More To That

An illustrated, long-form blog that delves deeper into the things that make us who we are.

The Arc of the Practical Creator

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When I was in elementary school, all my friends took piano lessons.

piano lessons

I begrudgingly took them too, although I didn’t understand the hype. Precisely none of my friends were excited to take these lessons, and I often wondered why our parents were forcing us to learn this craft.

After thinking through this problem with my 10-year-old mind, I came to this conclusion:

professional pianists

At the time, it made complete sense. Why else were we spending hours each week practicing Fur Elise for the annual recital? Why else did our parents get angry when we begged them to cancel lessons for the week? Well, I figured that our parents desperately wanted us to be pianists, and that these lessons were the only way for us to actualize that grand vision.

Of course, the truth was far from that.

Over time, I learned that the real reason they wanted us to take piano lessons was for developmental purposes. If we learned the piano, that would be helpful for our cognitive development, which in turn would better position us toward the actual careers they’d prefer us to have.

career paths

To be fair, my parents never told me to pursue any one career path, and rarely discouraged any of my curiosities either.1 However, I do know that if given a choice between stability and serendipity, they would choose the former. In their minds, being a pharmacist was preferable to being an artist not because of the money, but because of the certainty that would accompany a well-traveled path.

It’s not just my parents who thought this way either.

Unsurprisingly, none of my childhood friends who took those piano lessons are professional pianists today. Nor was that ever the goal for the parents who enrolled them. That’s because creative expression is often used as a gateway to something more practical, and is rarely accepted as something practical in itself.

This is why parents will rush to place their kids on long waitlists for art and music programs, but won’t encourage them to become artists or musicians as they age. It’s as if creative expression is useful for its ability to create connections between young neurons, and once that purpose has been fulfilled, it becomes an obstacle that gets in the way of viable career paths. With this view, the arts are utilitarian at best, burdensome at worst.

If I were to illustrate this perceived tradeoff between creative expression and practical application, it would look like this:

practicality and creativity inverse relationship

You can define practicality in any number of ways, but the most common measurement is in its capacity to build wealth. After all, there’s a long-standing belief that if you’re committed to a creative endeavor, then you’re giving up the expectation of a regular paycheck landing in your bank account. This is the inverse relationship that is represented in the above graph.

So if you’re a painter, writer, ceramicist, or musician, then money may be a sensitive (and lacking) subject:

practical and creativity artist

But if you’re someone that’s followed a tried-and-true career path (pharmacist, lawyer, banker, doctor), then regular deposits of money come with that territory:

practicality and creativity businessman

While this seems intuitive, a good argument against this view is that creativity is subjective. A physician may regard her role as a deeply creative endeavor in the same way that a painter would for his. In addition, there are many creative jobs where high salaries are expected (software engineers and product designers, for example). With that said, is there a good way to categorize what’s an act of creative expression, and what is not?

The answer is yes, and it has everything to do with agency.

Creativity has more to do with the authentic desire to express, and less to do with the art form itself. For example, it’s tempting to call a painter a “creative person,” but it all depends on why he paints. If he does so because his mother is a famous painter that expects him to carry on the family name, then painting is not a form of creative expression for him. It’s a job. An act of expression can only be deemed creative when it is aligned with one’s true curiosities and interests.

Similarly, an engineer’s role is to build things, but if she’s only there because of the great pay and benefits, then she won’t view her job as a creative endeavor. When practicality is of the utmost importance, one’s sense of agency is low. And for the most part, the practical career paths are well-traveled and apparent, whereas the creative ones are unpaved and uncertain. This makes sense, given that one’s unique blend of interests are a 1-of-1 phenomenon, whereas social value is determined through the vast lens of millions.

However, something came along in the late-20th century that would go on to change everything.

You guessed it:

The internet.

the internet illustration

With the advent of blogs, social media, YouTube channels, and other distribution platforms, you no longer had to rely on gatekeepers to attract people to your curiosities. Your uniqueness became an asset, not a liability. And as more creator-friendly tools were introduced into the landscape, it expanded your ability to make money doing something you truly cared about.

