Over the last seven years I’ve embarked on a wholesale transformation of my entire life.
Back in 2010, I left the book world behind to pursue a more corporate existence. Within just five years, in 2015, I had somehow ascended from being CNET’s first social media manager to running a recruiting program for the world’s largest hedge fund.
Picture the scene in 2015: I’m sitting on a picnic table on a warm Connecticut summer evening clutching a top shelf bourbon at the company’s anniversary party. Mind you: I grew up shooting crawdads in rice fields in the middle of nowhere, now I’m surrounded by some of the northeast’s best and brightest and more wealth than I’d ever seen before. A legendary rock star, one of my favorites, takes the stage for a surprise show.
I can’t shake one nagging thought: “Where the f*** am I??”
I wasn’t writing. The novel I badly wanted to finish had languished for years. I was exhausted by a long commute and the competitive workplace.
It wasn’t all bad by any stretch of the imagination, and that was part of the challenge: I thrived on the competition and the learning experience, loved my coworkers, and it was a tremendous relief to finally have financial security after years of barely scraping in the publishing industry. I knew I was lucky.
But I still felt lost. I felt like I was living someone else’s life. I was running a race I didn’t want to win.
Now, as we embark on 2023?
I finished that novel, and I’m one-third of the way through a new one. I ditched the corporate life and work full time doing what I love (helping authors make their dreams come true), but in a way that gives me the financial security I enjoyed working for the hedge fund. On Wednesdays I write outside at my “office” at various spots in the bucolic Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens. I have a completely flexible schedule and travel internationally every three months, including three weeks every year in Scotland. I have work/life balance and a hobby (namely watching way too much soccer). I cook two or three times a week and I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m happier and more fulfilled than ever before.
This life may not sound all that appealing to you! But that’s not the point. This post is not about how you can re-create my life, it’s about how to create your own version of a life that fosters your creativity and leaves you fulfilled. You can not only finish that book you want to write (or whatever big project you dream about), but you can apply that same creative energy to every facet of your life.
It’s about using creativity to live creatively.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, and I know this will be a lifelong journey, but I want to share what I’ve learned seven years into taking the biggest plunge of my life.
In this post I’ll cover how to…
- Adopt a creative mindset
- Get in tune with what you really want
- Weave your goals together
- Lock in your must-dos
- Translate your goals into action
- Prune what’s holding you back
- Iterate and evolve
- Cultivate your best creative self
And if you want personalized guidance or a pep talk for your journey? Feel free to book a consultation with me! I’d love to talk it through with you.
Adopt a creative mindset
Before we get to the nuts and bolts of arranging a life around creativity, we need to start with the creative mindset, because everything ultimately flows from there.
I did not wake up one day with the perfect creative mindset. Truth be told, I’m still learning what it takes, little by little. But after seven years of struggle, here are the most important modes of thinking I’ve learned.
The sooner you can step into these ways of thinking, the better:
- Listen to yourself
- Don’t get hung up on the “why”
- Reject false binaries
- Be willing to take the plunge
Listen to yourself
Unless you were born a rebel, chances are you’ve been trained at every stage of your life to be responsive to the needs of others. First you learned to be a good child, then a good student, eventually a good employee, spouse, and parent. You spend significant chunks of your day responding to what other people need and learning to contort yourself to other people’s schedules and whims.
You’re probably out of tune with what YOU want.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had this exchange with clients:
Me: “Yeah, but what do you ultimately want from the publishing process?”
Author: *Blank stare*
And trust me, I’ve been there. How on earth could someone leave the publishing industry and somehow end up at a hedge fund five years later, like I did? It’s because I was choosing among the best incoming career opportunities rather than charting my own course. I was climbing the corporate ladder. My own personal ladder was stuck in the garage somewhere.
When I was eventually laid off at the hedge fund, I was suddenly staring at a terrifying blank slate. I had all the time in the world, but I didn’t know how to use it. I was completely out of tune with what I wanted.
I’m going to return in more detail to getting in touch with what you want and weaving goals together, but for now just focus on leaning into the mindset: You need learn to listen to yourself rather than thinking first of others.
Practicing mindfulness can help, but be sure to make it a daily practice to ask yourself: “What do I want? What do I not want? How do I feel about this?”
