Over the past year, I jumped head first into the creative vortex and somehow made it to the other side. The creative vortex is what separates the “I want to create” from the “I did create,” the “idea” from the “doing of the idea.” For me, this meant going from what was once a far-fetched dream to write a book, to actually writing the book, finalizing the book’s design, and (this past weekend!) pressing ‘send’ to my distributor.
The book tells the story of how I decided to start paying more attention to the voice inside my heart asking, urging, imploring me to live a life where I got paid for who I was and what I believed in. During this time, I quit my comfortable, government job in D.C. and moved to San Francisco with nothing but two suitcases, my newfound optimism, and a lot of energy.
Not a day has gone by where I haven’t had to balance the voice inside my heart telling me to “keep going,” with the far more practical (parental) voice inside my head telling me to “be realistic, and get a real job.” Sometimes the practical voice gets so loud that I can’t even hear myself think and I start emailing every single person I know who works for a tech company to see if they are hiring.
On Friday night, when I told a friend I was considering moving halfway across the country to take a “real job” offer, she told me straight up, “Smiley: you can’t do that.” I replied, “Why not? I need to make some real money. The book is finished. It’s time to move on.”
She shot back, “Move on? You’re going to give birth to something and let it go by the wayside? Writing the book is just the beginning. You can’t stop now.”
I took a deep breath and let out a little scream, knowing she was right. You spend a year crawling through the creative vortex; writing your book, finishing your art installation, making your album, developing your product, launching your start-up. You stop seeing your friends, you don’t go out on the weekends, you give up drinking, you even give up sex (or maybe you just don’t get any); you are totally consumed working on something you believe in.
Finally, you get to a point where you’re work is ready to share with the world. Your initial instinct is one of fear. “Hmmm, some people are definitely going to hate this piece of shit I just made—why the hell did I just waste a year of my life working on this?—I need a back-up plan—I should get a job that pays well and provides me unlimited access to KIND bars and Kombucha.”
At some point you realize that the very instincts telling you to hold back are the same fears that inspired you to jump into the vortex in the first place. You accept that failure is impossible if you see your work through to the end.
The reality is that jumping into the creative vortex, while seemingly impossible, is actually the easy part. The process of sharing your work, of struggling to sustain your work, is far harder and scarier than creating it in the first place. I have to put as much energy into distributing and marketing the book as I did into the days I spent locked in the library writing it. I know that Day 366 requires far more dedication than Day 1.
Learning to balance this tension between the fire that burns within your heart and the practical voice inside your head is what makes you an artist or an entrepreneur. It’s what allows you to make the hardest decision you ever have to make (which you have to make every single day—sometimes two or three times a day): the decision to keep going.
To not get distracted by projects that may fulfill other people’s agendas, but not your own. To realize that if you are going to work in alignment with your purpose, if you are going to believe in yourself, then there is no end date or finish line. To accept that the road to your dreams is more likely to be marked by days spent actually living those dreams, than days spent in pursuit of a paycheck.
A version of this post also appeared in Medium.