In other words, the internet enabled a vision where creativity and practicality were directly correlated. The more effort you put into your creative output, the greater the practical benefits would be. This represented a big flip in the way things traditionally worked, as illustrated below:

flipping the line

We’re often reminded of this dynamic by successful online creators. Just hop onto your social media platform of choice, and it’ll only take a minute before you see a tweet or post about how you just need to keep going to succeed. While there is truth to this, it doesn’t address an important problem:

What if you’re in the lower-left hand part of the graph, which is where everyone starts off?

flipping the line - lower part of the line

Here’s the harsh reality of any creative endeavor: in the beginning, no one cares. Every creator requires a balance of intrinsic motivation and external validation, but you’ll have to accept that the external piece will be missing at first. But even if you can embrace that, you face yet another conundrum:

How will you manage the fact that you won’t be making any money from this? And without money, how will you cultivate the resilience to keep going?

This is the part that many successful creators conveniently leave out. While it’s sexy to attribute your success to patience, it’s not as sexy to admit that you had a financial safety net could buffer you against failure. Money affords you the privilege of having a big leap feel like a small hop, which lessens the anxiety that may surround your entry into any creative endeavor. Patience is only possible when you have the requisite headspace to cultivate it, and having your financial needs covered is absolutely critical for this.

So far, both the curves I’ve shown on the Practicality / Creativity graph aren’t nuanced enough. They favor one extreme over the other, and are not wise roadmaps to reference when thinking through your own creative journey. After reflecting on this, I’ve come to realize that the optimal curve is the one I’ve illustrated below:

the arc of the practical creator

This is the Arc of the Practical Creator. It balances the passion of creativity with the practicality of money, and encourages you to consider both to make your endeavor sustainable. While patience is still the primary virtue, you can cultivate it without the anxiety that typically accompanies financial pressures. By lessening the survival instinct of money, you provide yourself with the clarity of mind required to create your best work.

The arc itself is divided into three main stages:

the arc of the practical creator - highlights

A Practical Creator understands the importance of each stage, and realizes that the texture of patience shifts with each one. With that said, let’s delve into them.

Stage #1: Prioritize money

the arc of the practical creator - first stage

The Renaissance gave birth to some of the greatest artists humankind has ever known: Leonardo Da Vinci, Titian, Michelangelo, the list goes on. While their talent and skill was undeniable, what was equally important was that they had the mental capacity to explore their work in great depth. In order to do this, their attention needed to be free from any worldly burden that may distract them, the biggest of which was money.

To resolve this problem, the model of patronage was adopted. The Medici family famously backed Leonardo da Vinci, the Gonzaga family backed Titian, and so forth. These patrons gave these brilliant artists the focus and freedom required to create their best work.

When we think of the patronage model today, we think of platforms and services that allow fans to directly support their favorite creators. As long as you have an audience, you don’t need to rely on large institutions or wealthy families to help you, which is great.

However, a Practical Creator doesn’t find comfort in that. Because when you’re starting out, by definition, you have no audience. Crowdsourcing only works if there’s a crowd that cares in the first place, which is a luxury that’s not afforded to you in the beginning.

That’s why in the first stage of the arc, you need to focus on building wealth. You’ll need to put practicality ahead of creativity, and have a job that reliably puts money into your bank account, which you can then save or invest.2

In rare cases, this might be completely aligned with your creative aspirations. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to be a writer, and you got a job writing interesting articles for a national newspaper. That’s the best case scenario. But more often than not, the nature of your job will be divorced from your true interests and curiosities. That was certainly the case for me, where I was spending many hours a day making boring forecasts in Excel when I really wanted to be drawing silly characters in Illustrator.

I wanna draw

But this is where the power of reframing comes in. A Practical Creator doesn’t view a boring job as a dead-end endeavor, but as an active patron of their creativity. In the same way that wealthy families support the financial needs of their favorite artists, the same could be said about you and your employer. You exchange your time for money, which is then used to purchase the clarity of attention you can invest into your creative work.

The key to viewing your employer as a patron of your art, however, is contingent upon one important thing: When you’re in this first stage, you must rigorously work on your creative endeavors after your day job responsibilities. This is an absolute must. If every day consists of coming back home after work and then relaxing until you sleep, then you’re deluding yourself into thinking that this job funds your creative aspirations. The truth is that you don’t want it enough, and this boring job is not a patron for your art – it’s your actual career.