Don’t get hung up on the “why”
After I was laid off, I ultimately got in tune with what I really wanted: to finish the YA novel I was working on. I then wasted an immense amount of effort trying to figure out why that was the case.
What would it add up to? Why was this what I was doing? I spun in my head endlessly. Was that really my highest and best purpose? Was there something else out there?
Meanwhile, that novel was busy burning a fire through my brain. I had to finish it to get it out of my system.
Why? Who knows!! It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. It just is. It’s what the sum of the molecules and synapses in my body outputted. Fighting and second-guessing what you deeply want is wasted energy.
Plus, the “why” and the broader importance of things is often only apparent in the rear view mirror. I thought I was crazy every step of the way I was writing Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow, and yet it went on to become my first published novel and one of my proudest achievements.
Let me tell you another story. During the pandemic, like many others I became addicted to Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch. It was a fabulous de-stressor. Any time I felt overwhelmed or needed to be mentally transported away from pandemic-era NYC, I played Animal Crossing.
“But what am I doing spending my time on this?” I fretted to my therapist. “It’s so unproductive!”
She gracefully suggested I pay attention to what my instincts are telling me to spend time on.
“But still!” I wailed.
Well. You know who else I soon found out was playing Animal Crossing? My ex-girlfriend in California. A remote session where she lent me some in-game flowers led to playing AC together on Halloween and then New Year’s and then whenever Celeste happened to visit our islands (if you know you know).
Fast forward to December 31, 2022 in Pasadena, and we are playing Animal Crossing at midnight… back together again as a couple… in the house we are living in together.
My life would be very, very different if I had gotten hung up on the “why” instead of just playing Animal Crossing.
You want what you want. Stop fighting it. Listen to yourself and embrace it. Trust your instincts.
Reject false binaries
One of the absolute most important things I learned at that anniversary party at the hedge fund was this one: it’s crucial to reject false binaries.
Too often we see tradeoffs where they don’t actually exist. “I can have financial security, or I can be a starving artist writing a novel.” “I can pursue my own personal projects, or I can be an attentive parent, so my book has to wait.”
Let me introduce you to a GIF that will change your life:
“¿Por qué no los dos?” Why not both?
Whenever you find yourself caught between two seemingly opposed things you want, it’s a massive, utterly crucial opportunity for creativity. Ask yourself: How can I have both? How can I have as much of what I want as possible?
Thank goodness for my time at the hedge fund. When it came time to redesign my life, I knew that I didn’t have to choose between the false dichotomy of books and financial security. I asked myself: “How can I work with authors, but in a way that leaves me financially secure?”
Reject binary thinking. Creativity is the crucial mortar that will connect and support the building blocks of your life.
Be willing to take the plunge
Listening to yourself, avoiding second-guessing yourself, striving for creative solutions… that’s all well and good. You may have great ideas and even concrete plans.
Acting on them is another story. You have to develop the courage to leap into uncharted waters. This can be particularly daunting when you are stepping off the script in life and pursuing a path at odds with what you’ve been trained to want and what the people around you expect of you.
You have to be willing to take the plunge. Trust in what you want and embrace uncertainty. As Joseph Campbell said, “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on somebody else’s path.”
You can plan ahead, find willing guides, and lean into the things that sustain you, but at a certain point, on matters big and small you just have to take the leap.
Get in tune with what you really want
I used to think that what really mattered in life were goals. You come up with something you want to achieve and you charge through every wall that stands in your way until you get that thing. Single-minded determination. Relentless focus. A long term objective. This is what our modern-day hustle culture will sell you on.
Case in point: I once thought I was going to die if I wasn’t a published author by the time I turned thirty. That was my goal.
At the time, I was working an immensely demanding job as a young literary agent. Extremely long hours and very little pay. But no problem! I just layered my goal on top of everything else I had going on in my life. I worked from 8am to 8pm on weekdays as an agent, then wrote all day on Saturdays and Sundays. Who needs rest and a social life?
Well, I did end up achieving the goal. Jacob Wonderbar sold to Dial Books at Penguin not long after my 29th birthday, and I was on my way to a trilogy. But it took an immense toll. By the time of my book launch party I could hardly even enjoy it because I was depressed, burned out, and in the midst of a horrible divorce.
