Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Best Way to Pursue Your Life’s Work

The other week, I received an email from a young writer, asking this question:

I want to write a novel, but I can’t seem to focus. I carry around a notebook to capture ideas, but I struggle with sticking to one story for very long. Can you help?

This is a typical battle for anyone in search of their life’s work, the major issue facing most who aspire to do meaningful work in the world. The problem is this struggle is often based on one dangerous, false assumption: You have to start big.

Life's Work

Photo credit: Man Alive! (Creative Commons)

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The mistake we make

Every day, people pursuing their dreams make this mistake. They shoot for the moon without taking the first step. Here are some common examples:

  • If you want to become an actor, you move to Hollywood.
  • If you want to get a music career started, you buy some studio time and try to record a full-length album.
  • If you want to be a writer, you start writing an 80,000-word manuscript.

This is WRONG. If this is your strategy, you will end up frustrated, unfocused, and bitter. So what’s the right way?

Start small.

How a creative habit is formed

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
—Aristotle

We become what we practice. If you do something long enough — anything, really — it becomes habitual. Second nature. Like you’ve always done it.

So if you want to “put a dent in the universe” (as Steve Jobs once said), you have to start where you are, not where you want to be. You have to take the first step.

Before you can play like Jimi Hendrix, you have to learn scales and chords.

Before you write the next Pride and Prejudice, you should begin with a short story.

This is the secret to a successful career as an artist: small increments of effort that build up over time to create something meaningful.

The ugly alternative

The only other option is to kid yourself. To create a lofty goal or aspiration and never practice, only dream. This will leave you (and others) feeling disillusioned.

Don’t do this. Your passion deserves better. Instead of going big, go small — really small. Start with something you can do today, even if it’s only for five minutes. And tomorrow, do it again. Maybe for ten minutes. And so on.

Everything from meditation to auto mechanics involves practice. So just begin. Don’t plan or make lists. Just pick up that guitar, sit in front of the computer, or jump on the treadmill.

The more you work, the more effortless it will become. And soon, you’ll find yourself falling in love.

Here’s to taking small steps that lead to big impact. Good luck and Godspeed.

Free Download: How can you tell if you’ve found your calling? Click here for a free download that will help.

What’s something small that you can do today to begin your life’s work now? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I am the best-selling author of five books, including the national bestsellers The Art of Work and Real Artists Don't Starve. Each week, I send out a free newsletter with my best tips on writing, publishing, and helping your creative work succeed.

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