Don’t Balance Your Life, Commit to It
My 1 golden habit for living better and succeeding more
It wasn’t that I wanted to get struck by lightning. Maybe I just liked to fly kites in the rain, even if the cold was a bit unbearable. This bottle wouldn’t fill itself — and fireflies were a terrible substitute for a lantern. I felt the line pull taut as Zeus’s breath called my kite deeper into the stratosphere. I gave it some slack and grit my teeth — couldn’t risk biting my tongue.
It took me three years to learn the one reason for my creative success. No, it wasn’t that I had found the perfect balance between business and pleasure — it was that I continuously chose to commit to my craft.
During my third year of college, one of my roommates let slip that he was jealous of me. Intriguing. Strange. I didn’t think of myself as a person someone could be jealous of.
So I asked him about it.
Apparently, every time he would check in on me, it always seemed like I was doing something. Working on a project. Improving my craft. Progressing.
All the while, my friend’s own passion hadn’t allowed him the same sense of mobility.
And to some extent, this was true.
At the outset of my college career (if you could even call lackluster grades and nearly failing out a career), I discovered my passion for making music. In the following years, I pursued it vigorously, challenging myself to improve my craft and hone my sound. With every new release, a marked refinement of my skills. My online network was budding as well, proving my work held water — encouraging me to dive deeper.
My friend’s path hadn’t offered so many of the niceties I enjoyed. His creative work was live comedy, a wholly different art than music. Not nearly as tangible, not nearly as permanent. And to each their own — I barely knew how to make music, and I wasn’t about to pretend to know the first thing about being a successful comedian.
We also had different priorities.
Where my social life was limited, he thrived. Where I’d receive little recognition from the spoils of sonic indulgence, my friend would regularly be recognized around campus. I mentioned to him that I was actually jealous of him in these ways.
But I also knew there was one thing that separated our habits.
So, in complete and brutal honesty, I shared my single greatest piece of advice that has led me to where I am today.
Here’s my only tip for leveling up your entire life: keep moving.
I attribute all of my success to continuously choosing to show the fuck up, even when the going gets rough.
The trick is to do something. Anything, so long that it gets you closer to whatever your end goal is. Progress isn’t always linear. But you can’t stay on track if you stand still.
1 — Don’t ghost your creativity, one day you might move in together
However, I believe the first part of committing to passion is giving yourself room to not show up.¹
I keep returning to Stoicism, and for good reason. The stoics were badasses in self-awareness — reading through Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is a masterclass in accessing your full potential.
With every passion comes a sense of calling, even if only sometimes. But it’s up to us to answer that call.
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?
— But it’s nicer here. . . .
So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
I’ve rolled this quote back and forth in my mind for months — not only is there a sense of duty to your work, but Marcus Aurelius presents a world where no harm can be done. Should you choose not to pursue the work of a human being, your work as a human being, perhaps that was what you were meant to do that day.² No worries. Try again tomorrow.
Truly cosmic or not, the grand scheme is full of starts and stops.
In this, I’ve found reassurance. We aren’t meant to be playing at the top of our game indefinitely. But when we find ourselves under the right conditions, we should capitalize, pushing our pawns forward so we might topple the kings of adversity. This is a life well-lived.
To me, showing up doesn’t need to happen every day. But it does need to be prioritized.
I remember a scene from my life like it was yesterday. It was toward the end of high school, I was laying down on my bedroom floor, staring at my ceiling (as all bored teenagers might find themselves doing at some point) listening to a Halsey album. I remember thinking about how good I thought her music was, and how someday I wanted to reach a similar level of artistry.
It was at that moment I made a pact with myself to choose passion over all else. From that point on, any time there I had the option to either hang out with friends or try to make music, nine times out of ten I chose music. This habit has stuck with me ever since.
Your passion might have different demands, looser or more strict. No matter your circumstances, I encourage you to reprioritize your life with passion at the top of your list.
Putting passion first makes it easier to answer the call of creativity. You’ll also find that once you commit to answering, it’ll call more often.
2 — Commitment is like dancing, a cycle of smooth ballroom waltz, followed by panicked moshing
While allowing yourself the permission to pursue a passion is a wonderful opening gambit, it’s far from your only move. There are still so many decisions to make — if you’re a writer, it might be choosing a niche, then a title, then the wording of sentences, and infinitely smaller points of choice.
I fully believe that in this, there are no wrong answers.
