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Are You Stealing From Yourself?

by | Mindset

Small actions today are either investing in, or pillaging your future.

The latest AC podcast is about the three core responsibilities of a creative pro, and how small actions in any one of them can lead to eventual brilliance or decline. It’s easy to forget the compounding effects of small things done well and consistently, or the cumulative degenerative effects of small things ignored or done poorly.

During my study time this morning, an unexpected question sparked to mind and caused me to stop and reflect for a few minutes. (It came up because I was pushing through a book, even though I was getting questionable value from it.) The question was this:

“Right now, are you robbing your future self or giving him a gift?”

I believe we spend a lot of time thinking about our generosity to the people we serve through our work, but often pay little attention to how we serve ourselves. (As you may recall from the podcast episode, one of the core responsibilities of a creative pro is to yourself.) When considering small acts of discipline, it’s tempting to frame them up as a matter of grit or willpower, or to talk in terms of mustering the will to push through it and make it happen. However, I think that it’s perhaps more helpful to frame it up as stealing or gifting.

– When you choose to dedicate time to study and reflection, you are giving the gift of insight to your future self.

– When you choose to invest in a relationship, you are giving the gift of connection and self-awareness to your future self.

– When you choose to do the hard work of figuring something out now, you are giving your future self the feeling of competence and accomplishment.

– When you seek feedback and critical assessment now, you are giving your future self the gift of empathy and perspective.


– When you choose to take the easy path now, you are robbing your future self of time and energy, because the work has to get done sometime.

– When you choose to lash out instead of listening, you are robbing your future self of trust and respect among your peers.

– When you choose to drift instead of defining your work effectively, you are robbing your future self of clarity and purpose.

– When you choose to spend every waking moment obsessing over your work instead of taking breaks to play, to experiment, and to develop yourself, you are robbing your future self of health and enjoyment.

Now… if I asked you directly “are you a thief?”, I suspect you would be offended and walk away.

However, when I consider the above list, I can think of many times when I have robbed my future self without mercy. A part of your responsibility to yourself is recognizing that you will pay tomorrow for your actions today, and you will reap rewards tomorrow for your investments in this very moment. Just like an investor who starts saving small amounts early in life reaps the rewards of compound interest, a creative who invests in small ways each day in her future self reaps compounding rewards later.

Don’t rob yourself, and stop trying to will yourself to do better. Instead, recognize that small actions of focus and discipline today is the best way to love your future self. Make investments today so that you can reap a return tomorrow.

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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  1. Melanie

    Wonderful, perceptive thoughts, Todd, especially at this insane time of year, when so many are giving entirely the ‘wrong’ gifts to each other in different ways! Thank you so much.

  2. Barbara Rae Robinson

    I’m making myself a sign in Word and printing it out. That’s a lesson I need to learn.

    • Jan Sage

      Me too, Barbara. Mine will say “Small acts of discipline today are gifts to my creative future.” What’s yours?

      • Barbara Rae Robinson

        With each choice you make, you are either giving a gift to,
        or stealing from your future self.

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