What Success Looks Like

I’ve been thinking a lot about what success looks like. Wondering when I will feel like I am using everything I have to offer and making the things only I can make. I’ve been wondering how much energy to give over to career-building and worrying about how far away being “in charge” of things carries me from making things I care about.

And then I am given two gifts from the universe: this 99% blog post and this video of Neil Gaiman’s recent commencement address at the University of Arts in Philadelphia.

The 99% blog post woke me up to a very real conundrum: the more successful I become, the more my time is potentially spent reacting to the needs and requirements of other people. I’m not suggesting that I don’t want to react or respond to the needs and requirements of other people. That’s why I’m a good librarian. I like to help people. I just need to figure out a way to declare creative work as a priority and protect my time to do that work. I like the idea of creating a separation between communicating acts and “actionable stuff”.

Belsky writes:

Amidst the research for my upcoming book on extremely productive creative people and teams, I have found that the “uber productive” actively develop methods for defying this new and dangerous trend. They impose discipline on themselves and set up blockades when necessary. And, most importantly, they have a “separation of church and state” philosophy for communications and actionable stuff.

This gets back to my email problem and the feeling that I spend most of my productive time digesting, writing and replying to emails. There needs to be a wall.

And then, a better gift — this video of Neil Gaiman’s advice to artists:

There is so much to love in this message that I won’t try to catalog it all. The single, simple metaphor: the work you are passionate about is a mountain. Walk toward the mountain. Do things that carry you closer to that mountain. Don’t do things that carry you away from that mountain.

Be focused. Don’t tolerate distractions. Make mistakes. Make big mistakes. Make fantastically beautiful, collosal mistakes. And then learn from those mistakes and don’t make them again. Make new mistakes. Make different mistakes.

Make great art. Make great art when life is going well. Make great art when life is going to shit. Keep making great art.

Amen.

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