Like with any act of creation, you’ll have your fair share of hits and misses. Maybe you’re a prodigy and it all comes naturally. Or maybe you’re like me and every step in the creative process can feel like flying on a great day, hiking on a good day, and suffocating on a bad day.
And childhood asthma has given me an appreciation for air.
But it’s what we choose to do in our lowest moments that define us. And even if you’ve been defeated by the sheer weight of your own bravery — in answering the call of creativity there’s so much inherent risk, that habit can be changed for the better if you work at it.
So long as you’re doing something every day, something will get done. And that’s one step closer to progress. Even when it doesn’t feel like a step forward.
This commitment to action doesn’t mean actively working on writing that novel, designing that video game, or coding a new website every day. Even thinking about how to rephrase a sentence, or exactly how high your character can jump, or what fonts your website should use — this is progress.
The potential energy that will make taking the physical action of doing these things easier when dawn comes and you feel ready to get out of bed and do the work only you were meant for.
It also means taking the periphery of your intended goal seriously. If you’re a first-time novelist, it might be a good idea to start reading more or begin by writing short stories to get a feel for the craft.
Some day, I want to have achieved a sort of literary world domination, having written countless fiction and non-fiction books, making “passive” income like I’m sitting at a continuously winning slot machine.
But I understand that I don’t yet have the necessary skills to do that. So in the meantime, I’m getting my reps in on Medium, learning from other writers so I can improve how I write articles. I’m studying fiction, learning what kinds of prose and structures I prefer so I can replicate it when the time comes to write my first story.
These peripheral activities don’t have to fall perfectly in line with your magnum opus. Adjacent activities are strongly encouraged — there are endless amounts of transferable skills to learn, and building an arsenal is important no matter how many tools end up being your daily drivers.
But the only way to get closer to finishing your next great idea is to keep busy. When your hands are idle, let your mind go to work. And when both are tired, sleep.
3 — Commitment is time well spent
So long as you’ve set your faculties at work toward your passion, the only thing separating you from your goals is time. I’ve met so many talented musicians over the years, only to see them quit before they saw any real action.
However, I’m confident that even if I had no musical talent, I’d still end up winning. Simply because I’d outlast my competition. In any space, the winners are either really good at what they do, or have survived long enough to see the top. With music and writing, I intend to do both. I hope you do the same.
At the beginning of my musical journey, I learned it usually takes about five years for a newbie to make any substantial leaps forward in their career. I assume with artistic endeavors, similar amounts of time are needed to see results.
Of course, there are other moving parts.
But if five years is a recurring amount of time needed to get your feet off the ground — I’d preen those feathers religiously until then, making sure each one was perfect for takeoff.
And even with the ball rolling, it could take another good chunk of time to really pick up steam. That can be discouraging.
In The Unfair Advantage by Ash Ali, the concept of the “Iceberg Effect” is mentioned. We can easily fall victim to comparison when all we can see are the successes.
Think, how many articles have you read on Medium about how good their monthly earnings are? I’ve read shit tons. I’m releasing a piece about my first $100 article soon. But that’s the tip of the iceberg.
What you don’t see is the number of drafts it took to get there. You don’t see my education in reading and writing to have learned the things I have. You don’t see the curiosity I’ve held about storytelling since childhood.
But I don’t think natural affinity, predisposition, or talent really matters. It’s about how you budget your time toward learning the skills necessary to get to that next level.
It’s about commitment.
- Choose to answer the call of creativity, of passion. Life won’t wait, and neither should you.
- Maintain motion — only through consistent chipping will that stone reveal a sculpture.
- Trust that time works with you, not against you. But you have to be dedicated to spending your time over long periods, and OK if your ideas of success change throughout.
There’s an eye-opening anecdote towards the end of Big Magic, where Elizabeth Gilbert describes an interaction she had at a book signing. An older man mentioned that he’s done everything the same as Gilbert, only without success. Instead of comfort, Gilbert offered honesty, saying that maybe it was time to move on.³
Part of the inherent risk of pursuing passion is that it might not work out. We all understand this. Fear it.
But I think it would be a great disservice to yourself (and potentially the world) if you don’t try. Passion doesn’t require balance or mainstream ideas of success to be successful with it.
It just takes commitment to your craft.
Before I knew it, the bottle filled with a sloshing glow. Bright. This was lightning! I offered a wick to the liquid, my lantern returning to life as I wandered back to my cabin, thinking happily of fireplaces, blankets, and sleep.
About the Creator
4x Top Writer on Medium. Telling interesting stories from life's ordinary moments.
Writing about learning, organization, and erudition.
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