I’m still proud of the achievement Jacob Wonderbar represented and I’m not knocking hustling, which is crucial, but the path I was on just wasn’t sustainable. I gave up way too many of the things I cared about to get to the goal. Unless I wanted to be headed to an early, miserable grave, I needed a different approach to creativity.
And that meant getting in touch with my values holistically, rather than focusing relentlessly on a single long term objective.
What do you truly value?
When I was laid off at the hedge fund, I knew I wanted to redesign my life. But… where do you start? How do you even go about figuring out what you want?
It’s trickier than it seems to get in tune with your values and what truly makes you tick. Values are the connective tissue of our lives, lurking under the surface of our actions. We often have to ignore them in order to make ends meet, but if you’re going to live creatively and in tune with who you really are, you must bring them to the surface.
Start by looking for the common threads in your life. Here are some questions and activities that will help:
- What gives you energy and what wears you out? What do you do that makes you feel healthy and happy?
- Look back at your previous jobs and make a pros/cons list. What did you like about your past jobs and what did you dislike? What are the qualities you liked about your old bosses and what did you dislike about them?
- What do you do when you have free time? What is it specifically that you like about that thing?
- If you could wave a magic wand over your life, what would you keep and what would you change? (I like buying lottery tickets occasionally for the way it focuses the mind on these questions)
- Who are your heroes and what do you like about them? Who are the villains in your life and what do you dislike?
- What would you want people to say about you at your funeral?
Look past the surface and find the deeper essence of what you ultimately like.
For instance, in the past I’ve chosen to write novels, but I’ve also written some screenplays. What I value is not “writing novels,” what I value is creativity. I’d probably be just as happy developing computer games or painting, if I were any good at that.
And even though I felt out of place and ultimately wanted a different life, I didn’t hate working at the hedge fund! Far from it. I’m super thankful for the friendships I made, and the way the challenge of it all led to a huge amount of learning and personal growth.
But one other thing I learned when I worked at the hedge fund was that money didn’t sustain me as an objective unto itself. I value money for the security it provides, but I’m not willing to make sacrifices for money beyond a certain baseline.
When I surveyed my life and what I like and don’t like, I ended up with the following key values:
- Friends, Family, and Relationships
- Challenge and Personal Growth
- Social justice
Write out your values. I also like writing mission statements accompanying your values that articulate what it means to you to live up to your values.
Your values probably won’t be the same as mine. Maybe money is crucial to you, maybe your kids are at the top of your list, maybe maximizing leisure time is your thing, or your faith is a priority. That’s okay!
But your list of values will form the bedrock of your creative life. Let your values be your guide.
Weave your goals together
One major advantage of starting with values is that it helps you move away from a static list of goals/objectives that you achieve at all costs, and instead helps you create a creative ecosystem.
The younger me, bulldozing my way through in a single-minded pursuit of becoming a published author by age thirty, ignored some of my core values. I neglected relationships, I wasn’t healthy, and I certainly didn’t have the kind of security that I do now.
Remember one of the foundational elements of a creative mindset: “¿Por qué no los dos?” Why not both? How can I have it all?
When you start thinking about the projects you will take on to support and channel your values (things like working out, eating healthily, bringing in money, writing a novel, volunteering), don’t think of these projects in isolation, try to weave them together in a way that supports the different pillars of your life.
For instance, rather than treating “I need to make money to pay my bills and have a reasonable amount of savings (security)” and “I want to write books (creativity)” and “I want to feel connected to a broader community (Friends, family, and relationships)” as separate projects, I thought: How can I have it all? How can I weave it all together so the different elements lift up the whole?
That’s how I came up with the three pillars of my creative/work ecosystem:
- Blog/community: I have written this blog for a long time, which gives me a creative outlet, a platform, and a sense of community and friendships. It’s also a chance for me to promote my author services and books.
- Author services: My blog leads me to clients whose books I can help improve, which will pay my bills and give me time to write books. My work with clients also serves as inspiration for the blog, and I learn craft that helps my books.
- Books: My books serve as an additional creative outlet, earn income to help me write more, and also give me credibility that boosts the blog and the author services business.
