Never take no cutoffs and hurry along as fast as you can.
— Virginia Reed, May 16, 1847
I grew up on the edge of the Tahoe National Forest, very close to the place where a group of American pioneers on their way to California to seek their fortunes became snowbound in the Sierra Nevadas.
This unfortunate group had been delayed in their journey when they unwisely followed a rugged route called the Hastings Cutoff. They lost many cattle and wagons on this leg of their journey and were trapped by an early snowfall near Donner Lake. When their food supplies ran low, some of them ate their dead to survive. By the time they were rescued in February 1847, only 48 of the original 87 were alive.
As a child, I was taught this story at school and taken to the museum that commemorates the group. The takeaway that has stuck with me ever since? Survivor Virginia Reed’s comment in a later letter: “Never take no cutoffs and hurry along as fast as you can.”
One of the worst forms of crazy making that will hold back a creative professional is reacting to other people.
Reactivity is simply not functional for a creative pro. You can’t get anything done if you are reacting to others. Creativity requires aggressive, proactive use of your time. You need to politely demand the space to do so from the world.
Planning and charting a course to move projects to completion and active marketing are other essential behaviors.
Practically speaking, this requires time – regular, quiet, uninterrupted time daily in whatever space you consider your office or studio. Then you need to use that time wisely, dividing it between all the necessary parts of running a creative business or career.
You don’t have time for a lot of socializing during this work time. Your creative skills and business will develop in a much more positive direction if you just efficiently set up a system that works and don’t “take no cutoffs” instead of talking about how you want to. You don’t want to unless you do.
To avoid reactivity that pulls you away from your creative goals, you must have and follow a personal plan. Don’t be accommodating of interruptions. There’s nothing wrong with a Do Not Disturb or Off-line system. In fact, it’s essential to getting your creative projects done. You need a system and schedule that are inviolable and respected by yourself and others.
Balance is a totally different thing than accommodating everyone else’s agenda and schedule, which is the surest way to be thrown off balance.
That doesn’t mean you have to be rude. A good creative business is staffed with appropriate, professional, businesslike people who treat each other kindly and are rewarded for cheery behavior. It actually is more efficient and less reactive to treat everyone civily, kindly, and as people of worth, rather than just responding to the squeaky wheels. When you put squeaky wheels first, you lose all perspective on what is important because they squeak about all problems, important and trivial.
Extract yourself from these people’s clutches by doing what works. It is no good lecturing yourself about not getting off track. You will be ensnared by time wasting agendas unless you set up for yourself a strong alternative agenda.
Don’t be afraid to take the time to do and be the best you can possibly be. Your niche is in being your very best, not like everyone else, and producing something that will stand out from the crowd.
We all are floundering in an environment in which there are so many choices that make demands on our time and energy. The response of many people is to throw short-term solutions at things rather than to fix the problems long-term once and for all. Short-term planning is the hallmark of low-level thinking. Long-term thinking is the “pay as you go, invest in the future” approach.
People who think long term take the time to graph their future out for years ahead, considering how they are going to achieve their goals, and they don’t allow themselves to get distracted by short-term distractions and "get there quick" cutoffs from planning and executing their lives well. This is wise stewardship of your own talents.
The present is a point with lines fanning out, like a tunnel that you are looking down as it gradually widens until it fills your whole view. Take actions now at the pivot point that swing the tunnel in the direction you want to end up, because your current decisions will grow to fill your whole world. Insisting on this uninterrupted time is difficult because the majority of people aren’t doing it, but it’s essential to a creative professional life.