Welcome ladies and gentleman, to my 31st lesson! It feels extremely incredible to be able to say that. By the intro, you can probably guess that I am Phil Svitek and I’m honored you’re here today. For those of you who are new to this series, well, my goal is to help artists achieve creative endeavors by gaining the mental fortitude necessary to do so. During my 15 year history of being in the entertainment industry, I have had the pleasure of learning firsthand from some of the best mentors and of course from my own personal experiences. It is precisely these lessons which I share with you weekly in this show to help make your journey a little bit easier.
Today, I want to focus on defining what the exact path of the artist is and how she can truly balance everyday life with her art.
Right off the bat, you might argue and say that there is no exact path for artists. There is an infinite number of ways in which the artist can take. This is correct, but there are underlying principles we can extrapolate. After all, it’s like that ironic principle that the more specific a writer makes the story, the more universal it becomes. And that’s the goal of today. To draw out that universality from specifics so you can apply them in your life and work.
Let’s begin by answering how you balance life and your art. You commit to your art and then you choose whatever else fits that benefits you in some way. It’s a simple enough answer but many of us fear committing to certain choices because it inevitably means you’re eliminating other possibilities. I find that the fear of commitment is an American epidemic. If we’re doing one thing, it then means we’re not getting to do another. But that’s just a fact of life. You can choose to see it as bad or you can just accept it because I believe true freedom comes from commitment. More than likely the people you look up to are fantastic at committing to projects and getting them done. They are probably so good at it that the sheer amount of projects they’re able to turn out seems intimidating. This, I believe, is the reason why I know too many people with hundreds of projects at various stages of progress and none of them complete. Does that sound like someone you want to be? I don’t.
I actually find this type of behavior very harmful because it works against you. All the half finished projects stare at you right in the face and chastise you for not being good enough to finish them. Worse can be your friends to whom you’ve hyped up these ideas of your and they “nag” you about them because they’re curious to see the final product. They’re not really “nagging”. They’re curious and that’s a fantastic thing. You just feel guilty because it’s as if they’re questioning is a reminder of your so-called failures.
My musician friend Lauren LoGrasso believes that the world suffers because we’re creatively unfulfilled. I think that’s very true. But now consider how bad it is when you take someone who knows she wants to be creative but isn’t fulfilling that ideal. Painful to think about.
Recently, I read an article, which is actually old at this point, but new to me. It spoke of investment guru Warren Buffett and how he figures out which tasks to knock out. The key to all this is to understand that our commitment to choices is the same as defining our priorities. They are one in the same. The article recounted a story in which Buffett’s pilot of many years asked Buffett how he can better prioritize. Buffett told him to make a list of 25 projects or tasks that the pilot wanted to accomplish. The pilot did this. Then Buffett had the pilot circle five from that list. These five were to represent the most meaningful, pertinent, timely ones from the initial 25. The pilot looked at the list and thought he understood. He assumed that the five that he circled were the ones he needed to focus on and when he found free time he’d do something from the leftover 20. Buffett stopped him and said, “No. The list of five is what you must always be working on. The list of 20 is the list of things to avoid at all costs.” I’m paraphrasing there but you get the idea.
See, even from my own life, I feel like I’ve made the mistake of utilizing the pilot’s thinking and focused any “free time” on new projects. Now for your list of five, you very well might need to include your day job or taking care of your family if you have one. When it comes to artists, we have to identify the aspects of our life that we can work on creatively and the ones that we simply must do. Sometimes, even when it feels like you don’t have a choice, you must realize you actually do. You retain the choice to accept it and remain positive. You’re alternative is to be miserable. That’s a choice too.
Again, in creating this list, it may feel restrictive. You’ve literally defined the projects you are to avoid at all cost even though you came up with them yourself and more than likely find excitement in them. Here’s the good news. It’s temporary. The idea of this list is to get you to focus on the five tasks fully and therefore you can knock them out faster. Once you’re done with something from the priorities’ list, then you can add a new task to it. Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean you can’t utilize it. As Juliet Vibert likes to say, “Just not right now.” The list of 20 things to avoid can also be referred to as an ice box, meaning it’s a running list of projects you’ll tackle next once you finish something from the to do list.
I’ve been thinking in these terms for a few weeks now and it’s really been a powerful force in my life because now all my energy is much more concentrated and the projects I am working on are infused with this energy and therefore much better.
And it all came from that single act of choosing to define what’s most important for me to work on at the present moment.
Now, if you know me, you know that I’m also an ambitious person and so what I do daily is set time limits and create benchmarks of what I want to accomplish with each of the projects. Doing this focuses me further because of those deadlines. It prevents me from playing around too much, which admittedly I do sometimes even with something simple as responding to a text right away. That seems harmless but it breaks my concentration. Generally, the text can wait. But imagine how much time I’d waste if I didn’t self impose these deadlines.
There’s a principle called Parkinson’s Law which states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. What this means is that if you allow yourself two weeks to finish something, you’ll end up using all two weeks. But if you force yourself to do it in two days, you’ll knock it out in two days. It’s not an exact science but it does indicate a psychological shift that happens. You were always able to do something faster, you just didn’t force yourself. That’s why people that are strapped for time can actually have an advantage. It is why you hear so many stories of someone working a full time job and launching a business. This thought itself can be extremely liberating because I know a lot of creative people who work multiple jobs to support themselves. And many of them fume over that, saying they never have enough time to do their creative work. There’s time somewhere, they’re just not applying it. So make that mental switch and use your limited time to your advantage, after of course you have your priority list and know what you’re tackling.