If I’d treated “How can I make a living?” as a separate question from “How can I have a creative outlet?” I might have a day job and write on the side, which is what I attempted in the past. This way, I found a way to spend my energy so that it’s like a flywheel that keeps turning and supporting the different pieces of my creative ecosystem. Even the way I give back to the community and satisfy my “social justice” value is tied into this ecosystem via my work with We Need Diverse Books.
I find it much more rewarding this way. Your ecosystem will look different from mine, but just keep asking yourself how different parts of your life can give your values a boost. Keep weaving things together and your sense of meaning will multiply.
Translate values and goals into projects
Once you know your values and have thought about how you can tie your various goals together, you can start translating those into specific, individual projects.
This is where you can start tracking individual projects, such as finishing your novel, fixing your newsletter, increasing the number of clients you bring in, or working out consistently.
Don’t just think in terms of discrete projects though, also think about sustainable systems that will help you achieve the goal. Don’t just stop at a project like, “I’m going to lose ten pounds” and treat it as an abstraction that will happen on its own, think more specifically about how you will work toward that project on an ongoing basis, e.g. “I’ll join a gym and work out three times a week.”
Here’s a framework you can use to translate values into projects into yearly goals, then individual projects, and how you’ll measure the results to see if you’re on or off track. I like to work on this every New Year as I look toward the year ahead.
But before you get overly precise about how you’ll achieve those objectives, let’s circle back to “must-dos.” Because I’m not one of those people who thinks you should simply blow up your life in order to achieve your objectives.
Lock in your must-dos
Soon I’m going to tell you how to translate your lofty goals into action in order to actually get them done.
“But, but!” you might be thinking at this point, “Nathan, your little ecosystem is great and everything, but you don’t have kids and you don’t have an elderly parent you’re caring for. How am I supposed to write a book when I’m so tired at the end of every day I can’t even see straight?”
Let me be clear about what I’m not advocating in this article. I’m not telling you to ditch your kids and/or the people under your care. I’m not telling you to quit your day job and take on total financial precariousness to pursue a creative project.
There are certain things we all must do in order to survive. And these “must-dos” are just locked in. We all have to pay our bills and take care of the people who depend on us. Some of us have more freedom and flexibility here than others, but no one I know is completely free of constraints.
For instance, while I am extremely privileged in many ways and I absolutely want to acknowledge that, I do have to work for a living and pay my bills. It’s not as if I got laid off from the hedge fund with a multi-million dollar golden parachute, snapped my fingers and said, “I’m going to edit books!” and that became an overnight financial sensation for me. I needed to bridge the gap with corporate consulting gigs until I was able to make the leap to helping authors full time. Paying the bills is a constant inescapable “must-do.”
But once you know your “must-dos,” you can accept them (for now) and treat them as a baseline you must work around as you add other facets to your creative life. This is the foundation upon which else must be built.
And this is where I find thinking of your time as weekly chunks is extremely helpful.
Your life is what you spend time on
People love to romanticize creativity. There is something undeniably magic and ephemeral about a “eureka” moment. Inspiration is fickle and unpredictable, and we sometimes wait in vain for it to strike.
Not everything in life can be quantified and there is always unpredictability, but one thing I learned at the hedge fund is that way more can be quantified than most people realize. Including creative projects.
At the end of the day, you are what you spend time on. And the only way to write a book is to spend the time it takes to write a book. Some days will be “eureka” days where you are wildly inspired and productive. Some days will be interminable slogs. You will have both kinds of days, but ultimately, the book will take the time it takes.
Creative energy will come in fits and starts, but your time is a finite resource. I highly, highly recommend you treat it as such.
Plan your week down to the half-hour
Now let’s weave the different parts of this section together.
I am a big believer in what I call “extreme calendaring,” which means tracking what you spend time on down to the half-hour.
Here’s how it works:
- Every Sunday, plan out your week in a calendar (I like Google Calendar, but feel free to use a paper calendar if it works for you).
- Put your must-dos in the calendar. (Sleep, work, kid stuff, caregiving).
- Gauge the remaining time you have for your discretionary projects, and slot those in (more on this in a bit).
