Last week was one of those weeks where I had about twelve minutes for my creative work, and the rest of the time was spent on commitments I made months ago—the day job, teaching several classes, a book project. My present self always has so much confidence in my future self. Yes! my present self says. Future Jennifer will absolutely be delighted to carry out all the obligations I heap on her! She loves being insanely busy!
But now that Future Jennifer is Present Jennifer, she sort of resents the former Present Jennifer (who is now Past Jennifer), who committed her to all these things, probably in a fit of boredom, or possibly after she looked at how much a trip to Italy would cost.
In the same way we sometimes buy things on credit because our present selves think our future selves won’t mind paying off the charges, I have a regrettable habit of thinking that Future Jennifer won’t mind working eighty-nine hours a week. Partly this is because freelancers hate to turn down work and partly it’s because I always think I can accomplish pretty much anything given any deadline (“how hard can it be?” is my battle cry).
But the attempt doesn’t come without a cost.
I always protect my time with Jessica, because Present Jennifer is never that dumb. But as I alluded to earlier, that means the cost is usually my creative work. And yet what is the work that matters most to me?
The balancing act is never easy, but I am getting better at recognizing when Present Jennifer is piling too much onto Future Jennifer, and I am also getting better at taking steps to stop sooner. That doesn’t necessarily mean cancelling existing commitments (though sometimes that is the right thing to do). It does mean remembering the conversation Present Jennifer and Past Jennifer just had so that Future Jennifer can be taken care of.
And it does mean that I have to keep my eye on the goal—to do the work—whenever I make decisions about commitments. The minute I take my eye off that goal, I start over-committing, because there are other goals over-committing helps me achieve (it assuages the tough slog that doing the work sometimes is; it gets me to Italy, even when Italy is not nearly as important to me as the work, and on and on.)
It’s complicated, this living a creative life while not simultaneously starving to death, but it starts with making sure that Present Jennifer doesn’t make it impossible for Future Jennifer to do the work.