Imagine two people.
One is overflowing with passion and energy. Her life is full and rich. She can’t stop talking or thinking about her ideas and pursuits. Hope and joy pervade her life. She wishes there were twice as many hours in a day so she could spend more time working on her exciting goals and ideas.
The other person also works hard, but she has to make a conscious effort to get into the office and settle down to work. She is easily distracted and has a hard time getting started. She feels overwhelmed and not at all convinced that she can do what she needs to do. She wishes there were twice as many hours in a day so she could get more sleep.
It may seem like they couldn’t be more different, but actually, both of these people are me, or have been at some point.
Maybe you’ve experienced this, too. Sometimes, you’re so fired up, your energy feels like a big glistening color-filled bubble in your chest, pulling you irresistibly toward creativity and success. You can resist or even try to run away, but The Pull will not be denied.
That’s how it was for me with How to be Happy (No Fairy Dust or Moonbeams Required), Reclaim Your Love, my new Kindle formatting service, and love, among other things. It wasn’t so much that I had an idea or a project. It was more like the idea or project having me. Like the stray cat who wouldn’t stop meowing on my porch until I let her in, these ideas wouldn’t leave me alone until I let them fill my life with awesomeness.
Sometimes it’s like that, but then there are the other times. You know there’s a good reason for what you’re doing, and your mind is on board, but you just can’t seem to get your energy flowing.
If you’ve experienced The Pull, and then experienced the lack of it, you know what a slog it can be to try to work when it’s gone. So, what can you do?
Part of the nature of The Pull is that you don’t control it. You can’t just wish it into existence. If anything, it’s strongest for endeavors outside the circle of “should” or the schedule blocks of today’s plan.
But you can create the conditions that enable it, or at least stop hindering it.
Think about what you’ve loved throughout your life: people, interests, causes, creative pursuits, projects. You’ve probably had many passions come and go over time. Maybe a few have endured.
What makes the difference?
When I started my current business, my biggest fear was that I’d lose interest after a few years. It started as a grand passion, but then, so did my now-mothballed yarn business, as well as my pursuits of watercolor painting, photography, roller hockey, music, teaching, autocross, contra dancing, and several exes in their time. Obviously, passion isn’t enough.
I don’t have a final answer to this question, honestly. I’d love to hear any insights you have on it in the comments.
But here’s the best I can come up with.
Take another look at the idea itself. What drew you to it in the first place? Do those qualities still hold? Do they still appeal to you? If not, is there something similar or related that might engage you, or is it simply time to move on?
For example, when I started my yarn business, the colors and textures were irresistible to me, and the appeal was even more intense because my day job wasn’t creative at all. Yarn hasn’t lost its color or fuzziness, but I moved away from a place that’s gray or white with snow half the year, and I do interesting, creative work now. In short, the gap I used to fill with yarn has been filled with other things. But lately, I’ve been getting re-obsessed with Nuno felting, so I may have a fiber arts resurgence.
Consider your reasons. What drew you to this in the beginning? Is that draw still there? If not, are there other reasons that could draw you to it?
For example, I started autocross partly because I was feeling a lot of aggression, and I wanted to feel adrenaline and speed and power. Now, my life is much calmer and happier, but I still want to go to autocross for the fun company of the other racers and for the satisfaction of overcoming my fears and getting better at it.
On the other hand, I started kung fu mainly because I wanted to punch and kick something. Once I got happier, kung fu really didn’t have any place in my life any more, so it made sense for me to drop it and pursue other things instead.
It’s important to listen to yourself. If you feel fear or resistance but you’re just in The Dip, by all means, keep going. But if you really don’t want to do it any more, admit it and move on. Your energy will be much stronger for something you want to do.
Look at your expectations, especially of yourself. Whenever we start a new pursuit, we have novelty on our side, and The Pull is enforced by our visible progress in skill or knowledge. The difference between absolute novice and marginally competent feels dramatic. It feels good.
