I had a student at work ask me recently for advice. I gave her the advice that really, I needed for myself. What I said:
Intentionally develop your voice. I love how Sheryl Sandberg (my patron saint of all things business) says it: “People aren’t brands. That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely – I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice.” Practice pitching ideas – in meetings, but even with friends. Practice disagreeing with people – forcefully or sweetly. Practice writing on a personal blog because you are the boss on that blog (side note: Learn to be the boss. Own your decisions). Know the rules before you break the rules, so to speak. Practice and refine, so that your voice can bend to accommodate the audience or the topic, yet still stay true to your essence.
Engage in the disciplined work of moving towards your goals (and be ok with your goals changing). For a few different seasons in my life, my priorities did not revolve around creative practices. I needed international experience, so for over a year, my discipline revolved around the daily study and practice of Chinese. My “creative” practices felt to the wayside. They felt fluffy and less important. There are seasons – with a newborn or acclimating to a new country, for example – when it can feel impossible to create, but totally possible to observe. So observe, instead. Progress can come in different forms.
Read, as much as possible. This is something that comes naturally to me, because I’m a librarian’s daughter, because I consider myself a curious person, and because I love words and ideas. I’m an ENFJ, and I especially love how words and ideas act as the inputs that allow me to draw connections across genres and disciplines and areas of learning. It may take 4 months to finish reading a single book. Or you might juggle between 18 books at a time (me, currently). Reading is like eating your veggies. It makes you healthier.
It’s ok to be “behind.” I recently completed – and I use the term completed loosely – a writing workshop. “I’m so behind!” I emailed to the instructor. She replied, “There is no behind. There’s just where you are.” I love that. Start where you are, with what you have. Jess Connolly wrote, in my new favorite devotional, Always Enough | Never Too Much: “Maybe it’s time we look down at what He’s given us and get busy multiplying it. Maybe we should stop thinking about when we’ll get more and start thinking about how about how we can give what we’ve got.”
Make time to appreciate art in community. In my 20s, I was part of a book club where we not only read books together, but we cooked together and ate at the cutest cafes. I am one thousand percent a goals person, and the working life comes easily to me. In other words, I can be overly pragmatic and very intent on “accomplishments.” Communal appreciation of beautiful and interesting things pulls me out of that tendency and brings much needed balance and richness to my life. Don't sacrifice joy on the altar of work.
Leave room for white space. This has been a game-changer in my life. Since I’ve started the practice of a “daily office” – regular time for Scripture reading, centered prayer, and silence – I’ve noticed that the days I practice are more balanced and more centered than the days that I don’t. Also: margin is everything. Silence and margin are two sides of the same way of being that have been hugely impactful in my journey to maintain healthy habits, develop new insights, and engage in purpose-driven growth.