While you’re in the process of building wealth, you also want to build yourself as a creator. That means developing your skill sets, iterating on your abilities, and attracting an audience as a result. If you know that your ideal career is one that’s defined by what excites you most, then now is the time to hop on the on-ramp towards it. Your time may be limited to the nights and weekends, but if used to their fullest extent, it’s only inevitable that tangible results will follow.

working at night cartoon illustration

In the first stage, to be patient is to accept this tradeoff: You are exchanging a majority of your workday for money, which buys you the freedom required to spend the minority of your day on your creative endeavor. A Practical Creator understands this dynamic, and by accepting its reality, will view money as the tool that affords them this precious sliver of time.

As a result, a Practical Creator doesn’t use the day job salary to buy everything they want, but saves as much of it as possible. They understand that every dollar saved today represents the freedom to create tomorrow. Patience is about learning to live with less, as this allows you to build up a bank account balance that could be later exchanged for agency. The great news is that if you find fulfillment in your creative work, it’s much easier to be satisfied with a minimal lifestyle.

With this mindset in place, two interesting things will happen over time:

(1) You’ll have a decent amount of money saved up, and

(2) You’ll gain some confidence in your abilities as a creator.

It is here where the phenomenon of “taking a leap” develops. On one hand, you have fiscal certainty in the form of your savings, but on the other, you have fiscal uncertainty in the form of your creative endeavors. You’re probably not making much money (if at all) from your side gig as a creator, but what makes up for that is your commitment to making it work.

And now we arrive at a critical juncture in your creative journey.

take the leap to do something creative

If you believe that leaving your job will result in overwhelming anxiety (regardless of how much you have saved), then perhaps the wise move would be to continue doing what you’re doing. Spend most of your day building wealth, and just some of it on your craft. However, if you’re in a position where you hate your job, you must accept this harsh truth: You are trading away your creative potential for fiscal security. There’s no nice way to put it. Anyone who spends a majority of their working life in an unchallenging environment cannot cultivate the clarity of mind required to bring out the best in themselves.

Now let’s look at the other side of the leap.

If you believe that your success as a creator will depend on a wholehearted investment of attention, then the logical next step is to say goodbye to your day job. Keep in mind that this is contingent upon having a healthy amount of money saved up, which is what this first stage is all about. Your patron has fulfilled its duty as a source of funding, and has given you a nice nest egg that you can now convert to freedom-in-work.3

Toward the tail end of Stage 1, you descend down the curve and into “impractical” territory. This leap can take many forms: Perhaps you quit your job to grow yourself as a solo creator. You take a huge pay cut to switch to an industry that better suits your curiosities. Regardless of what the situation is, you’ve made a conscious choice to go against the grain of social expectations. From an external perspective, it may seem like an illogical move, but internally, you know this is exactly the right decision to make.

sliding into the next stage

At this point, you will feel the conflicting feelings of relief and tension. Relief from making a difficult decision, and tension from having to navigate the consequences of that decision. And when it comes to Stage 2, there will be a lot of tension you must sort through, as this is when the current of doubt is at its strongest.

Stage 2: Endure the Great Plateau

highlighting the second stage

In an interview with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, he thought back to the time when his company was a fledgling startup. He was home for Christmas, and his family members were asking him what he was doing for work. This is how he described it:

I didn’t want to tell my family I was unemployed, so I said that I’m an entrepreneur.

My mom then said, “No, you’re actually unemployed.”

And then I said, “No, I’m actually an entrepreneur.”

That’s when I learned that when you’re starting out, the difference between being an entrepreneur and being unemployed is in your head. It’s usually a mindset.

And I was – in my head – an entrepreneur.

This highlights something interesting about the nature of self-actualization.

When you’re pursuing something that is entirely aligned with your creative ambitions, it will largely be perceived as irrational. Your pursuit will be viewed through the lens of what is already known, which in Chesky’s family’s view was stable employment with regular pay. Anything that doesn’t fit in with that mental model will seem foreign, and in some cases, even silly.

And you know what?

They’re right.

It is impractical to choose uncertainty over certainty. It does boggle the mind to opt for volatility over stability. Any move that goes against the current of expectations is alarming, and the tricky thing is that you know it too. You understand the risk associated with choosing intuition over rationality, and the opportunity cost that comes with it.