- At the end of the week, track how your week went and evaluate if you need to make changes. (More on this in a bit too)
The important thing here is that you need to know your must-dos before you can a) see what’s realistic for you to layer on and b) get a sense of the changes you need to make.
Once you start treating your time as discrete blocks, you’ll be more productive and get in the habit of sticking to your calendar. If you know very clearly that your only time for writing is between 4pm and 9pm on Tuesdays and you’re dying to write a novel, well, you’d better do it rather than wasting it doomscrolling Twitter.
Translate your goals into action
With your baseline established and the time you spend demystified, you can begin to put your more discretionary goals (like writing a book) into action.
Here’s the key: Translate your goals into discrete projects, allocate specific time to them, and measure the results.
It’s really pretty simple: If you don’t spend time on something, it’s not getting done. Period. Magical elves are not going to come along and write your novel for you or whisk you to the gym. If you only write when you’re inspired, you’ll never finish a book. If you don’t allocate time to a new business venture, it’s never getting off the ground.
It’s also really crucial to track how you’re actually doing against your goals, which will force you to stare reality in the face and make changes if you’re blowing off course.
Put your projects in your weekly calendar
Once you know which projects you want to prioritize, you can fit them into your calendar. Through time, with your must-dos locked in you can arrive at a weekly routine, only now it’s easier to be more realistic about what you actually have time to take on. Everyone’s different and you might like to change it up every week to keep it fresh, but I personally find that a rhythm to my week keeps me on track.
For me, I know I need to spend 8-10 hours per week on a new creative project in order to feel fulfilled and to push it forward. It’s not always a wildly productive 8-10 hours, but that’s my baseline. I block off my Wednesdays for writing and creative projects because that’s when I’m at peak creativity during the week.
For the rest of my week: I answer emails every day from 8am – 9am so I start my day at the same time. On Sundays I spend an hour doing metrics tracking and planning my week. Mondays I have time blocked off to write two blog posts, on Tuesday mornings I work on business development for my author services, on Wednesdays I have therapy and write the rest of the day, on Friday mornings I help my dad with farm stuff and write my “This week in books” post. I work out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings, and I have recurring blocks set up for accounting and a monthly road map.
The rest of my available time between 9am – 6pm I fill with author services work. I know roughly how long it takes to edit book projects, so I’m able to reserve slots for authors months in advance with a high degree of accuracy.
Weekends I try to rest. Rest is important!!
You may want to write every single day or make every week different from the last to keep things fresh. Whatever works for you!
Calendaring doesn’t mean inflexibility
When I tell people about my approach, sometimes they imagine a rigid, robotic system. What if a friend stops by out of the blue? Do I turn them away because they’re not on the calendar? What about serendipity and inspiration and sometimes just staring at the flowers because that’s what you’re called to in that moment?
All of that is great too! Just because something is in the calendar doesn’t mean it can’t move. It’s not etched in stone. If I get exhausted, I try to carve out time to recharge.
But the most important elements need to move rather than being lost entirely. If someone stops by during my writing time, I know I need to re-slot that time somewhere else if I’m going to stay on track.
Because remember: at the end of the day, if you want to get something done, you have to spend time on it.
Prune what’s holding you back
Treating your week as a discrete chunk of time will give you a crucial realization when you encounter outside obstacles: “I don’t have time for this s***!!”
Constantly fighting with a friend, coworker, or significant other? You might have gradually gotten used to the occasional emotional toll. But when you see that the fight takes two hours and it emotionally wrecks you so you can’t focus your creative hours on your work in progress? And it happens pretty often? You’ll really, truly see what it’s costing you.
And that goes for all the other emotionally unfulfilling ways you’re spending your time and energy. Those hours-long social media time warps, swiping endlessly on dating apps, binge watching TV shows you don’t like all that much, the unproductive hangover from having one too many glasses of Merlot… it’s important to stare at the time they’re stealing from you.
The key to feeling a sense of meaning is to maximize the time you spend on endeavors that mesh with your values and minimize spending time in ways that drains you.
Treat time like food. The more healthy time you have, the better you’ll feel. The more time you waste, the worse off you’ll be.
Check in with yourself once a week
On Sundays, I don’t just plan my week. I also look back on how the previous week went.
