When school rebooted in January, I focused on figuring out what to prioritize–magic or homework. This is my second semester of senior year, which means that the runway for gearing up for post-grad life is getting shorter every day. I also can’t ignore my classes (just covering my bases in case my parents or **professors** read this).
Here’s the thing: At any given time, I know I’m going to finish work for school and magic.
The problem is figuring out where to devote my energy. Working on a task first or last hugely impacts the enthusiasm I bring to it and my level of burnout.
You may have complex formulas for ranking your most important work. But I’ve figured out a solution to prioritizing magic vs school. It may sound overly simplistic, but here is my system in all its glory:
Do magic first.
I’m practicing that system right now. I have important thesis work I need to do, and I’m writing this blog post instead. I’m still going to do my thesis research, but not until the time I allotted to working on this post is done, because I bring more energy to whatever I do first.
And given that I’d rather be remembered as a magician than a political communication scholar, this feels right.
This might not be the best strategy freshman year. But now that I’m a senior and the majority of my GPA is in the rearview mirror, doing magic first doesn’t feel like I’m neglecting responsibilities, it feels like I’m embracing them.
This about sitting down and thinking about what matters to you, and acting on that rather than what anyone tells you is best.
I’m not advocating that you don’t do your school work. But I am advocating that you ask yourself the simple but essential question: what do you value? And I don’t just mean now. It’s also important to ask: What will you value several years down the road? Will you be happy that you abandoned your side project just because it was a little more challenging? Or because, when combined with your other work, it took slightly more time? Probably not. Because most of the time, when we regret things, we regret inaction. Not seeing that show with our friends. Not calling someone. We rarely regret trying, even if we fail.
And I’m not saying that what you do has to be something big and profound. I’m saying that if you value something, you need to do it. For example, I host monthly open mics for comedians on campus, and I perform magic. Everyone wins, and it takes almost no work. I book the space once a month, tell my friends about it, and show up.
The point is that I plan the open mics weeks in advance and once they go on the calendar, my other obligations that would supposedly “stop” me from hosting just…cease to exist. It’s amazing how much power there is in simply committing to something by putting it on your calendar.
While I can’t tell you what to prioritize, I can say, definitively, that we owe it to ourselves to actively prioritize the things we value. And if you value art over rote school work, then yes, you should prioritize your art. College is the inflection point where we get to become adults. And it is productive to practice prioritization while we are in college because the consequences for messing up are at the lowest point they’ll ever be.
Additionally, doing work that aligns with your values is one of the most gratifying things you can do; it’s much better than doing something because “you have to.” The next question, though is, how do you figure out what your values are?
I used this journal. It’s certainly a challenge, given that it is 10 minutes of journaling/day for 150 days. But having just finished it, I can tell you that it was crucial for figuring out how I think about and prioritize my life.
I used to think that it was a problem that we aren’t taught how to prioritize or figure out our values in school. But the more I thought about it, I realized that it’s not the school’s job. It’s on us to figure out what we value. Nobody can tell you what matters to you. They can only ask you the right questions. If you don’t want to do 150 days of journaling, that makes sense. Start by just asking yourself a few questions, like:
How do you want to be remembered?
What do you want to put into the world?
How do you want to treat others?
Now, act on your answers.
It’s certainly easy to delay this kind of work until “later” (whatever that means) or fool yourself into thinking that your only goal should be the art. But the reality is that art is a lifestyle. And like any lifestyle, being an artist requires sacrifices and choices. One of the most important choices we can make is our values. We’ll always have a million ideas and creative projects. The trick is figuring out what we actually want. And yes, this seems very “adult,” but sitting down and actually thinking about what matters to you is one of the most important things you can ever do. Might as well start now–the stakes get higher every day.
For example, one question I ask myself constantly is: “Is what I’m currently doing putting good into the world?” Take my recent paper I wrote for class. The answer is no. In fact, it might be a net negative, because my professor had to spend time grading it. But take this blog post. I can almost certainly say that this is putting good into the world, even if this helps just one person.
To summarize: If what I am doing is actively putting good into the world, that is my priority. That doesn’t mean that I always get to do what I want. I still need to go to the grocery store and clean my living room, and, yes, do homework. But when it comes to comparing creative work with school work, cut yourself some slack, do one less reading, and put something into the world that people will actually care about.
Next week: a reflection on last week’s show in New York City. What went well? What sucked? And most important: What did I learn?