This is because you’re now on the Great Plateau. It’s the flat place in the arc where you’re actualizing your creative potential, but are not seeing the practical results of that effort. The customers aren’t pouring in, the audience isn’t growing, people don’t seem to care. The energy invested doesn’t align with expected outcomes, and this situation is rightfully concerning.

But here’s the good news:

This is perfectly normal.

this abnormally sucks

Yup, I’m sure. The reason why it feels concerning, however, is that it goes against the current of our own, conditioned expectations.

Let me explain.

Throughout our upbringing and our time in the educational system, we are taught that an expenditure of effort leads to an immediate reward. If you clean your room, you’ll get to have pizza for dinner. If you study hard for an exam, you’ll get a good grade. If you have a great interview, you’ll get that great job. And so on. The causal chain linking effort and reward is perpetually reinforced in our most formative years, which carries with us well into adulthood.

The issue is that this chain breaks down when we want to walk our own paths.

When you direct your attention to your personal curiosities, there’s no immediate reason for society to value that. Society only values what it already knows and wants. Companies offer salaries because they know exactly what to expect from their employees, even if it takes a while for them to contribute that value. But as a creator following your own interests, you alone are responsible for cultivating the value of your pursuit, and then convincing others of it through the delivery of your work.

This means that a significant time delay must be introduced between the expenditure of effort and the arrival of rewards. This goes against everything we’ve been conditioned to experience, so we often give up on our creative pursuits well before they’ve had the required time to catch people’s attention.

The key is to remember that silence is normal, especially in the early stages. And the more you can internalize its normalcy, the greater your resilience will be in pushing ahead without looking back.

resilience

This is why I found Brian Chesky’s response so insightful. If he thought of himself as someone that was unemployed, then he was viewing his predicament through the lens of others, which would make his situation seem abnormal. But instead, he reframed it by responding that he was an entrepreneur. This meant that he could internalize the silence as a normal part of the journey, which acted as a cue to experiment with different strategies. It represented a keen understanding of the delay in effort and outcomes, and the total acceptance of this dynamic.

But there is one important caveat I must issue here.

Success stories like Chesky’s tend to suffer from survivorship bias, where one exceptional case is made out to be a law instead of an outlier. The truth is, it wasn’t just his perseverance that made Airbnb a success. It was an amazing idea that came to fruition through brilliant execution, and it certainly helped that he never thought about quitting.

But in the context of a non-billionaire, everyday creator, the question here is: Just how much of this delay between effort and results can you handle? How do you know that silence is indicative of unrealized good outcomes, or if it’s actually a reliable signal that you should quit?

There’s no clear answer here, but the way I parse through this conundrum is through two lenses:

(1) Your pool of resources, and

(2) Your sense of progress.

Your resource pool is the money you’ve saved up (or the safety net you’ve set up) in Stage 1. Essentially, it represents the hard limit of your patience. You may want to press forward with your endeavor and wait it out longer, but if you’ve run out of money, then patience is a luxury you can no longer afford. In this case, you’ll have to trade in your creative freedom for practical security, which translates to getting a job you’d rather not have in order to make money.

This represents a move back up the lefthand side of the arc, placing you in Stage 1 again.

going back to the first stage

To be clear, this doesn’t mean you’ve quit, nor does it imply reversion. It just means that you can no longer dedicate your full attention to your creative endeavor. If anything, your commitment to it may even be stronger because now you have an imposed limitation on your freedom.

What matters is whether you interpret this change as empowering or demoralizing. And whichever one you choose will determine your chances of future success.

Now let’s look at the second lens, which is your sense of progress.

The tricky thing about patience is that you often don’t know if it’s a wise or foolish thing. It’s wise if it eventually pays off, and foolish if it doesn’t. After all, it’s better to quit the wrong thing early than to refuse doing so in the name of patience.

