Friday, May 13, 2016

Warning: “Doing It All” Can Kill

Maybe not kill, but it can definitely maim the spirit, bring you down.

That's what happened to me.

I just didn't know it until this morning, waking up to grey skies and damp streets, and feeling a bit humdrum about the day ahead. But by the time I ventured out to drop off my dry cleaning and to grab an early morning coffee Atlas Espresso Bar, the rain had stopped. The blue skies were mainly clear, the sun was shining, the air was warm. The weather had changed so quickly, and my mood along with it.

Ever since my computer crashed last month, I've been working to fix my daily routine. In a word: find my focus. I've cut out the distractions while I write, i.e., turn the TV off. I'm getting up earlier, around 5:00 am each day, to focus on my most important creative projects when I feel the freshest. I've adjusted my attitude, not letting myself be beaten down by my inner critic who was constantly asking me, “What's the point?” I can say, with a sense of pride, that I've been successful at maintaining these “new” work habits for the past month. My productivity has soared. I've taken action (hired an editor, set to work on a new website, began learning more about social media, written a strategic plan) hoping to move more confidently in the direction of my dreams. I should feel more confident about my creative journey, right?

Why doesn't it feel like enough? Why is it that I still feel a sense of disappointment?

Because I'm still trying to do it all.

I've been equating increased productivity with success without really taking the time to see if I'm working on the projects that do in fact matter the most. I haven't really understood that there are trade-offs, and time dedicated to one project/activity cannot be used for another. If I'm going to spend three to five hours in the kitchen every afternoon preparing a homemade meal, then I have to realize – and accept – that maybe it's going to take a little longer for me to write the first draft of a novel, complete the rewrite of a manuscript, or finish building my website. It's been that lack of understanding, ignorance even, about the importance and necessity of trade-offs that's made me feel overwhelmed, like I'm stalled. Oliver Burkeman says it nicely: “[...] we make enormous efforts to ignore the reality of trade-offs – and, as a consequence, deny ourselves the best chance of a maximally fulfilling creative career” (“Stop Trying to 'Do It All'”). I've been trying to rush, rush, rush ahead, letting myself be swept up in the hustle and bustle of life, and to what end?

I've been equating increased productivity with success without really taking the time to see if I'm working on the projects that do in fact matter the most.

I remind myself today that it's not a competition. Thanks to my strategic plan, I know where I want to go and by when I want to get there. I'll be better served, and so will my writing career, if I focus on a short list of tasks to accomplish each day. I'll bring the top of my game to each task, hopefully see the progress I'm making, and not feel overwhelmed. I see it now as the best way to weather the storm that is doubt and fear.

Already I'm feeling less overwhelmed, the restlessness beginning to ebb. It really is a matter of perspective. Sometimes, trying to push through the doubt and fear, it’s hard to see clearly the track that has been laid, how far along I’ve actually come. That’s why we can only take life one day at a time and, as artists, show up each day to do what really excites us. Let our passion fuel us, help us to love the moment in which we find ourselves, and give our very best to our work.

That, to me, is happiness.

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