But as we keep doing the same thing, it’s easy to start expecting ourselves to be good at it. Your progress becomes less dramatic, and you become more aware of how far you have to go. It’s easy to get frustrated.
Not only that, we often start focusing on outcomes. Thinking about the results we hope for can lead to disappointment, and thinking about the results we fear can lead to discouragement and dread.
For example, when I started 17000 Days, it was my favorite thing in the world, and I couldn’t wait to get home from work to write. But as the blog transformed into a business, my view of the work also changed. Instead of just writing for the enjoyment of writing, I started thinking about outcomes. I want to write well, connect with people, share knowledge, build the community, make enough money to support myself. My primary goal is to help people build lives they love. That’s strong motivation but also a bit daunting.
At the same time, I’m afraid that I’m writing crap, I’m too impersonal, I’m too melodramatic, I’ve lost my touch, people think I’m stupid or rude, I’m driving everyone away, I can’t do this, I’ll never make enough money to support myself, it’s all a delusion, I’m about to fail, and it’s going to hurt. Oh yeah, and I must be crazy to be worrying about all this junk–what’s wrong with me?
With all that going on in my head, it’s no wonder it’s hard to sit down and write! I’m afraid writing will be painful, and my angst and second-guessing make that fear come true.
If you’re going into things with a mental undercurrent of “this is going to suck,” you’re murdering The Pull. The best remedy I’ve found is to stop taking everything so seriously. In the case of writing, I remind myself it’s just one blog post. It doesn’t have to be the end-all be-all–I can write more later. And, it’s just a draft. I don’t have to get it right on the first try. I’m good at writing. It will be easy. This applies to anything–everything we do is just our best crack at it right now.
Above all, consider your energy.
In my life, the number one reason for losing The Pull is not taking care of myself. I think this is true for many people. If you’re low on physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual energy, how can you be filled with passion and do great things?
Our modern world allows us to pretend that all resources are infinite, but the reality is, we need sleep and nourishment and movement and love and solitude and inspiration and interesting stuff to think about and challenge.
We can neglect them and still minimally function, so we get fooled into thinking they’re less than essential. But if you want to do meaningful work and experience creativity and passion, you NEED these things.
If you’re like me, you can easily slip into the habit of putting yourself last. You’ve got your work, you’ve got your chores, you’ve got your hobbies, you’ve got your relationships. There’s not enough time to do everything–something has to slide. Breaking our commitments to ourselves often appears as the path of least resistance.
It seems easiest in the short term, but it’s a big mistake in the long run. You are your most valuable asset, and if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll destroy your enjoyment of everything you do. If you still keep going after that, you’ll eventually destroy your ability to do what you love. Ultimately, you’ll destroy yourself.
This is something I have to remind myself constantly. It’s easy to think I can’t afford to take an hour for a walk in the woods–forgetting the cost in mental energy, ideas, and zen that would have saved me time in the long run. The same goes for getting to bed on time, reading, professional development–all of these things are investments. The Pull needs your energy. It rarely appears when you’re depleted.
If you’re feeling far from The Pull, I hope these suggestions help you renew yourself and restore your creative fire. And if you’re in a time of Pull now, I’m cheering you on! If you’d like to share what’s got you fired up, I’d love to hear it–please inspire us all by sharing in the comments!
If your Pull happens to be calling you to running a business, you may want to check out this free webinar offered by my friend and mentor, Jonathan Mead:
Jonathan will cover:
1. The fastest path to freedom, that gets you paid well to do what you love in the shortest time possible.
2. Why your offer to the world is everything if you want to get paid to be you, and why finding a niche is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.
3. The one shift you can make to make quitting your job and getting paid to be you nearly inevitable (I don’t believe in shortcuts, but it’s the closest thing I know of to one).
This isn’t for everyone, but if you’re interested in working for yourself in a business built around your passions, I hope you’ll check it out. It’s because of Jonathan’s coaching that I was able to follow my Pull and quit my job–I can’t thank him enough for the difference he’s made in my life.