Recently I found myself indulging in one of my “favorite” pastimes. I was complaining about how incredibly busy I am with a series of upcoming projects. “I have two shorts in post-production, I’m producing two features, co-writing another one, writing a pilot and shooting two webseries.” My shoulders slumped and my head down, I continued. “I don’t have time to sleep and my social life is non-existent.” I was genuinely overwhelmed and exhausted at the logistics of trying to work my 40-hour a week job AND accomplish all of these endeavors that I had committed to doing.
Fortunately, immediately after repeating this mantra I started walking my two dogs. A rare bubble that I get to step into multiple times a week. I turn off my phone and my mind, as much as possible. They live with my ex-wife, so my time with them is quite limited and I want to give them my energy when we are together. I often talk to them about whatever is on my mind and their smiling faces and wagging tales are the best advice a friend can ever give.
On this walk everything became incredibly clear. The answer seemed so simple that I laughed out loud when it presented itself to me. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders and a smile spread across my face. It was so obvious.
When I returned with the dogs, I announced that I had the answer to all of the problems that I had so meticulously and carefully laid out before the walk. I said smiling triumphantly, “Quit.”
That’s right. I could simply quit. It was such a novel idea to me that it made me laugh. “I could quit. Nobody is making me write. Nobody is making me shoot films. Nobody is making me be creative. If it’s so hard…then I can quit.”
I went on to explain that in addition to a full time job, I put in a minimum of 29 hours a week on creative endeavors. If I just quit, that opens an enormous amount of time for me to sleep, watch TV, go out with friends, take long strolls, tweet, post on Facebook. I could binge watch all the shows I don’t currently have time to watch. I would have nothing but time! All I have to do in exchange for all of this is quit.
Simply stop. That’s it.
When I share this revelation with fellow artist, there is often this moment of defensiveness. “But I don’t want to give up on my dreams!” “Winners never quit!” Etc. My point is not that I SHOULD quit but that I CAN quit. Not quitting is just as much a choice as quitting. So why do I complain so much about doing the very thing that I love?
I started to explore this question.
I’ve never heard a child say, “After school, a bunch of the kids want to play hide and seek. Ugh! I am beat! Now, I have to go home and do that too!” or “Who’s got time for coloring? I’ve got soccer until noon, then I’ve got Sam’s birthday party and I’ve been meaning to run around catching butterflies all week but just haven’t gotten to it.”
At some point I stopped wanting to live my dreams and started wanting to be “successful” at them. Doing it wasn’t enough, making money and getting acclaim became more important than what I was creating. The problem with this is that I’ve taken the ability to achieve out of myself and turned it into something that was controlled by outside forces. The dream no longer burned within me, wanting to get out. Now, it was something that was held at arm’s length. Always just out of reach for me.
I looked to others who were successful in their own fields. Tiger Woods and my Dad both play golf. Micheal Jordan and my friends play basketball. Same sport. Same equipment. Different results. Because most pro athletes/Olympic athletes give up everything else to be the best. Rather than getting an extra few hours of sleep, they got up and practiced. Late night drinking parties were skipped and extra practices taken instead. They were driven to be the best. If I’m not willing to have that same drive, why should I expect a different result? Imagine Jordan starting his career with, “Yeah, I play a bunch of pick-up games around town at different courts and I’ve got a lot of really good ideas on how to shoot the ball.” He wouldn’t be one of the greatest of all times.
In a nutshell…
If I am unhappy. If I am too busy. If I am overwhelmed. I can quit. It’s an option and I have to stop pretending like it isn’t.
Also, there is a difference between being fulfilled and being financially successful. I can only control one of them. I am going to start enjoying playing again. Because I am incredibly lucky to have that opportunity. To forget that, is not only selfish but is an insult to everyone who never gets the chance to step into their passions.
If I want to be a professional, I have to start acting like one.
Finally, no matter how “busy” life feels, I’m not going to work in a coal mine every day.
(Last night a friend pointed out that I use the coal mine reference a lot. I told him it is because both of my grandfathers were coal miners. It was backbreaking work and one of them came incredibly close to dying from a mining accident. Two generations later, I live in LA and every single day I do something that I love. It’s too easy to get caught up in your own pity party but when I think of those two men, that I love and respect, I am instantly reminded how incredibly lucky I am every day.)
How many people will never live their dreams? I’m not asking how many will “succeed” at their dreams, but will actually LIVE them? So you do a show in some tiny theatre for three people and you complain about it. How many people will never stand on a stage? Or pick up a paint brush? Or touch pen to paper to create a world that they hold in their heads? So you perform for a small house. So you wrote a script that didn’t get picked up. So you created something that didn’t go viral. You lived your dream and that is more than most people.
Unlike you, they were never given the opportunity to quit, because they were never given the chance to start.