Do The Work

“Don’t think.  Act.  We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted.  But we can accomplish nothing until we’ve acted.”

{Steven Pressfield, Do The Work}

my suburbian office

I feel a lot of pressure to make January really stellar.  It’s a fresh slate, and I want to treat it like that.  And, judging from the number of people that seem to have newly populated the YWCA, I’m not alone.

Most of the gigantic goals I’m working on were started back in July or August when I had the realization that I needed to make some significant life changes.  Regardless, January still feels scary.  It feels like something big should be born, and if it wasn’t, it was a bust.  I read this article by John Goins on Zen Habits this week, and I felt like it clarified why January is scary: there are too many resolutions in the air.

Goins insists that goals don’t work.  Instead, he talks about making habits, which can re-boot your entire life.  Goals are plans, he says, and plans are hard to stick to because life is really busy and unpredictable.  Habits, on the other hand, are about  the journey, and you might reach a goal on this journey, but they are’t dependent on it.  For instance, I exercise almost every day, and that’s a habit.  It’s not an option, because I’ve decided that it’s necessary.  Along the way I might reach my goal of getting really ripped arms (!), but that’s not entirely the point.

Up until about 6 months ago, thought of my life largely in terms of goals and checklists.  I did this in my artistic practice, too.  My goals were grants or producing a show or getting into graduate programs.  I’d put a lot of energy into these things, and then get horribly disappointed if they didn’t work out, or, uncertain as to what to do next when they did work out.

I didn’t have a practice, and for an artist, the practice is everything.  The practice insists that you show up and DO THE WORK, regardless of whether you’re applying for a grant or have a performance in a month.  Writer Meg Keene puts it so well:

I’m glad that I was trained with the idea that you show up Every Single Day …no matter how sh*tty or uncreative you were feeling, and you do the work. You do the work when what you’re doing sucks, you do the work when what you are doing seems brilliant, you do the work when you’d rather be in bed. And thank God, because that takes some serious pressure off.  You just have to show up and work, not show up and do brilliant work. 

I’m thinking about this a lot right now, because I have some big ideas cooking in my brain, and I’m trying to make them a reality.

It’s easy to make excuses for why this can’t happen– I’m not ready, I don’t have enough money, I don’t know if the ideas will work…. but the only solution is to plunge in and do it.  And, I have to do it every day.  Even when I think it’s not working.  Even when it’s uncertain.  Even when I’m about to sh*t my pants with fear,  I have to keep doing it every day until it’s a habit- second nature.  And then, I might find that I’ve reached some of my goals.

Some of the most brilliant people I know are people who second-guess themselves constantly.  They have more impressive skill sets than me.  And maybe even bigger + better ideas.  But, they can’t get over the hurdle of making it happen.   Entrepreneur Penelope Trunk says that discipline is the skill of remembering what you want.  And, right now I REALLY want some things.

And yesterday, I sh*t you not, a man claiming to be a unicorn showed up at the restaurant where I was working, and told me he would grant me a wish.  Naturally, I told him that I was sick of waiting tables.  He assured me that he would work on getting me out of the restaurant industry.  I assured him that I was willing to do the work.

So…here I am, house sitting in the wooded ‘burbs, trying to DO THE WORK.

What if there wasn’t a d*mn thing in your way?  What would you do?  And why aren’t you doing it?


4 thoughts on “Do The Work

  1. Amen. I loved Meg’s recent article on success, being an entrepreneur and doing the work. Showing up every day because it’s what you do. And if you do it consistently there’s no way you won’t be successful. You’re ready. Keep moving forward.

  2. There isn’t a damn thing in my way and I’ve only recently noticed that. The hilarious turn, however, is that unlike you, I gave up my quote/unquote “real career” to go back to waiting tables. I’m happier than I’ve been in a very long time.

    • YES- I love this! I wanted to smack myself a little when I realized that I was the only one in my way. It seems so obvious, but I totally didn’t see it. Waiting tables is a great transitional job, because you can (usually) work less and make about the same as you would at an office job.

      But, I’m finding myself with the time + energy versus money dilema. My other pursuits aren’t financially viable (YET), but they take a lot of time. I’m guessing it’s similar to being in school. Eventually, the work pays off, but meanwhile it’s a juggling act.

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