March in review: milestones and mental callouses

In February, I spoke about feeling burned out; now I’m feeling like I’m overflowing with energy, but I’ve not been working hard enough to translate it into good work.

Still, I’ve (almost without noticing), passed a few significant milestones this month:

  • University: Submitted my dissertation (entitled ‘The effect of exercise on academic performance on Portsmouth University students: an economic analysis’ – thrilling stuff). I’ve also finished lectures and seminars. All that stands before me and my first class honours degree are a few pesky exams.
  • The Ink: The 1000th person to visit the ink has come and gone. March was also my best ever month for page views, and I finally crossed the ‘100 follower’ threshold. It feels great to have built some momentum up again after a fairly slow and painful February.

Screenshot 2018-04-02 at 15.16.10

  • Fitness: I’ve worked up to a new pullup personal best: 26 in a row, with a neutral grip. Despite losing weight, I’ve also still maintained strength in all other key lifts (I’m particularly proud of being able to rep out 95kg on the bench pretty consistently, something I was only able to do previously when I was considerably heavier).

Looking at it summarised like that, it seems a productive month. But at times I’ve felt like I’ve not been doing much at all. So what are the takeaways?

The race itself is the only prize worth winning.

One morning a few weeks ago I woke up, checked the WordPress app on my phone, and saw the ‘visitor’ counter had finally ticked over to 1000. I felt absolutely nothing. It’s crazy that something I’d been working so hard to get, inspired such a damp response. Or is it? It’s exactly the same with every other goal or event. The actual moment of victory is over in a flash. It’s ephemeral. The joy really comes from the process, from the grind, the day to day hustle and doing the damned work.

“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”

-Charles Bukowski

That’s not to say setting goals isn’t important. It’s absolutely critical to direct yourself: but getting there is where you’ll gain the most value. The goal itself is secondary to the way you get after it.

No shortcuts.

I’ve not done a drawing I’m proud of this month. Not one. Probably the best of a bad bunch is this:

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I’ve been feeling incredibly frustrated, and actually stopped drawing for a few days. I even started talking myself into all the reasons I should just pack it in for good, focus on my writing (which, by the way, was suffering too).

Then I realised something. I’ve been trying to shortcut the process. I’ve not been sitting down, allocating an hour or two to the work. I’ve lacked the discipline to hit my quota of 1000 words a day. I’m not giving it the respect it deserves. I need to heed my own advice: it’s the sum of thousands of tiny concerted efforts. The minutes add up.

You can’t make a cake just by adding more ingredients. You’ve got to bake it.

Forgive the crude analogy. But that’s literally how I imagine the creative process. You’ve got a series of inputs and whatever you’re trying to make at the other end.

There’s a spectrum here. On one end, you’ve got hoarders, avid consumers, listeners and watchers, binging on hours of Netflix and reading book after book, not stopping to process what they’re taking in and creating nothing. On the other, you’ve got over-sharers, trumpeting every half formed thought and not stopping to learn, to experience more of the world.

 

“Art is theft.”

-Pablo Picasso

This month, I’ve found myself moving towards the ‘consumer’ end of the spectrum. It’s time to redress the balance, start ‘baking’ my ideas and seeing what happens.

Here’s an idea to introduce that element into your day to day, if you feel like you want to force yourself to create more. Every book you read, or every podcast you listen to, write down five things you’ve learned. No exceptions. 


So, in April, the objectives are:

  1. Set new, challenging goals and absolutely fall in love with the process of working to achieve them.
  2. Ensure I’ve allocated sufficient time to ‘creative output’ every day to get something half-decent done. No rushing.
  3. Watch the balance between inputs and outputs. To avoid over-saturating myself, I’m going to take a bit of time to process what I’ve learned from every book, podcast or movie I finish before moving onto the next one straight away.

Notes:

The plan for this post. Scrappy, shitty and how most ideas start.

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