Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.A popular saying*
Donald Glover was a screenwriter for 30 Rock and played the beloved character Troy on Community, and his work has since earned him several Grammys, Golden Globes, and Emmy awards. Glover is a polymath. When he released his first official album as Childish Gambino, Camp, a critic at Pitchfork gave it a scathing review and a score of 1.6/10.
It’s not difficult to imagine how I might feel in such a situation—disappointed, embarrassed, and discouraged—at such a public rejection of what I had worked so hard on. And yet, whether it was due to his commitments or his drive, Glover kept moving forward with his music career even though he experienced so much success as a writer and comedian. It would have been easy to quit and stick to his comfort zone, but he didn’t. He said, “I don’t even really understand what I’m doing. I don’t. And I don’t think anybody great understands what they’re doing, hopefully. I don’t think they do.”
Dacoury Natche, who has worked with Donald Glover on his album 3.15.20, spoke to me in an interview for this book about his beliefs that great prolific work is fueled by inspiration and a connection to culture. Mixtape runs in hip-hop are a great example of this, whether it’s Lil’ Wayne’s Dedication series, 50 Cent’s pre-debut mixtapes, or Gucci Mane’s many mixtapes. Natche’s point reminds me of musicologist Neal Zaslaw, who writes of Mozart’s work, “Mozart did not compose because he was inspired, although inspiration may be why he composed so well.”
Mixtapes are also a good example of inspiration paired up with the key element of consistency. Maria Popova, curator and creator of Brain Pickings (now The Marginalian), describes this as “consistency driven by a deep love of the work.” Consistency works best when you love the process. When you want to keep coming back to the work, you’ll find consistency. You can only grit your teeth and march through hell for so long.
Consistency needs to be manageable. Complexity needs simplifying. Rigidness needs flexibility. And sometimes this means returning back to focus on doing the actions of your work every day.
“There is nothing stronger than those two: patience and time, they will do it all,” Leo Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace. When you allow time to do its work, instead of working against it and trying to aim for quick success, you can truly harness its power.