then that piece starts to magically expand into new areas you could never predict, and never would have agreed to if you’d been asked directly.

But always remember, you have the right to speak up for yourself—in fact, you’re the only one who will. It’s never too late to remind a group or individual of what you originally agreed to take on, and tell them as much as you enjoy supporting the overall effort, you simply are not able to take on other pieces.

In the workplace this isn’t always an option, but I see this most in volunteer situations—volunteer vampirism. Just say no to energy suckers.

4. Mindful monitoring.
There are some things that suck your energy that you can’t avoid. For me, riding the metro during rush hour is a big one—it’s chaotic and loud and overcrowded. Even if I feel fine when I leave my office in the evening, I can feel completely out of sorts by the time I reach home. But hey, I gotta get to and from work.

For these situations I use mindful self-monitoring to reduce the energy they steal from me. This starts with being aware of your energy levels and what builds and drains them—pay attention to how you feel over the course of your day. Then, it’s taking steps to preserve and restore your energy.

For me, this means I carry a book with me for metro reading, and I pay extra attention to my feeling and energy while navigating my route to and from work. When I catch myself expending energy on stupid things like being angry at that super slow walker in front of me on the escalator, I’m able to rein it back in. And I’ve learned that when I get home from work, I shouldn’t feel guilty about “wasting” an hour or so watching TV—it lets me recharge so that when I get back to some writing later in the evening, I’m reenergized and can focus better.

It’s easy to get caught up in the pressures and demands placed on us each day. But you don’t have to let life happen to you—you have more control over how you expend your energy than you might think (Tweet this). By knowing your priorities, setting boundaries and monitoring your energy, you can stop your life from overrunning you.

When you do, you might be surprised to find that you have a clearer mind, get more time for what you truly care about, and even better opportunities come your way.

How do you protect your energy?

Stop Hacking Your Life

24 Feb

Hack Your Way to Better Productivity. To a Better Body.  To a Sharper Memory.

These kinds of blog titles are all over the Internet. Everyone wants to help you hack your way to a better life. It’s become a hot buzzword. And a personal pet peeve.

Stop hacking your life

Image by Accretion Disc

The promise to deliver a quick hack to a better life is certainly an easy way to draw in readers. Who doesn’t want to be able to make big changes in their lives with a few simple shortcuts?

So … what’s wrong with it?

To start, the word “hack” implies you can treat your body and mind like a machine. I have a big problem with this. But I’ve written about this before so I won’t get into it again now.

More to the point, hacking your life doesn’t work.

“Hack” implies a short cut. An easy way to skip the work and get right to that more productive, skinnier, smarter, whatever-er you.

And yet.

The things that really matter? There just aren’t short cuts for these things.

You don’t get healthier with a simple hack. You get there by consistently making the right choices every day, even when it’s not easy, even when someone brings doughnuts in to work, even when you’re really tired and hitting the gym is the last thing you want to do.

The same goes for developing a creative project. You don’t get from concept to success with shortcuts. You get there by putting in the time, thinking through every detail, doing the hard work of making your idea a reality.

And then there’s the things that shortcuts do work for. But a lot of those things there just isn’t value in. Others can actually be bad for you long-term.

For example, the mentality of constantly becoming more productive—getting more done in less time. It’s easy to think this is important in our on-the-go culture.

But is it good for you? The last thing we need is more ways to multitask. I know I, for one, have completely drained myself trying to approach my work this way.

Perhaps better skills to develop are the ability to determine priorities, develop healthy boundaries, and learn to think more about the quality of our work than the quantity of it.

Which brings me to the real problem with life hacking. It’s not about you.

Content that offers you life hacks isn’t created for you. It’s created for the writer. Using the word “hack” is simply a hack in itself to create something catchy and alluring that will boost readership metrics and get passed around on social media. Link bait.

Don’t settle for quick fixes and catchy headlines. There’s so much more out there for you. Yes, you will have to work for it. But what you will get back for your effort will be well worth it.

Thanks for reading. If you liked this post, please share it with your friends! Join the Creative Juicer email list and get more content like this straight to your inbox. 

Guest Post at The Write Practice

17 Feb

A little bit of an announcement today–I am taking on a short-term guest posting position at The Write Practice, a fantastic blog for writers looking to hone their craft. I hope you’ll come by to check out the site and read my first post, 4 Steps to Give This Editor No Choice But to Publish Your Story.

As I’ll be releasing a new post at Write Practice every other week for the near future, I won’t spam you all by announcing every one of them here. If you’re interested in seeing the rest of my upcoming Write Practice posts and getting other great writing advice, join The Write Practice mailing list.


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