The last month flew by in a whirlwind of activity, travel, and work. After a summer of intense but positive change, ending the season this way feels appropriate — but I am ready to settle in to my new life that I love and focus on my priorities.
I started this week with a two-day road trip from Charlotte, North Carolina to my home in Boston. With pit stops included, I spent 14 hours on the road. I dreaded making this trip before I left. 14 hours of driving by yourself is not something I’d normally think of as a good time.
But after an overwhelming week of conferences and non-stop people-time in Charlotte, two days to sit in complete silence by myself was glorious. I thought about things. A lot of things.
And one thought I circled back to over and over again was how often I felt totally elated and inspired when I walked around the streets of my new city. Every day I get up and feel excited about where I am and what I do. I’ve never felt so energized, inspired, motivated, capable of creating a meaningful experience for myself and others.
This all sounds great — it is great — but the reason I kept circling back to this thought on my drive is that these feelings didn’t directly translate into something tangible. I’ve never felt so energized and inspired, yet in the last month I’ve fizzled out instead of igniting the spark.
This stumped me. Why was this happening? How could I have all this great mental and emotional space and fail to create anything within it?
Many of us get stuck in this weird place when we’ve had past success executing an idea or building something meaningful.
You feel pumped up and ready to rock and roll; you’ve played a couple shows and you know how fun it is to jam out to a crowd. You moved beyond wondering what and how. You’re no longer at the starting line, raring to go and eager to prove yourself. You’ve gotten praise and positive feedback and you know you can do this.
When you first started doing the work you were meant to do, it felt easy and thrilling. When you made progress and achieved your first success, you felt proud and validated.
And now, somehow, you’re stuck. It doesn’t feel easy anymore. You wonder why the hits didn’t just keep rolling.
On that long drive, I realized I was mired down in that weird place with my work. I’ve been doing “work I love” for two years now, and both my career and self enjoyed an exponential rate of growth through all the experiences I’ve had since. Up until this point, I didn’t have a choice about whether or not I was going to hustle and get shit done. It was sink or swim.
But now, things have changed a little bit. I have more space to roam and play and create — and more choice in how I spend my time. If I quit swimming, I won’t sink because I learned how to float.
There’s a tipping point with choice, and freedom and flexibility. Reaching a point in your work where you possess an abundance of choice and freedom can trick your brain into thinking, even just a little bit, that you’ve made it. You’re good now. You’ve proven yourself and the world knows what you can do. You have some supporters, maybe even a fan or two.
You’ve earned and developed the flexibility and space you said you always needed if you were to create even more for the world.
In theory, yes. But in practice, humans are lazy and our brains seek out the path of least resistance. This is the danger of a little success. A little success gives you a little room to float. To coast, to rest on your laurels. You use this little success to justify letting the habits that got you here slide, just a little.
All these little things can add up to a big brick wall to run smack into.
I stalled this month because I felt motivated and excited, but I acted lazy. I stopped writing every day. I haven’t really done the work required to see results.
Immediately after I realized this, my mind jumped to a line from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry and Ron are (quite literally) in a bind, trapped by a plant with the magical ability to wrap itself, boa constrictor-like, around whatever it can reach. Hermione, free from the plant’s grasp, recognizes it as Devil’s Snare and knows how to fight it off — the plant likes “dark and damp,” and recoils from warmth and light.
Hermione knows she possesses the ability to handle the situation, save her friends, and continue toward their goal. But in the moment of crisis and panic, she’s stuck in an old pattern of thought: you need wood to light a fire.
The line I specifically thought of is when Ron bellows, “Have you gone mad? Are you a witch or not?”
Hermione responds with, “oh, right,” and promptly conjurers flames with her wand. Problem solved, crisis averted.
Only I thought of that line in regards to my own little crisis of not doing the work, and I asked myself: Are you are writer or not?
I am a writer, and that means I must write. Every day, no excuses or exceptions.
Writing every day solves my problem of feeling inspired but acting lazy. Writing every day averts my crisis of stalling out and failing to achieve more.
The danger of a little success is that it can distract you from the truth about how to make continued progress to big success: you have to sit down and do the work. It’s that simple. Not always easy — but simple.
In my moment of crisis, I got stuck in an old pattern of thought: inspiration comes in aha moments and when it does, good stuff just flows from that. People who are at the pinnacle of success are just naturally talented and good at what they do, right?
Wrong. Inspiration comes all the time, but the only way it translates into results is by training ourselves to show up to meet it every day. Successful people are successful because they get up and do the work, no matter what.
Are you a writer or not? Oh, right — you are, and that means you must dedicate time each and every day to sit down and work with words.
Are you an entrepreneur or not? Oh, right — you are, and that means you must dedicate time each and every day to sit down and develop your business.
Are you an artist or not? Oh, right — you are, and that means you must dedicate time each and every day to create and make new pieces.
Are you a creative or not? Oh, right — you are, and that means you must dedicate time each and every day to hone your craft.
Now: enough talking, enough thinking, enough dreaming, enough reading. It’s time for you and me to get back to work.
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