Remember those measurables? I don’t just track blog pageviews and revenue. I translate nearly everything that’s important to me into measurables. How many friends did I hang out with? How many times did I cook? How many times did I work out? How many hours did I spend writing?
If it’s important to me: I track it. I put it in a spreadsheet. Some friends do this with pen and paper. Whatever works for you.
This helps you adjust your dials later on. You’ll get a sense of where your Goldilocks zone of “Just right” is for things like weekly times socializing and time spent on creative projects. Too little and you might feel undernourished, too much and you might feel exhausted and burned out.
When I’m finished with the measurables, I write the answer to three key questions:
- What went well this week?
- What went badly this week?
- What (if anything) do I need to change?
This helps me connect with deeper questions around meaning and fulfillment. Does my life feel like it’s on course? Am I making progress on the things that are important to me? Do I need to change anything up?
Try to diagnose problems and try some solutions to see if they get you back on track.
Don’t be afraid to make cuts
Diligently evaluating your week will help you see the things that are boosting you and what’s getting in the way.
If you’re going to be your best creative self, you have to be brave and disciplined enough to cut out things that are holding you back.
If you’re diligent about tracking time and progress, you’ll see clearly that some relationships and/or habits are draining you of the time and energy you need to accomplish the things that are important to you. After staring at how I was spending time and how I was being blown off course, I have instituted changes like social media detoxes and pruning unfulfilling friendships.
Easier said than done, obviously. But removing the abstractions and treating it as a time issue may help you see more clearly what is holding you back.
Be ruthless about protecting your time
When you know how much time you need to spend on the things you care about in order to feel fulfilled, it may even lead you to some pretty significant and even drastic life choices. It might mean some major changes, like pursuing a new career entirely, starting a new business, moving, a divorce, you name it.
A few months after I left the hedge fund, I still wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my career overall, but I’d finally, finally gotten into a routine writing my YA novel. I had gotten into a schedule and rhythm, and I was happy and relieved to be pushing it forward after it had languished for so long.
Then a job opportunity arose out of the blue. A prominent tech company wanted me to run their engineering blog. It was a lucrative offer, and I was extremely fortunate to be in that position.
But I looked at my week. I knew it would be more than a full time job. I’d be right back where I was at the hedge fund, trying to squeeze writing between the margins of a demanding career. But it seemed like an engaging opportunity that would provide me with security.
I rejected the false binary of creative time vs. security and I asked myself: “How can I have both?”
I ended up proposing to the company that instead of a full time role, I serve as a part time consultant where I provided overall guidance and strategy. For me, this approach would preserve the time I needed to write and build up my author services business while providing a crucial financial bridge.
It was a difficult decision to make at the time, but by being ruthless with my time, applying a creative solution to a false binary, and being willing to take the plunge, it ended up paying many, many dividends for me down the road.
Iterate and evolve
If you’ve done the hard work of getting in tune with your values, translating them to projects, and executing some brave pruning to create more time and energy for the things you care about, chances are it won’t take you too long to arrive at a new “baseline” you’re comfortable with. You’ll have a sense of how many hours per week you need to spend doing the things you care about in order to feel fulfilled.
From here, you can “adjust your dials.” Want to go on a health kick? Weave in some more weekly time for workouts, menu planning, and cooking. Tired from several months of hectic socializing? Pare it back to once a week.
It will become second nature to evaluate new ideas and projects against your baseline and what you have time to take on.
I’d also recommend checking in from time to time with your “must-dos” to see if you can alleviate some pressure. Are they really “must-dos?” Can you get more help? Can you find ways to free up more time?
Find the helpers
When you’re pursuing a creative project, it can be easy (especially if you’re like me) to put blinders on and just go rushing off to do everything yourself. Writing a novel feels like a solo act, and it may tempt you into hunkering down and being a total hermit until you’re finished.
But the true meaning in life comes from connecting with others. In the course of building your creative life, use what you’re building as a means to find connections with other people.
Take off the blinders. Find and cultivate your community. Particularly when you need help, you’ll find that there are helpers all around you. But you have to ask.