This is why you must conduct an honest audit of progress as you slog through the Great Plateau. Even if the external validation piece is low, you have to use your inner judgment to determine if you’re improving. Read something you wrote a while ago, and compare it to something you published recently. Does that old piece make you cringe a bit? Good. That’s a clear sign of progression. Keep going.

reading old stuff - horrific

reading old stuff - silent

reading old stuff - how inspiring

The other thing to consider is the texture of silence while on the Great Plateau. By definition, this part of the arc feels impractical since you’re not seeing results, but you can still sense progress in the form of small signals in external validation. For example, if the silence you’re experiencing is total (meaning that no one engages with your work), and it has been for an entire year, then that’s a reliable sign that this path isn’t for you. If you can’t get 20 people (outside of your loved ones) to care after a year, it’s hard to see how that will change in the subsequent one.

But if you’re experiencing periodic breakthroughs in silence, that’s a different story. Perhaps you sent your stuff to a creator you respect, and she encouraged you to keep going. Or you notice that a small but loyal following is developing with every piece you publish. This is a different kind of silence. It’s silence in the sense that your efforts still don’t align with the results, but it’s a signal that you’re headed in the right direction.

In this case, patience is your greatest asset. If you stay determined and stay honest about progress, then the only remaining variable is time. Time is the force that allows serendipity to materialize, and this is something you can’t will into existence. The only thing you can control is the quality of what you produce and the cadence in which you publish. The rest must be left up to how others internalize and share your work, which is something neither you nor I should seek to control.

But when determination, patience, and progress blend together, something amazing happens. The shape of the Great Plateau begins to change, and what was previously the flatness of despair shifts into an incline of hope. People really start to care, your audience regularly reaches out, and a viable career path emerges.

Well, take a brief moment to pat yourself on the back.

Because you’re finally in that magical area where everything starts to click.

Stage #3: Navigate the Creative Career

highlighting the third stage of the arc

Last year, I told my wife that one of my goals was to make More To That my career. The moment I finished that sentence, she replied, “What do you mean? It already is your career.”

I paused.

Damn.

She realized it well before I did.

watching sunset with wife

The interesting thing about any creative endeavor is that it usually starts out as a hobby. It starts off being done for its own sake, and is somehow shielded from things like money or incentives. This runs counter to the way we generally view work, where a salary is promised well before our first day in the office.

So when we think of the word “career,” we naturally frame it in the context of tradition. We think of predictable cadences of work with predictable deposits of money, following a path that culminates in a predictable position of high standing. And most importantly, all this is determined by the culture and structure set by our employers.

But when it comes to your creative endeavor, you set the tempo to everything. You determine when it’s the best time of day to work, you choose when to respond to emails, and you decide how you want to build your audience. This sense of total agency bears little resemblance to what a career is supposed to look like, so it could instead feel like a serious hobby.

But if you’re in Stage 3, here’s the reality: Your craft is en route to practicality, which by definition, makes it a career path.

heading into the last stage

At the start of this upward curve, the notion of a career will feel subtle. You’re not making the same amount of money from your old job4, nor do you think that may happen anytime soon. But what makes this a career path is that you have all the momentum required to transform this into a practical (and potentially lucrative) endeavor.

More people are finding out about your work everyday. More creators you admire are personally reaching out. You’re making products or services that are profitable. And most importantly, you’re working on your craft with a rigor and commitment that accentuates the best of your abilities. All of these things are strong indicators that you’re not just in hobby territory anymore; this is now a career that you’re actively working on.

When my wife pointed out that More To That is my career, she was pointing to the fulfillment of the above parameters. But for me, I couldn’t recognize it because my work here didn’t resemble any job I’ve had before. It was only through her prompt reframing of it that allowed me to see the reality of the situation.

We often think that you have to be an established creator to justify a creative career. But no one thinks that you have to be the CEO of a company to justify your career there. No, a career begins at the entry-level, from the moment you get compensated and recognized for your capacity to solve problems. If those conditions are satisfied (at whatever scale) and you are serious about improving yourself as a creator, then you have a career.

Once you accept this, you’ll feel deeply empowered. The leap in commitment that occurs when you refer to a hobby as your career is the same as when a love interest becomes your life partner. In the same way that a marriage consolidates your networks into a united whole, every node of your creative life will be assimilated into your identity. There’s no choice but to take your creative endeavor more seriously, and you will invest the focus and rigor required to proudly refer to it as your career.

