Don’t just do something. Make something.

During a recent interview on SiriusXM, Howard Stern asked Lady Gaga if she listens to what the “kids are into these days” so that she knows what to do next, if she’s calculated and preplanned each phase of her career.

The answer? No.

Sure, she likes to listen to music and know what’s going on—in dance clubs, the world in general. But she’s not nearly as calculated as people think. In fact, she laughs at the idea. What’s her priority? To make music. To make people happy. To create.

Sounds so great, right? Ah the life of an artist, and a successful one, to lie around and dream and write. Well, not so fast. You don’t think there are a million people screaming in her ears about what she should and shouldn’t do? Shit she has to do and doesn’t want to? At the end of the day, she is running a business; she just prioritizes the making, not just the “doing.” And it seems to be working for her.

You know what makes my head hurt?

The degree of calculation required to plan, launch, and operate an online business, or any business for that matter. Since I just launched an online business myself, I know first hand that it’s a pain in the ass. Marketing can be joyless and I try really hard not to let it be.

Too much SEO or CRM or data analytics? I feel like I’m being embalmed alive. 

In the end there’s no replacement for creating—and nothing you measure or calculate can be as brilliant and moving as something that’s born from a true creative effort. It’s easy to get stuck on box-checking, task-doing, to think that those things equal “productive.” They don’t. 

Look, we all have business to take care of. But, if, like me, you start to feel your energy drop and everything starts to feel stiff and pointless and dry as a bone, that’s a sign that you’re getting too focused on the pipes and not enough on what flows through them.

Create instead of do. Make instead of manage.

This is not just for artists, by the way. We have unfairly decided that some people are creative and others aren’t. Couldn’t be further from true. We are all creative by nature, and the less you make stuff, the more robotic and listless you will feel.

I just returned from a writing retreat, a non-negotiable event that I attend twice a year, no matter what I have going on. Spending a brief but intense period focused on the act of creating and supporting others’ work fills my tank and completely shifts my mental state. I feel in control, and calm, and rich with potential. And, far more able to put up with the regular drudgery.

Don’t wait for someone else to give you the time or opportunity to do what you do, whether it’s sketching or writing or woodworking. And yes, you have to make time for it—which is well, as critical as making just about anything else.