Five years ago, I graduated from a liberal arts college with a degree in business and entrepreneurship. Today, I have a career writing craft cocktail menus, two side businesses, and a blog. Even though I’m appreciative of my time spent in classrooms, the common thread that ties my successes together came from hands-on experience. It’s a simple lesson I finally learned after years of trying to do everything and achieving almost nothing, but once I was able to put my finger on what was wrong, my life changed for the better.
I’m going to share the single most important piece of advice I can give to anyone pursuing a creative or entrepreneurial endeavor:
Be selective about how you spend your time. Your time is the most valuable thing you have.
There’s a misconception that the busier we are, the more productive we are. That’s a lie. “Busy” and “productive” are not interchangeable terms, and the sooner we realize that we can actually increase our productivity by letting up on how busy we are, the faster our careers and our lives improve.
How can we tell the difference between something that benefits us and something that keeps us busy?
It’s all related to focus.
We have to really define what an ideal life means to us— with regard to everything. If you ask most people what they want from life, they’ll say something vague, like they want to “find happiness.”
Duh. We all want to be happy.
We have to figure out for ourselves what an ideal career, relationship, living situation, and skill set mean. Only when we define them can we go after them wholeheartedly. It gives us the ability to look at everything that comes to us from a heightened perspective: “okay, is this project related to what I want in terms of my career? Is it going to get me closer to my ideal situation?”
Maybe or maybe not, but we aren’t able to make the distinction unless we first empower ourselves to make it. We are not controlled by our circumstances. We live through them after we make the decision to create them.
A lot of people are afraid to define what it is they truly want from life because they’re afraid of failure, of being unable to attain the status, success or passion they crave. But without a definition of what it means for us to be happy, we end up floating around looking for something “out there” to fulfill us, which never works.
Instead, what ends up happening is we take on a bunch of ill-fitted responsibilities and projects, work dead-end jobs and spend time with people we think will get us from our indifference “here” to our happiness “there,” without giving any thought to whether these projects, jobs and relationships are actually benefitting us in the long run.
Train yourself to recognize the difference between instincts born from your heart and instincts born from fear of defining what you truly want. Your ability to discern between the two is going to make all the difference in how much satisfaction you find in life.
We’ve all been ghosted, but we do it to ourselves all the time. Pay attention to what you want and need— mentally, physically, spiritually. Eat foods that will nourish you. Live somewhere that will energize you. Spend time with people who will build you up. Plan projects and adventures that will make you excited to wake up in the morning. Have an opinion about how you want to spend your day.
Make only commitments that you want to make. Don’t be afraid to say no if you know you’re going to end up bailing or if you’re going to be miserable carrying an agreement out. Just as we’d do for anyone we love, we have to have respect for ourselves. That means becoming a person we’re proud of, one who holds himself or herself to commitments, shows up when we say we will, and takes the needs of others into consideration while still keeping our own best interest in mind. Say yes to anything that will make you happy and bring you closer to your ideal life. Say no to anything that doesn’t. Never, ever do anything just to “kill time.” Henry David Thoreau had it right when he said: “you cannot kill time without injuring eternity.” So how do we start?
Make a list of things you want to do with your life, and promise yourself that you’ll always be working to knock something off. Most people have it backwards. They build their ambitions around their circumstances, rather than designing their life around their goals. What are things you have to do before you die?
That’s where you start, because the death bed mentality is the only way to live. No one lives forever. Each of us only gets a limited amount of time here, so when we’re not doing exactly what we want to do with our time, we’re wasting it.
That statement isn’t meant to scare you.
It’s meant to liberate you.