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November: “Don’t make plans, make space”

“Most of us prefer to feel more like artists than workers—and maybe some of us really are—but that mind-set paves a path to exploitation. And if we believe that work isn’t actually work, we lose the sense that leisure is an altogether different category of existence. Work time—with its dollar value, and transactional nature—is not play time, which is free, in all senses of the word.”

-Katrina Onstad, 
The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork

At some point last month on Instagram I saw what was intended to be an uplifting, get-after-it, kind of a post. You know the type: a modern, graphic font, the words carrying what’s intended to be an inspiration for living your best life. It said something along the lines of “there are only three months left in 2019. Now is the time to do what you've been dreaming of." Something that induced a bit of an eye roll. The message was clear: whatever goals you had for this year, now is the time to do them, and if you don’t, you won’t be self-actualized.

I don’t remember exactly how it was phrased, and I didn’t save the post, but the general point stuck with me. Not because I internalized it and then went full charge ahead on unfinished business for 2019 with a renewed sense of passion, but because it all left me a bit irritated. It was the perfect example of our culture of production. A kind of “hey there, time is running out, better hustle!”

We all have goals, projects and things we want to do, and often it’s easier to do them if we give ourselves a deadline. (Says the woman who really wants to take a stab at writing a novel, and isn’t November supposed to be a good time to do that?) But at the same time, this mindset that we only have until the end of the year to finish everything we have set out to do, implies that if we don’t hit those goals we have somehow failed. 

That’s because culturally, we attribute success with production. Our sense of accomplishment lies in finishing things, or at the very least, hustling our way towards the finish line as fast as humanly possible.

This link between success and production is an assumption that we have (falsely) been making for quite some time, as proven to me in two books that have been reading this last month: The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork by Katrina Onstad (which I fittingly finished last weekend) and Rest: Why You Get More Work Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.

Let me sum things up for you: overwork is bad, there’s a tipping point where the more hours that we work don’t really matter in what we’re producing (and in fact, they may be harming our work), but rest and play are good for us, and weekends are essential.

Culturally, it’s so difficult to devote time to things like rest and play because we’re in an endless cycle of that false assumption that production = success. 
“... the assumptions that knowledge is produced rather than discovered or revealed, that the amount of work that goes into an idea determines its importance, and that the creation of ideas can be organized and institutionalized, all guide our thinking about work today. When we treat workaholics as heroes, we express a belief that labor rather than contemplation is the wellspring of great ideas and that the success of individuals and companies is a measure of their long hours."

-Alex Soojung-Kim Pang,
Rest: Why You Get More Work Done When You Work Less

Operating on this false narrative comes at significant harm. Physical, mental, and social health; it all suffers in a cult of overwork. 

Make space for coffee and art breaks.

I write all of this because November and December are notoriously “busy” times. We’re not only trying to wrap up projects for the year, but we’re trying to juggle a lot of social demands too. Tis the season after all, and consumer culture exacerbates all of these stresses. 

We need a reminder to slow down, rest, play, and check out once in awhile during every month of the year, but this time in particular. If we aren’t mindful about it, the next two months can pass by in one frantic flash, and we’ll come out on the other side feeling like we have been sideswiped by life.

We have to be intentional about creating space for rest and play.

I don’t just mean sleeping (although
sleeping is essential). I mean the Saturdays when there are no plans and you have freedom to see where the day leads. I mean the sunny day that just has to be taken advantage of. I mean a half hour devoted to going on a walk and not taking your phone with you. I mean lighting a candle in the morning when it’s still dark out and taking a few moments just to breathe. I mean uninterrupted time with family. I mean deciding that there is a certain time on a Friday night that you will stop looking at your emails, and you won’t look at them again for another 24 hours (48 even!). I mean planning to get together with a friend and make a meal. I mean indulging in an afternoon of art making that’s just for you. I mean going to a museum. I mean going for a hike.

Well, you get the idea. 

If you’re self-employed, you know how difficult it is to set these boundaries. I know that personally, this is a time of year with a lot of work obligations and it all feels like one constant mode of production. If I am bad about setting boundaries everything starts to feel very unmanageable. 

But no one is going to set these boundaries for you. You have to choose to carve out the time and set it aside. Be precious about your time. After all, it’s yours. 

I loved what Onstad wrote as one of the bullet points in her Manifesto for a Good Weekend: “don’t make plans, make space.”

This month, do just that.

Make space for everything that fuels you. 
Make space for serendipity. 
Make space for play.
Make space for slowness. 
Make space for creativity.
Make space for new ideas.
Make space for quiet.  
Make space for rest. 

If you’re feeling recharged and full of energy to get you through the end of the year, and you feel like sprinting right up to the finish line, fantastic, more power to you! But if you’re feeling slow, tired, lethargic, that’s ok too. 

Toss out all the “I Shoulds” and listen to yourself and what you need this month. Give yourself the space you crave.  


I made the papercut at the top in honor of a presentation that I am doing as part of the 2019 Ampersand Live storytelling event at the Moore Theatre in Seattle next Thursday evening, November 7. Would love it if you considered coming! Tickets here
Two special announcements
(that have to do with the season)

1. I am going to be creating my digital advent calendar again this year.
24 Days of Making, Doing, and Being is a bit of an antidote to the madness and chaos that can often come with the holiday season. In the past two years, I have sent it out to my entire newsletter list. This year it will be a paid subscription. $5 gets you the daily email sent December 1st to 24th. I hope that you consider signing up for it

2. My 2020 Postcard Calendar is now available for preorder.
Each month is intended to be used as a postcard once the month is over, the perfect excuse for making snail mail a part of your regular creative practice next year. And as a thank you for being here, I’ve made a special discount code for you. Use “creativefuel” at checkout and you will get 15% off all print, card and calendar orders in my shop (discount does not apply to books or original artwork).
Creative Fuel is a monthly newsletter intended to provide the tools to reawaken your creative self. Subscribe here.

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Now, go dream. Wonder. Make stuff. Repeat.

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