When it comes to social lives and relationships, being a writer, creative, or small business owner can make life a difficult and delicate balance. There’s something about working in an environment other than an office that makes many people think—hey, if you’re not at the office, you must be not doing anything serious, right? Unfortunately, for creatives and the self employed, that attitude is all to familiar, and we may even find that we’re telling ourselves that very story! “I’m just going to watch one New Girl and then get to work,” or “I can totally go to the art museum this afternoon and get this work done. No problem!” But the problem is: we allow ourselves and others to encroach on the very territory we most need to keep sacred. I’ve tried all kinds of things, and none really seem to work. Lately, I’ve resorted to working or writing only when I’m in the house alone to ensure that my focus doesn’t get interrupted. That’s fine and good when it's possible, but in every other case, I’ve been at a loss for how to simply say “I can’t do whatever thing right now, I’m working/writing/making.”
That is, until last week, when I heard the most marvelous four words I’d never thought of:
I have a deadline.
Janis Cooke Newman is teaching the class I’m currently taking, and she’s got enough sass and knowledge to fill an auditorium. Her solution to requests coming in when she’s writing is elegant and cuts right to the chase. Can she pick up the kids—she’s just at home, right? “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have a deadline.” How about swing by the post office? “Nope, sorry. On a deadline.” To be fair, Janis writes for a living, so she likely does have deadlines these days, but what about before? What about when she was unpublished and still in that frustrating “emerging writers” category? Just like you and me, she had to learn to set boundaries around what was important to her to really make it happen. “I always told them I had a deadline,” Janis says. “I just never told them it was my own.”
"I always told them I had a deadline. I just never told them it was my own."
—Janis Cooke Newman
Those four words—I have a deadline—got me thinking. It’s so easy to honor our commitments to others; we do it almost on autopilot. Whatever we say yes to, we do. But what about for ourselves? If we’re telling ourselves we want to write for a living, or dance, or own our own businesses, we are, in a way, asking ourselves if we can do that very thing. And for a while, we’ll say “Yes!” and go about getting whatever it is we’ve asked ourselves for. But too often, we don’t honor what we’ve promised ourselves because we start saying yes to everyone else and putting what they want before what we really want. I’ve been guilty of this for quite a long time, and only within the past few years have started setting boundaries in order to really dig into the things I want for myself.
After meditating on this idea of just finding a way to tell people that you've made a commitment to the thing you want the most, I realize that I've really been letting things get more complicated than they need to be. Instead of feeling guilty or uncomfortable about staying committed to what we want, we should be able to kindly and simply say, "I'm sorry, I can't do that, because I have a prior commitment." Whether we say that we're committing to ourselves is totally optional.