If you can cultivate this mindset while progressing forward, it’s only inevitable that the results will one day pour in. You’ll be able to convert the attention you attract into a flow of money, which allows you to invest more of your energy into this craft. A flywheel effect begins to form, and once it’s in motion, the practicality of your endeavor will become readily apparent.

flywheel effect - practical creator

In this final portion of the arc, the great gift you are given isn’t necessarily money, but confidence. Money is a surrogate for trust. So when you’re paid for your creative work, you’re effectively being told, “Hey, I trust that the unique way you view the world will help me lead a better life.”

This is why money is the ultimate form of external validation. Whereas any casual observer can appreciate your work, only a believer will invest her hard-earned resources into it. And when you see that there are many people who believe in you this way, then you’ll be empowered to bring out the best in yourself.

But even here, there is a big pitfall to be aware of.

Confidence is a close cousin of arrogance. Confidence is when you believe that your potential can be actualized, whereas arrogance is when you believe that your potential has already been actualized. That difference is subtle, but the implications are far-reaching.

confidence vs arrogance

A big part of the creative journey is understanding that there is no finish line. Even if you reach the heights of success, you know that there is still more room to grow. That’s because your potential is not actualized through people telling you that it is. It can only be actualized through an internal commitment to improvement, which is perpetual because we humans have the ability to recognize our inherent flaws.

Schopenhauer once said that humanity is defined by our tendency to restlessly strive, but I think he was only partially right. Striving is in our nature, but it doesn’t mean that it’s restless. In fact, wanting to diversify our interests, to create wonderful things, and to be more compassionate are fundamental to peace and longevity. Without anything to strive for, we are just as lost as the person striving for the wrong thing.5

Arrogance is embodied in the person that thinks his potential has been fully realized, and that this makes him superior to others. This confusion is further compounded by his constant receipt of praise, which can accompany creators that are in this final part of the arc.

The key is to divorce the allure of external validation from the commitment to internal growth. That no amount of money or praise is a signal that you’ve reached the promised land. That so much of what makes the creative journey fulfilling is humility, and that embracing uncertainty is what allows you to forge onward.

always more terrain to cover

This leads to a final paradox that a successful Practical Creator must navigate. On one hand, you must continuously view your endeavor through the mind of a beginner. But on the other, you want to leverage the hard-earned wisdom you’ve picked up through years of experience.

So which is it? Are you a malleable beginner, or a hardened veteran? In other words, do you optimize for growth or for preservation?

It’s often said that successful creators hustle hard at first, and then slow down later. That’s because growth requires you to open up many decision trees to see what works, whereas preservation closes them to cultivate clear judgment. This is a helpful framework to use, but I’ll revise it slightly to clarify the picture.

In this final stage of the arc, grow your curiosities, but preserve your attention. Cultivate a beginner’s mind for the things you want to learn about, and the things that expand your intellectual horizons. Let your inner child roam free. Learn things for their own sake, and not for their utility.

But when it comes to actually creating and making decisions, take your time. Use your hard-earned wisdom to your advantage, and slow down to give yourself the space to think. Remove everything that acts as a roadblock to your greatest asset, which is the attention you dedicate to creating.

This is where money acts as a useful tool. You can hire people to help manage the decisions that you no longer want to make. You can purchase the services required to automate the logistics you don’t want to think about. A Practical Creator understands that money’s great gift is to give you freedom over your attention, which is why they always reinvest their earnings back into their endeavors or businesses.

It’s this winning combination of intellectual growth and attentional preservation that allows you to remain on the right side of the arc. You continue expanding your desire to learn, while also reducing the many pulls of your creative focus. Your intellectual inputs increase, while your attentional demands decrease.

And by keeping this balance, your creative endeavor will retain its practicality for a long, long time.

The Shifting Textures of Patience

We went over a lot, so let’s take a look at the arc in its entirety again:

practical creator arc

When you look at these three stages, it’s clear that the unifying virtue is patience. You have to invest incredible effort into your endeavor, but be willing to endure the inevitable delay in outcomes. This is applicable not just for the beginner, but also for the veteran that’s been doing this for years.

This strain of advice, however, isn’t nuanced enough.

