What do you do when you check a goal off your list? You celebrate, yes? You feel accomplished, of course. You’re proud, certainly. You bask in those feelings, letting them spread throughout your body. For a moment, you allow yourself to believe that this—this thing that you want, this dream—is possible. But then, your mind takes a turn and a little voice whispers, “What’s next?”
After recently accomplishing a huge goal (which was also a career highlight), many people have been whispering “what’s next?” into my ear. Some are louder than others. They’re curious, of course, and I’m grateful for their interest in my life and career, but I fear that they want a more exciting answer than the one I give them. Currently, my answer is keeping my head down, doing the work, looking for work, creating. Exploring. Rinse. Repeat. They look at me and nod, disappointed that my answer is not: “Moving to LA, selling both of my scripts, working on HBO/Amazon/Hulu/Netflix’s new ‘It’ television series (anyone from HBO/Amazon/Hulu/Netflix, please call me). Rinse. Repeat.”
After accomplishing this goal, and after making an even stronger commitment to what it is I want to do, I was tired. Drained. In need of a reset to discover what else I wanted, needed. I missed (and miss) my friends. I missed myself. I wanted to get reacquainted with who I am and what I want. If I was painting the next year, two years, five years—ten years—on a blank canvas, what would that look like?
There is a sense that one has to get out of the gate fast. That success needs to be rushed. Sign this, do this, make this. And that’s not to say that there isn’t merit in that, but what happens if you’re sacrificing content—or worse, yourself—in order to make that happen? Our worth, especially women’s worth, is wrapped up in our age. In the entertainment industry and in life, people are intrigued and obsessed with wunderkinds—with youth. I used to google the ages of those on the rise, comparing their journeys to mine. Sometimes I feel like getting older means frantically looking at my big picture to-do list and worrying about which goals I’ll be able to cross off before I turn a given age.
Though this anxiety has quieted, there’s still a feeling that time will run out, that I won’t be able to get everything done before the metaphorical sun goes down. I’ve learned that this feeling—this race against time—is a personal one. How I react to it, how I choose to champion my own doubts and fears, will dictate how I succeed much more than how society views my age or my accomplishments to date.
This business isn’t kind to those who choose to pursue a life outside it. It’s all or nothing. For years, I feared taking time off—taking an extended vacation—because I was scared to lose momentum. Coupled with time, with the pursuit of other things that make me rich with happiness, I remind myself that this is my life. My career. I have autonomy.
I want time to explore the ideas in my head. I want time to get to know those characters who are popping in and out of my mind; to play with the skills I’ve learned, those muscles that have been flexed, that I’m continuing to flex. Perhaps, what I’m looking for is a way to define the ‘what’s next’—a way to articulate the fact that I’m still plugging away, working away. If I want to take a year off and travel France in search of the perfect glass of Carignan, so be it. Fuck it. As the British author Ali Smith once wrote, “Remember you must live.”
There seem to be two modes, hustle hard and stagnation, that I used to fall into. When I hustled too hard, I got burnt out, frustrated when time didn’t seem to be on my side; then, I stopped completely, choosing instead to binge-watch the latest buzzed-about series on Netflix, and then I would beat myself up after for not using my time wisely. What I’ve learned over the last eight months is that my time is precious. It’s worthy. It’s valuable. What I’m creating is valuable. I owe myself—and the stories and projects I give myself to—exactly that: time. I owe them time to breathe, time to play, time to work.
Taking my time doesn’t mean not taking action. Action is the antidote to fear, baby steps forward—at least you’re walking, standing on your own two feet. This is true even when it comes to storytelling. I don’t always feel like writing; I don’t always feel like putting beats down on paper, but I do it anyway. Part of what I’ve learned over the last year is that writing feels better than not writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect—hell, it’s never going to be perfect—but a little goes a long way. I don’t need to fix the big structural problem in my second draft in one go, but maybe if I play with that opening scene, things will click into place. The structural problems will slowly melt away, and there will be progress on the page. With sustained effort, I’ve learned how to make use of my time better.
But my time also goes to other things. Writing is not how I make a full living; I produce, too. I’ve also bartended on and off for many years. Time is sometimes sacrificed to the nitty gritty essentials of life. The pile of laundry grows higher, the dishes get dirtier, so that the next scene can take flight. This is why my own, personal time is so essential to my well-being.
When the stars (action, patience, dedication) align, it always feels like the timing is right. When things don’t work out, we blame time, a fickle frenemy, for letting us down.
There is something to be said about the things we can’t control—the magic we can’t grasp, like running into someone we want to have a meeting with at the grocery store, or having someone want the exact thing that you’re selling, creating, at the exact right moment. We can’t control that, but what we can control (to an extent) is what we do in the meantime. My hope, and goal, is to be ready when that right time comes.
Taking my time means thoughtfully planning my next steps, plotting, pacing myself (sleeping in!) when I can. Rising with the sun when I can. Travelling to France when I can. It’s about building habits—healthy ones that I can grow with, not ones I grow into.
So when someone asks me “what’s next?” and I know they mean “the next big thing,” I’ll tell them that I’m taking my time, learning and creating magic in between.