The Journey Is Messy

7 Lessons I’ve Learned While Pursuing My Creative Dreams

Michael Riley
Ascent Publication
Published in
5 min readMar 17, 2017

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Everyone loves the idea of the destination.

Achieving your goal.

Fulfilling your potential.

Getting recognition.

Becoming successful.

Arriving.

What’s not to love?

The only way to reach a destination, however, is through a journey. Specifically your journey. Everyone’s is different.

Some of you have figured out what you really want to do and are pursuing it (like me). That’s amazing, and I’m rooting hard for you. Others haven’t figured out what they’re meant to do and are either still trying to find themselves, or have given up and accept their life for what it is (hopefully not the latter).

Regardless of which camp you fall into, I wanted to highlight some things I’ve been learning along my path to become a professional writer. My goal is for you to either relate to what I’m going through or help you get a better understanding of what exactly you’re getting yourself into when you decide to pursue work that matters.

While there definitely have been some high moments, it’s clear to me that the creative journey is a messy one. There is no definitive playbook for becoming what you want to be. It’s like riding a roller coaster that has its ups and downs, twists and turns.

Here are 7 things I’ve learned so far on my journey:

1) YOU’RE GOING TO FEEL LIKE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING.

That’s right. Not a freaking clue at times. Maybe your end goal is well-defined, but the path to actually getting there is foggy as hell. You’re flying by the seat of your pants, putting blind faith in yourself that you’ll figure it out as you go.

2) NOTHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN AS QUICKLY AS YOU WANT IT TO.

We’re all obsessed with instant gratification. Once we figure out what we want to do and be, we want the rewards and accolades to just show up now without doing the work. If only life were that easy.

The truth is that things take time, especially great things. If you really want “this,” you have to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes. Period. It’s going to be a grind, and you’ll need a tremendous amount of patience.

If you want to back out now, go ahead. No one’s stopping you. But if you want to stick it out, keep going. Focus on taking action and making incremental improvements. They will add up and create momentum like you never thought was possible.

3) YOU’RE GOING TO QUESTION IF YOU’RE REALLY CUT OUT FOR THIS AND WANT TO QUIT.

Not everyone can handle the fact that they don’t know what they’re doing. This thought alone can lead to enough self-doubt that makes people just want to give up. It all boils down to how badly you want it and your self-confidence in your ability to pull it off. Do you have what it takes?

There’s nothing wrong with quitting either. Maybe the thing you thought you really wanted to do was not all it was cracked up to be. Or you’ve been working for years on something you love and are not seeing results. In both cases, it’s better to have tried the thing out and given it a real shot than not having tried it at all.

4) THERE WILL BE PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE WHO WON’T FULLY GET IT.

In other words, they will think you’re crazy if you try to reinvent yourself. They would much rather see you stay in your stable full-time job and develop your career accordingly. Because that’s how the world has generally worked for centuries, and people don’t like going against the rules.

However, as a chaser of dreams, you will see right through them. It’s important to surround yourself with people who will lift you up, not bring you down. I’m not saying cut off all ties with people who don’t support you right away, but it would be wise to steer clear from their negativity. Remember, you are the designer of your life and can’t let anyone get in the way of your deepest desires.

5) IT’S REALLY HARD.

No one said success was going to come easy. It’s supposed to be difficult. You have to work your ass off for it, regardless of the type of career you pursue.

Some days will be amazing, and you’ll have breakthroughs. That momentum will keep you going.

However, other days will feel like you’re hitting a wall and not getting anywhere. Moving forward seems impossible. That’s when you need to dig the deepest and push yourself to keep going. Do you want to be the kind of person to just give up when things get tough? Or do you want to work through it and get to the other side where the grass is greener? The choice is yours.

6) THERE WILL BE MANY DAYS WHERE YOU GET NOTHING DONE AND WISH YOU COULD JUST COAST.

Having good routines usually helps combat this, but we all have unproductive days every now and then. Regular life stuff (errands, household chores, hanging out with friends, etc.) gets in the way. Or you’re tired out from a long day’s work and just want to relax and take a break. Or you’re not feeling motivated. Writing on weeknights and weekends can be difficult for me for these reasons.

I’m not saying that you have to chase your dreams on the side every second you’re not working your normal day job. You need to find a balance.

At the same time though, I think it’s important that you try to check the boxes every day on your dream to get closer to it. For example, if you’re a writer, then try to spend 30 minutes — 1 hour every day writing. Is that too much to ask? While there’s not necessarily a hard and fast rule for succeeding at a creative endeavor, the more you time you spend each day working on your craft, the more likely you’ll get to where you want to be sooner. Everyone’s timeline is different, but don’t lose sight of the power of regular progress.

7) YOU MAY NOT FIGURE OUT WHY YOU’RE DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING FOR AWHILE.

Let’s say you have an epiphany to pursue your calling at X. The reason for going after it may not be super clear, but you know that it’s what you’re supposed to do. So you do it. You take action and put faith in figuring out why.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach. Nobody said you have to have it all figured out from Day 1. In fact, many people decide to pivot or evolve their work throughout their career. It’s more important that you get started and are open to discovering yourself along the way. Clarity will come with action.

The above list of lessons is not to discourage you. They’re real truths that I’ve felt along my journey. I just want you to realize that you may be going through the same stuff. And if you’re about to take the plunge into pursuing a creative career, you should have a better sense of what you’re getting into.

The journey is indeed a messy one. Learn to accept that it won’t be perfect, and be confident in your ability to work through it no matter what comes your way. Don’t be another person who gives up on their dreams and settles. Pursuing them is worth it. I believe in you.

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Michael Riley
Ascent Publication

Writer of "The Life of Riley" blog (thelifeofriley.co) | Account Manager at Julius