When asked what words of advice he had for aspiring writers, the author Junot Díaz offered this:
Read more than you write, live more than you read.
In just one short sentence, Díaz captured a crucial truth about the line between creating and consuming. It’s hard to dispute that a writer who never reads probably won’t be very good at their craft. But there’s a saturation point when consumption stops being an inspiration and becomes a detriment — as Díaz says, when you’re reading more than you’re living.
The opportunity to consume is endless, whether it’s blog posts or Cheez-Its, and it’s not all created equal. Reading fiction expands your mind and helps you focus. Binge-watching reality TV? Not so much. The same goes for producing: No one will argue that writing a really good tweet carries equal weight to building the next Twitter. But the point is, you’re putting something out there. You’re writing the narrative, not just following along.
If you have time to consume, you have time to produce
The above is a tweet from Visualize Value founder Jack Butcher, and I think he’s right. The problem is that there’s enough content out there to keep us busy for the rest of our lives, and many more after that. Spending all day reading articles or devouring self-help books feels productive, and to a point, it is. And there’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from others. But if all you’re doing is consuming, it’s time for a change.
Take business consultant Selena Soo. Feeling unfulfilled at her 9 to 5 job, Soo began reading I Will Teach You to Be Rich by author Ramit Sethi, and other authors along the same lines. But she didn’t stop there. Instead, she got to work, proactively connecting with influencers and mentors, which eventually led her to connect with Sethi himself.
When Sethi asked her for feedback on his new website, she went above and beyond, providing him with a full, detailed report. In doing this, Soo set herself apart and established herself as a valuable resource. Making that connection was a huge stepping stone to building her own brand.
Sethi’s book played an important role in motivating Soo by introducing her to career options she might not have otherwise discovered. But rather than just finishing it and moving on, Soo turned her newfound knowledge into action. Had she not made the leap from reading to doing, she’d still be stuck at her unfulfilling job.
You’ll have to break the rules
Whether it’s new clothes or the latest TikTok meme, we live in a world driven by consumption. That, writes Anthony Moore for Mission.org, is by design. Insecurity is an especially powerful motivator to consume — just think about the psychology behind “retail therapy.” The digital age has only added fuel to the fire. Not only do we still feel obligated to have the latest clothes and gadgets, we also spend hours on apps that are addictive by design.
Given all these distractions, it’s no wonder that consumption is the norm. “Never forget — the rich, wealthy, and successful are the minority,” says Moore. “If you want to be in that minority, you need to switch teams and join those with a producer mindset.”
Transitioning from being a consumer to a producer can be scary, and it’s easy to find reasons never to start. Personally, I used to struggle with perfectionism. When I first launched my company, JotForm, I would obsess over minute details, spending long, sleepless nights worrying about everything from small software improvements to bigger structural decisions.
There’s nothing wrong with striving for excellence, but at some point, you have to get out of your own way. While I was busy fussing over small things, I missed out on opportunities to grow our customer base and forge valuable partnerships. I still try to make the best possible decisions I can, but now I understand that perfection is impossible. Start producing, and know that the bumps and messes along the way are just part of the process.
Have goals, not dreams
There’s nothing wrong with thinking big. The problem is that most people spend time dreaming about things they have no intention of fulfilling, when they could be strategizing how to make them a reality.
Say you’re obsessively reading about founders and CEOs whose careers you envy. Instead of spiraling down a Tech Crunch rabbit hole, think about what it is about them you admire, and how you can make it happen for yourself. Establish systems to break down huge, pie-in-the-sky goals into actionable steps you can work on each day. This mindset will keep you from getting overwhelmed, and also from fixating on the finished product.
“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy,” writes author James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits. “You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.” Creating isn’t limited to the finished product — it’s also what you’re doing every step along the way.
“Creating” can be lots of things
The Mona Lisa. The printing press. Google.
When we think of “creating,” our minds often flood with the most dramatic examples in human history. And while becoming the next Bill Gates or Nikola Tesla would be great, our output doesn’t have to change the world to make a difference in our own quality of life.
Creating doesn’t even have to mean building something from the ground up. It can be writing a blog post, working on a knitting project, cooking a meal, or updating your website. Maybe it’s honing a skill you already have — picking up a camera, dusting off a guitar, or getting back into running. It’s being active instead of passive.
The more time you spend creating, the more time you’ll want to spend creating. The sources of our best ideas are often a mystery, but inspiration is far more likely to strike while you’re stirring a roux than zoning out in front of Netflix. Try being the person who puts things into the world, and see what comes back to you.