I didn’t write yesterday. In fact, I haven’t written anything for the last several days. I’m not supposed to tell you that, but it’s the truth.
I’m supposed to tell you I got up at five a.m., that I hustled to “do the work” before sunrise, and then perfectly managed my responsibilities as husband, father, and writer without difficulty for the rest of the day.
I’m supposed to tell you I don’t struggle with discipline; that hard work comes easy and perseverance is the key to success. And that’s all you’ll ever need.
But if I said that, I’d be lying.
What discipline can (and can’t) do
Can discipline be helpful? You bet. Without it, it’s difficult to succeed. But is discipline enough? Hardly.
A month ago, I received my dream book contract.
Last week, I had one of the best weeks of my year, financially.
But today, I’m back to square one, back to anxiety and desperation and second-guessing myself.
How did I get here? With discipline. Putting my nose to the grindstone, I worked harder than most, seeking opportunities where I could find them and stepping into them whenever they came. And because of this, I succeeded.
Without discipline, you won’t break through the noise. To get the attention you deserve, you will have to hustle. But there’s one thing discipline can’t do:
It can’t give you a reason why.
Losing your why
A friend of mine made over a million dollars this year. He got to this point in less than two years, racing past the competition and causing most of his peers’ jaws to drop. Everyone, myself included, was amazed.
But do you know what he told me recently?
“I still haven’t found my why.”
Few people have been as successful and even fewer in such a short amount of time, but my friend still doesn’t know why he does what he does.
Apparently, the work is never enough.
Your art can consume you, if you let it, but it can’t fulfill you. It can’t give you a reason for why you create in the first place.
So what, pray tell, sustains us as artists, if it’s not work, if it’s not the accolades and accomplishments?
Maybe it’s the life behind the work.
What writers write about
Some writers tell stories about other people; they base their characters on friends or live vicariously through the experiences of strangers.
Others write about their own lives.
But the best writers, I believe, write about something more, something larger — the experience of life itself.
Here’s how Joseph Campbell put it:
I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.
Yes. This is why we read books and watch movies and search out transcendent experiences; it’s why we get lost in stories. We want to feel alive.
And this is the job of a writer: to set the stage for us to lose — and then find — ourselves.
So what does this mean for us as artists and entrepreneurs, those dreaming of creating things that will change the world?
How do we apply Campbell’s words to our novel, our startup, our new course?
We put ourselves right in the middle of life, so that we remember what it means to be alive.
The marching orders
We must do our best to capture the essence of life — and then share it.
We must strive to live, truly live, and when the busyness of life subsides, to steal away for a few minutes and re-member those memories. To piece them all back together again so that others may benefit.
We tell our stories, as my friend Jon Acuff says, so that others can find see stories in our own.
Yes, we need you to live. But we also need you to write, to tell your story.
This is where most artists fail: they lose themselves in the art or let life squelch out any opportunity to create. And because of this, we miss their contribution.
What we don’t need is more platitudes about discipline. We don’t need you to write another blog post about loving the hustle. And we don’t need you to be a jerk, pitting your family against your work. We need you to lead by example, to live first and create second.
That’s why I canceled my appointments yesterday, loaded up the minivan, and took my family to the zoo.
And it’s why after spending all afternoon watching my son chase kangaroos and goats while screaming “Baaaaa!!!”, I raced back to the keyboard, the words almost spilling out on the page.
Living and writing — we need them both; one to inspire us to write, and the other to remind us why.
What does “a life worth writing about” look like to you? Share in the comments.