There’s a meme floating around social media that suggests 3 a.m. is the hour of creatives, writers, musicians, and artists. I’ve watched this movement of late nights early mornings for a while. I’d roll over in the wee hours of the morning and see late nighters (or early risers) up and at it — grinding. I’d grow to admire their work ethic thinking that their loss of sleep was a goal to aspire to.
For years I felt that working hard meant working a lot. That success was dependent upon how many hours you put in and how late you’re willing to work. That staying up and sacrificing sleep was part of the game. I tried to manifest success in that way, regardless of what my body and brain were trying to tell me. If I was up while everyone else slept, I deserved greatness. I deserved success. I deserved accolades.
At least that’s what the narrative told me.
Despite how hard I tried, I couldn’t stay up late enough to participate in the “creative peak hours”. Night-after-night my juice ran out well before the midnight hour. I learned—quickly—that this type of grind wasn’t for me. Even as I sat alongside my then-boyfriend trying to match his late-night creative hustle, I realized that his energy wasn’t enough to keep us both lit that late; I’d always retreat to bed before he even scratched the surface of his late-night work.
How would I ever finish writing a book if I couldn’t stay up during what’s supposed to be my most creative hours? How would I ever get promoted if I didn’t work past 5:00 p.m.? How would people know me if I don’t involve myself in every organization or activity I’m asked to join? How would I ever be successful if I didn’t sacrifice my time, rest, and peace to get there?
Over the past three years, these questions pierced my spirit. I guilted myself into an excessive amount of activities and projects that I thought would qualify me as a mover and shaker. I accepted opportunities that I thought would cement me in afield—any field. My hand was in any and everything. I didn’t want to be left behind by peers who looked to have been working harder than me. I didn’t want to be ‘regular’ (whatever the hell that means). But burn out is real, and it came fast.
I grew weary. I was overworked and had no one to blame but myself.
If there are two things I learned on this journey, it’s that busyness is not synonymous with hard work, and that the grind is not my ministry.
As admirable as it seemed — people working tirelessly to achieve their ideas of success, staying up late, missing social functions, working nonstop — that wasn’t the life I wanted to lead. No matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise, I didn’t like being busy. I didn’t like overloaded calendars and overwhelming task lists. In fact, they both give me anxiety. I like rest. I like silence. I like solitude. I like Netflix and chill. I like dedicating time to self-reflection and meditation. I like unloading. I like to just be. And, despite what I told myself all these years, I could do all this and still be hard working. I could do all this and still achieve success.
Recognizing this helped me settle more into intentionality and prioritization. It helped me re-center my focus more on God’s instruction. It alleviated the anxiety of being constantly overwhelmed and overworked. And it reminded me that I can be exactly who I am—an introvert who honors relaxation and being in bed by 9 p.m.—and still produce quality.
Instead of sacrificing the best of me, I chose to become incredibly deliberate with my time and the opportunities I lent energy to. Instead of operating with a mentality that suggested working a lot gives you success, I chose to recognize that working smart and strategically is what works best for me. Instead of risking my own sanity and well-being for what I thought would take me to the next level, I chose obedience and God’s alignment to present opportunities that would not only propel me forward but allow me to serve myself and others simultaneously.
In operating in this way, I am able to prioritize work and self-care. I am able to be effective, productive, and well-rested. I am able to reach success without compromising my physical, emotional, or mental well-being.
I no longer feel sorry for prioritizing self-care over ‘the grind’. I no longer overwhelm myself with tasks that God didn’t put in front of me. I no longer burn myself out trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing. I no longer force creative hours that were never my creative hours to begin with (let’s be honest, my most creative moments are during showers and drives home). I no longer take on too much or sleep too little. I am—and have been for much of the year—dedicated to pursuing peace, joy, and work that best suits my life.
And perhaps, this is what true success feels like for me.