It doesn’t matter how much time, money, or energy went into building the thing—is it still helping you get to where you want to go?
If yes, keep going.
If no, quit.
I’m facing this with one of my own creative projects right now. It’s been a significant part of my identity for most of the last decade, but it’s feeling like time to let go. Not because I don’t love it, or can’t do it, but because it doesn’t fit into what I want for myself now. We’ve gone as far as we can together. And that’s OK.
“Everyone gets 24 hours of fresh attention, refilled daily.”
Seth Godin shared this in his blog post this morning and it was a welcome reminder. A reminder that each day we have the opportunity—the responsibility—to manage our bandwidth. A reminder that when we mess up (and wewill) we have a chance to begin again.
That said, what will you do with this day?
What will you say yes to? And, perhaps more importantly, what are you willing to say no to?
When we’re building something new we often get stuck on what to do next. In trying to find the next “right” action we’re paralyzed with inaction.
Here’s the thing. Often, at the beginning stages of a project, it doesn’t actually matter what you do next. Your job is to play and celebrate movement of any kind. One step forward, two steps back. Perhaps a side step or two. It’s all movement, and movement creates momentum.
So, if you’re stuck, focus less on figuring out what your next steps are and more on taking them.
Follow your curiosity. Make your best guess. And move.
How do you define work? What about rest? Are these activities, states of being? And how do you know when to move between them?
I’m not sure if you’ve hit the quarantine phase where you’re questioning, well, literally everything, but I sure have. In particular, I’m paying attention to my own personal rhythms and how I measure productivity.
Which is how I got on this work vs rest debate.
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Work is… output, motion, acting on the known, and in service of others. It has some narrow, focused quality to it. It’s new creation.
Rest is…. input, stillness, surrender to the unknown, and in service of self. It is boundless and how we open ourselves up to what could be. It’s mindful consumption.
Work asks, “What can I do?”
Rest asks, “What can I enjoy?”
Both demand presence, compassion, and acceptance. Presence in this moment, compassion for where you find yourself, and acceptance of what is.
And both are needed, however you define them.
We live on a sine wave. We are not exempt from the rhythms of nature just because we’ve found ways to modify them.
A behavioural psychologist, B. F. Skinner, used the phrase “schedules of reinforcement” to describe the relationship between our actions and the rewards we associate them with.
There are fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement: rewards that are predictable. I know that every time I press this button, I get a cookie.
And variable-ratio schedules of reinforcement: rewards that are unpredictable. I know that if I keep pressing this button, at some point I’ll get a cookie.
Variable schedules of reinforcement are the most motivating. Think about it in terms of a slot machine: it would be no fun to play if you knew that you’d win every 15 times. That removes the magic and anticipation, and thus our motivation to play the game.
For better, and often, for worse, schedules of reinforcement are embedded in all areas of our lives. Look at social media. We check it obsessively knowing eventually we’ll get something good. Imagine how differently you’d interact with your Instagram account if your feed and notifications were only refreshed once a day. You’d only need to check it once a day!! Think about how that would shift the power from Facebook’s hands to yours.
Under a fixed schedule of motivation when the rewards stop, we stop pressing the button. Under a variable schedule of motivation, we’ll keep pressing the button long after the rewards have stopped, hoping something shiny is just around the corner.
Most of the systems (economic and otherwise) we operate within aren’t designed to help us thrive, they’re designed to keep us dependent on the system. They’re engineered to keep us pressing the button. If we’re not careful, this can separate us from our power and keep us from our work.
Having an awareness of both the systems you live in and the way you behave within them will help you show up and do the work, anyways.
We want someone to tell us what to do. We want answers, and we wanted them yesterday. When you’re building something new, the discomfort of the unknown will have you reaching for all kinds of prescriptive advice.
The problem is that we can only know what worked in retrospect. And that’s what worked for a specific business and specific people at a specific point in time. Anyone who’s “figured it out” did so for a reality that isn’t yours.
When you follow someone else’s roadmap, you’re building for a world that doesn’t exist using tools that don’t quite fit you. Things are different because you’re different.
You don’t have to quit your job, or leap without a net, or take on a bunch of debt, or start a new life.
Going all in is figuring out what matters to you and claiming it. It’s putting a stake in the ground and showing up for the future you’re building. It’s starting where you are with what you have.
Going all in looks different for everyone. It’s easy to hear someone else’s story and tell yourself, “If I do that I’ll get those results”. Much harder to get quiet and listen to what’s right for you, to honour and forge your own path.
Going all in isn’t glamourous. It’s a quiet commitment you make to yourself.
And you don’t have to do it all today, you simply have to start.