Stop playing around. Be serious. It’s time to grow up.
Do you remember hearing these words when you were 16, 18 or perhaps 23? At 18 I was hopeful about a future of writing and making music. By 19 I’d given it up in favor of being a responsible adult.
I spent most of my early career in the corporate world, mired in spreadsheets, trying to look the part of a professional, trying to fit in. It was awful. I hardly think I’m alone. The stories in magazines touting mid-life career changes & books on the quarter life crisis tell me I’m not.
I was lucky. I got out. Working for myself gave me control over my work, allowing me to work on projects I found more enjoyable. It was good, really good. For a while. Then I went into auto-pilot mode. As a friend likes to say, I lit the stove, put the burner on medium and began coasting through my career.I was so focused on paying work that I was building other people’s businesses at the cost of building one for myself. After a 10 or 12 hour day, my creative projects languished, sitting on a dusty digital shelf in favor of a drink in hand and a bag of chips. Most nights I’d find myself watching moving pictures on a screen to help me escape from my troubles. My own projects slipped from second place, then to third, then to the bottom of my to-do list. A few months ago, while searching for a piece of writing I wanted to work on, I realized it had been six months since I’d touched it.
At first I wanted to burn it all down. Then I remembered that I have to pay rent and oh, I owe some money to the government. I couldn’t quit my day job. And I didn’t really want to leave my clients. I loved working with them.
So I started with simple fixes. I immediately stopped working on a book about marketing that had been long planned. I said no to new projects that weren't an automatic yes. I thought I’d puke the day I put a message on my site that I was being selective about future projects. It was the first time I’d publicly limited projects in 10 years of business.
Next, I taught myself enough code to create a little program I’d been thinking about for two years. Things started to feel better. It still wasn’t enough. I wanted more time for creative expression. Finally I had an idea. If I couldn’t completely reinvent my life, I could at least reinvent my day.
The Birth of 30 Days of Creativity
I’d found it so easy to put paying work ahead of long-term goals or work that is more satisfying but offers little financial compensation. In a small act of defiance, I decided to take the first two hours of my day to work on creative projects. Just as an experiment. The goal wasn’t to produce anything. It was just a place, free from rules, expectation or money.
I gave myself only two guidelines:
- Spend the first 2 hours of the day focused on creative projects that are just for me.
- No client work (or housework) allowed.
During creative time I could read an inspiring book, write, code, write tweet storms. I started by restricting creative time from 8 AM to 10 AM, but I’ve loosened it to the first two hours after I get up. I don’t even have to have my butt in a chair. The goal isn’t output; the goal is to exercise my creativity muscle by putting it (and me) first above any other work, be it client work, email or even housework. The only chore I do before creative time is walk my dog; I use that time to plan, scheme and dream about what I will focus on that day.
I wrote this on Day 10 of this experiment. I suppose if I were a proper marketer wanting to capitalize on this, I would have had a hashtag and started using it on Day 1. But I’m not doing this for marketing. I’m doing it for me. I’m doing this for 19-year-old me who let go of creativity in favor of strait-laced adulthood. She deserves to exist too; to have freedom to roam, and play, and create in my head. I feel like I'm doing this experiment for everyone who worried they weren't good enough to pursue their creativity.
Want to join me?
I'd love to have company. Tweet me with your intention and use the hashtag #30DaysOfCreativity so we can share your journey.