Patience has various textures, and a Practical Creator must be able to decipher them from one another. What you’re enduring in Stage 1 is very different from the problem you’re solving in Stage 3, which requires you to cultivate different mindsets. You have to be specific about the type of patience that is required to power through each stage, as identification is the first step to awareness.

With that said, the three textures of patience to embody (in order) are tolerance, resilience, and balance:

textures of patience - practical creator arc

Let’s start with tolerance.

In Stage #1, you prioritize practicality over creativity. You make money doing something you dislike so you don’t need to make money doing something you love. This means having a day job that acts as a patron of your art. It helps to fund that precious minority of your day where you can work on your craft without the anxiety of money worries. In addition, you also save the money required to potentially take a leap into doing it full-time.

In this stage, patience takes the form of tolerance. You’d rather not spend 8 hours at a job you don’t care for, but you realize what it enables you to do. It gives you the financial breathing room required to work on your craft on the evenings and weekends, and allows you to endure the delay in outcomes. So instead of despising the job, you can embrace it as your patron and tolerate the shortcomings that accompany it. As long as you’re diligently working on your craft in your free time (which is an absolute must), you can be thankful for the fact that you have a job that affords you that creative headspace.

Gratitude for the undesirable is what defines patience here.

tolerance for job

The next is resilience.

In Stage #2, you prioritize creativity over practicality. You’ve taken a leap of some kind, and are now committed to pursuing your endeavor ahead of other considerations. You’ve chosen to give up financial certainty in favor of creative progress, which is made possible by the money you’ve saved up in the prior stage.

In this stage, patience takes the form of resilience. The reality is that the pace of your effort will not be aligned with the delivery of results. There will be silence, disappointment, broken expectations, and other variations of those unpleasant things. But the key is to remember that they are normal parts of the Great Plateau – not anomalies. As long as you’re monitoring progress and are attuned to small signals of external validation, you can accept that the fruits of your labor will arrive long after the seeds are sown.

The reframing of silence is what defines patience here.

resilience in the face of silence

The last is balance.

In Stage #3, creativity and practicality are finally aligned. The winds of time are now your ally, guiding people toward your work. This receipt of attention is leading to tangible outcomes, as you are getting paid to work on things that feel like play. You now proudly refer to your endeavor as your career, and are figuring out how to position yourself for the long-run.

In this stage, patience takes the form of balance. You have confidence in your abilities, but realize how quickly that could transition into arrogance. You want to freely explore your curiosities, but also understand how important it is to slow down and cultivate clear judgment. You finally have money to spend, but know that the sustainable move is to reinvest it back into your endeavor. As long as you’re aware of the equally poignant truth that rests on the other side, you can cultivate the wisdom required to make your creativity an infinite game.

The acceptance of contradictions is what defines patience here.

balance of contradictory truths

When looking at the Arc of the Practical Creator, you might assume that things get easier the more you progress through it. That Stages 1 and 2 are difficult, but Stage 3 is a breeze. After all, many creators believe that once you make a living doing something you love, you’ve made it to the promised land.

But the punchline here is that every stage will be challenging, and that’s the point.

Creative endeavors are inspiring because the scope of the problem often feels bigger than your capacity to solve it. But because you find that problem so worthwhile, you’re willing to put in the effort required to provide the best solution possible. Through this process, you become a more capable person, which allows you to address more worthwhile problems in turn. It’s this beautiful cycle that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning in how you spend your time and energy.

So regardless of which stage you’re in, understand that there is no easier or harder. There is just challenge. And the only way to cultivate a healthy relationship with challenge is to develop the patience required to manage it properly.

Where are you on the arc, and what’s the texture of patience you need to embody? Can you commit to that for however long it takes? Are you prepared to adapt to whatever stage comes next?

Ask yourself these questions whenever you’re feeling a bit lost, or you just need a reminder of what it means to endure. Your answers will determine just how practical your creative endeavor can be.

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Related Posts

If you’re in Stage 1 (Prioritize Money), here’s a reminder of what that money is for:

Money Is the Megaphone of Identity

If you’re in Stage 2 (Endure the Great Plateau), here’s how to keep Self-Doubt at arm’s length:

Why We Doubt Ourselves

If you’re in Stage 3 (Navigate the Creative Career), here’s a deep dive into what it means to have enough:

The Many Worlds of Enough

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