This isn’t about being exploitative, it’s about finding your endpoints with the rest of humanity. Weave people into your life, and keep the ones who boost your spirit especially close. And you might find yourself rocketing closer to what you really want to be doing.
Trade money for time
If your efforts and diligence result in financial success, you then have some choices to make. You can expand your lifestyle–a nicer house, a fancier car–or you can reinvest it in more time.
For instance, think of the amount of time you spend on household chores. Particularly if you’re a freelancer, you probably have a pretty keen sense of how much your time is worth by the hour. Can you free up time by outsourcing your cleaning?
Which of your work efforts result in the most bang for the buck? How can you keep preserving and maximizing time for the things you truly care about?
Investing in time and keeping your lifestyle as contained as possible (within reason) tends to pay the greatest long term dividends.
Stay in tune with your values
Through time, it’s unfortunately quite easy for new bad habits to creep in, and for ruts to emerge. Even pursuits that used to feel like fresh tracks on powder snow can eventually harden into moguls. I try to regularly change up my routines so I don’t feel a sense of stagnation.
The beginning of the year is a great time to reassess, to check back in with your list of values, see what went well and badly in the past year, and plan new projects and challenges to take on.
One of the things that’s fascinated me the most about this approach to living creatively is that even as the circumstances of my life have changed drastically over the past seven years (starting a business, finishing a novel, a cross-country move), I haven’t once needed to update my list of values.
I’m growing and changing as a creative person, but the things I care deeply about are still ultimately the same.
Cultivate your best creative self
There are a lot of takes out there on what it means to be a creative person or an artist. I realize that this is probably one of the least romantic approaches to living creativity you’re likely to read.
But at the end of the day, this all revolves around a few key principles that I personally find extremely magical:
- We have to embrace who we really are and what we really care about. It’s futile to fight it.
- The more in tune we are with the things we truly care about and the more time and energy we spend on fulfilling pursuits, the more meaning and satisfaction we’ll feel.
- A creative mindset can unlock possibilities that may seem blocked or hidden and lead us closer to our best selves.
After taking the plunge seven years ago and choosing to build a life more in tune with who I really am, I feel like a more open, resilient, braver, and healthier person. But I know I still have a long way to go.
That’s the beauty in this approach to living creatively. It’s a journey that never stops, a constant process of evolution, refinement, and connecting to people and the things that are meaningful in life.
I will keep trying to find my voice, finish projects that I find fulfilling, and try to find the best version of myself.
I hope this article helps you get there too.
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Art: Mountain Landscape with Rainbow by Caspar
Martha Reynolds says
Wow. This is like a year’s worth of great advice in one column. Saving this one, Nathan. Happy New Year!
Bryan Russell says
This was so helpful, thank you! I’ve been thinking along these same lines, and was ecstatic to find this article on how to move forward—a perfect roadmap. I hope this will be a book one day. Best to you in 2023!
JOHN T. SHEA says
Bravo, Nathan! Many wise words well worth rereading! Which I will.
Incidentally, are we going to see your YA novel published or have you put it aside for now?
Nathan Bransford says
I don’t know what’s happening with the YA novel yet, it’s on its own odyssey at the moment.
Chris Bailey says
Thank you for sharing–and that goes for this and all the other well-thought-out pieces you’ve produced for your writer community over the years.
Was it Bruce Springsteen?! No, I don’t see him performing at a Hedge Fund party. Stevie Nicks?
Man, Nathan. I LOVE this. So much good advice. Although the idea of micro-calendaring still makes me anxious. Sometimes you have to know yourself and I know I’ll never be a micro-calendaring person. I’ll never sky dive. I’ll probably never figure out how to successfully bake bread. I accept these things.
Could this be expanded upon and made into another great self-published book? How To Live Creatively: 25 rules…..
Elton John? Billy Joel? Chrissie Hynde?
Denise M. Baran-Unland says
Nathan, I started following your blog soon after it started, before Jacob Wonderbar and CNET, before the advent of Kindle, through the “Lost” posts, and kept following your blog even after you rejected my first novel. This is absolutely, no lie, hands down, the best post you’ve shared. It’s informative; it’s vulnerable, it’s honest and open; it’s triumphant and victorious; it’s encouraging. I am definitely sharing this.
Nathan Bransford says