Back in 2013, I went to speak at a video game conference in Texas.
Long before I gave my talk, I noticed a panel all about freelancing on the schedule.
So, of course, I went.
I was super excited to learn more from people who had clearly established themselves as successful freelancers.
After they all went through their introductions, the moderator asked the entire group what it took to become a freelancer/business owner/Youtuber.
I was mortified when every single panelist went down the line, and talked about how they:
Were always sick
Barely got any sleep because they had to work 24/7
Ate terribly unhealthy food because it's all they had time for
Never got to see their friends or families
Had breakups or divorces because of their lifestyle
"That's just what it takes," one of them said.
Everyone in the room, with the exception of the ludicrously handsome Indian man in the front row, was nodding along.
And even back then, long before I had done anything of note, I knew there had to be a much better way.
Sadly, information like this is more common than the stuff I espouse.
And I realize it's because there IS a degree of sexiness related to the hustle, even if some people take it a bit too far.
It's very boring to say:
"Yeah, I worked 3 hours today and got more done than most people do in 8, all you need to do is just gradually increase your focus over the course of a decade and then you'll never have to worry about having enough time for yourself."
Instead, we hear constant messages like this:
"GOD I AM SO BUSY!! WHY PAY RENT WHEN I CAN LIVE AT THE OFFICE?!?! SLATHER ME WITH PRAAAAAIIISE!!!"
Most people will go with the second option. It's sexier, more exciting, and fools people into thinking that they're making progress, even if the direction they're going is backwards.
Being "busy" has become a badge of honor.
But you can't sustainably "do it all."
It's the idea that we HAVE to do it all RIGHT NOW that causes so many of our problems in the first place.
Oprah said it best: "You can have it all, just not all at once."
Picking the essential things, the right things, and pushing those levers and having plenty of time left over… that's the lifestyle I want, have achieved, and am always looking to refine.
And ironically, doing less actually leads to getting paid more, greater health, more time, higher quality work, a greater sense of accomplishment, and more happiness overall.
I'm not killing myself with my work and I never ever do crunch, and that unfortunately makes me a weirdo in the game industry.
WRITE DOWN YOUR IDEAL DAY
Here's an exercise for you to try to make sure you don't fall into these typical traps:
Write down your ideal day in extreme detail.
What's your day like? Where do you work? When do you wake up? Where do you live? How long do you work for? What city are you in? What's the weather like? Do you exercise? What do you eat? When do you come home? What does home look like? Who do you live with? Do you have a hobby? Do you own 3,000,000 dogs?
Odds are, you're not going to write things down like "I'm always horribly sleep-deprived" or "I have zero time for friends and family."
When you read over this, you'll know very quickly what sort of work and life you want, and implicitly, what sorts of garbage you need to start cutting out to get to that ideal.
I did this exercise when I was still in school, and every single thing I wrote down (minus owning a dog, but that will change soon) ended up happening.
Maybe you'll realize that you want to cut out meetings, or never want to wake up early ever again.
Perhaps you'll realize that you've been spreading yourself too thin with dozens of different hobbies and haven't been getting the quiet "me time" that you desperately need to move forward.
Or it could be that you finally realize that your goal is to live in a Rapture-like city at the bottom of the sea with your 3,000,000 dogs.
Don't steal that one. That's my goal.
Now, none of this means that you can be ultra picky about all of your work if you're just starting out.
But it does provide a standard for you.
And having a clear standard to grow into is far more powerful than just saying things like "I want more time" or "I want better projects."
And it's that level of clarity that will allow you to build something incredible for yourself.