This type of adherence to sticking to what you define as your small number of priorities is essentialism, which is slowly becoming my new obsession. There’s a great book on this notion called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. In short though, it’s about doing less, but better, so you can make the highest possible contribution.
I said fear of commitment was an American epidemic. Well, so is the idea that we need to do it all. What is all? Socrates had a great quote that was, “beware the barrenness of a busy life.” All is a myth. And if you look at it logically for just a second, you’ll realize that doing it all is definitely not possible. Your time is a precious commodity. It’s the one thing you can’t renew. And so if you don’t begin valuing your time, others will do it for you. And trust me, you won’t be happy with the results. Here’s an example for you. Many of us get asked to do favors and feel obligated to help in some way. It comes from a good place but go back to the definition of essentialism – is what you’re about to do going to make the highest possible contribution? I’ll bet no. But let’s say you convince yourself that you can do it, which does happen. Hell, I’ve done it where I say to myself that what they’re asking me is easy for me to do so I should do it. And then I repeat this behavior a few more times until I realize it’s not sustainable. And in the words of McKeown – “If it’s not sustainable then it’s impossible.” You’ll wear yourself out. You’ll eventually begin to resent others and so on. But they’re not doing anything wrong. This scenario can also be self inflicted where upon any time you have a new idea, you drop what you’re doing, literally or metaphorically speaking, and pursue it. Again, it can stem from that innocent notion of it’s easy and it won’t take long. Both these happen because you didn’t define your time. So prioritize your time by creating your list of five projects to focus on.
Let’s talk about the other aspect that is a part of the artist’s path and helps balance everyday life with art and that’s routine.
The only way you’re going to be able to be effective is if you have routines in place to help you out in your life. I did a whole lesson on the importance of routines early on and I recommend you check out that episode again as I won’t recap everything here. But I will tell you that in order to see out projects through to their last stage, you should have routines. Routines, if nothing else, help train your brain to engage with ideas, to pull from the subconscious and bring them forth into your work. In terms of the everyday aspects, it’ll help make your life easier.
Routine on the surface might sound like a very boring and mundane word. And in a sense it is. But that’s exactly what an artist’s path is by the truest account. If you’re a writer, you need to write. You’ve prioritized writing and now you have a routine to do it. No one else is interested in seeing you write but you. They’re interested to get the novel and read it but not the work it took to get there. Everything but the result is solitary in nature along the artist’s path. And it is my belief that this is why so many would-be creatives abandon projects. They fear commitment and furthermore, they realize how much work it takes and how unglamorous the work actually is in comparison to how it’s marketed. But when you prioritize what you want to do, and do it via a routine is exactly when an artist turns professional, not when she first gets paid. An artist commits her life to her art at any cost. That is the choice she’s made and accepts it wholeheartedly. And everything else that isn’t on her priority list is a distraction that should be eliminated.
It can be scary. FOMO is very much real. But the true way to balance life itself is to understand that balance is a myth. Real balance is about defining what matters to you and doing it. Screw the rest as they say. Instead, do the work. Do the mundane because out of that comes the greatness that moves people’s souls across the world. Are you ready to walk that path? I know I am.
Now, before you head off, just a few more things. First, let’s recap everything so you can digest it.
- Create a list of 5 things to focus on and anything else should be avoided at all cost.
- Setup goals and deadlines for yourself to take advantage of Parkinson’s Law.
- Value your time. Don’t let others define it for you or worse, guilt trips out into doing something you don’t really want to do.
- Get into a routine. It’ll help you accomplish your list.
- Embrace the solitary act that is the creative process.
- Realize that life balance is a myth, it’s really about defining your values. When you do, you’ll eliminate FOMO.
Use these takeaways as tools in your creative life. Feel empowered. Now, before you click away to another lesson from me, here’s a few more things. For your benefit, the transcript of this episode is on my website. A link is provided so you can always review it. Leave a comment with your thoughts and opinions and what lessons you’d like to see me tackle next. The more specific you are with your questions, the better I can cater these episodes towards you. Also, you can support this show on patreon.com/philsvitek if it doesn’t burden you financially in any way. Every contribution is truly appreciated and helps defray the costs of putting on this show – which as you can imagine takes a lot of effort. But honestly, one of the best and easy ways to support this show is when you hit that like button, rate the podcast, and tell your friends and family about it. It’s free to do that and helps tremendously. If you’re new to the series and you want to be notified when future episodes release, subscribe on Apple Podcast, YouTube, Facebook, Google Podcast, Spotify or any other platform that is most convenient to you. Specific links are provided below. Should you be a new host in the LA area and are looking for opportunities, I encourage you to check out AfterBuzz TV. It’s a network I’ve been a part of that has taught me much of the things I know and has groomed some of the best hosts in the world including WWE’s Cathy Kelley, Fox’s Eboni K. Williams and hundreds of others. Plus they have a fantastic internship program for college students if you happen to be one. I’ve provided AfterBuzz TV’s contact page link in below as well. Lastly, to stay up to date with all the creative projects we’re doing, follow me and my producer Juliet Vibert on @PhilSvitek or @BonjourJuliet. Thanks for watching. I’m Phil Svitek and I’ll see you next week with another one of my lessons. Bye!
Full Transcript: https://philsvitek.com/the-path-of-the-artist-balance-life-with-art/
Warren Buffett Article: https://www.businessinsider.com/warren-buffetts-not-to-do-list-2016-10
Greg McKeown Book: https://gregmckeown.com/book/
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