What are you willing to give up?

In my 21 years as a university professor, I’ve seen the same thing time and again. An exceptional student comes to college and is overwhelmed by all the extracurricular options available to him or her. I remember one particular journalism major. He was a Student Association officer, on the gymnastics team, on the elite choir, and traveled with the university’s recruiting team. His senior year came and he wondered why he was so stressed.

“You have to remember why you’re here,” I told him. “All these things are well and good. All these activities are fun. But where do you want to go? In the end, you have to give up something to get something.”

Some of these exceptional students caught on, and learned to focus on one or two priorities that they became very, very good at. Others continued to have fun, then struggled to find a job when they graduated because they really hadn’t applied themselves to their area of specialty while they were in college.

I was the same way. In college–and even through many years after–I was torn between writing and music. I sang, played guitar and performed. I wrote music. And all the time I wished I could succeed as a novelist. When we moved to Texas, I finally decided to put my music aside and focus on writing. Today I haven’t performed up front in at least ten years, maybe fifteen. And I’ve paid the cost for that. My abilities are nowhere near as good as they used to be.

At the same time, I have written and published more than 200 articles and short stories, and 23 books. It’s a commitment of time, energy and focus. And it’s necessary.

To become a master of anything, it’s estimated it takes 10,000 dedicated hours. Where are those hours going to come from?

All of us are born with the same number of minutes in an hour, hours in a day, days in a year. What we do with them is up to us.

Will we spend them with our families? Will we spend them watching TV? Reading books? Playing computer games? Working at our nine to five jobs? Sleeping? All of these are fine to do, but if you realize you only have so many hours to live, to do what you want to do with your life, what you do becomes a lot more significant.

If you call yourself a writer, you have to take time away from something else–give up something–in order to have time to write. What are you willing to give up? TV time? Sleep? Your job? Your family? The value of each one is significantly different in each person’s eyes. But the bottom line is obvious: if you don’t give up something, you will never have time to write.

That’s the grim reality of it. Figure out what’s important to you.