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I was in 7th grade when I met her. She wasn’t new, but my attention was always on something or someone else I suppose. I don’t know what changed, but for the first time, I noticed her. After that, she was impossible to ignore.

Some relationships start slow: They gradually build to a comfortable, lovely place. But not this one. This one burned through me like a blazing wildfire. It was fierce, and it consumed me. We spent all of our time together, and when we didn’t, I’d miss her. I’d catch myself drifting off in class, my notebooks filled with images of her instead of the notes I was supposed to be taking. Everything I had to give, I wanted to give it to her. We stayed this way all through high school, and then college came.

Freshman year we stayed pretty steady. But in my sophomore year, I joined a sorority. All of a sudden, I had friendships that took up most of my time, and events that took up the rest. My attention was being pulled in every other direction. Before I knew it, I stopped paying attention to her, and we drifted. I felt it, and it didn’t feel right, but I was just having so much fun living this new, carefree life that it became almost too easy to ignore that feeling in my gut. Every once in a while, we would see each other, I mean, it was her. But it wasn’t the same.

It was about a year and a half later that I finally woke up to what I had nearly forgotten about. All of these exciting — but empty — things and people I used to fill my life just weren’t satisfying me anymore. My soul had realized the trash I had been trying to feed it, and it wanted something real, something with substance; I was starving. I finally felt her absence, what I was without her, and I hated it. I hated that I traded her for everything I swore I didn’t want.

After that, I refused to look back. I did everything to get her back in my life, to make her the priority she deserved to be. I graduated early to start our life together and to focus on what truly mattered. Sometimes I still can’t believe how long it took me to see it. Since then, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. We have grown more in this past year than we have in the past four. I know I was meant to spend my life with her, my soulmate. Her name is Art.

What Art and I have is your typical love story, but in some ways, it was an atypical recovery. Rededicating yourself to any relationship isn’t easy, but if you’re willing to put in the time, you can make it last. There are a few ways to grow love, and no matter where you’re devoting your time, the same rules apply.   

Step 1: Quality time.

In the beginning, I had to set weekly goals for myself to dedicate time to Art. With practice, it became a habit, and I found myself prioritizing time without a reminder. The more I chose her over some random night out, the more natural it became, and the happier I felt with my choices. I quickly found myself wanting more. So my tip here is simple: Put in the time, study your craft, and rebuild the personal relationship you have with what you do. Sometimes doing better work is really just doing MORE work. After all, practice really does make perfect.

Step 2: Be spontaneous.

How do you cultivate creativity in any relationship? You encourage the unknown.

I started teaching myself new mediums I had never thought I’d be interested in or capable of (Here’s to you motion design!). Every week I’d push myself to learn a new skill because here’s the thing: Creativity is a muscle, and if you work it, you’ll stay fit. Once I opened the floodgates, I started getting inspired by everything: the color scheme of a city block, the reflection in a puddle after a storm, the way the light hit a stranger’s face. It made my work more whole, more comprehensive, and gave me new eyes. So when you feel that wave of inspiration, don’t push it off and don’t say you’ll do it later. Go create while that fire is still burning. You can’t be afraid to make something bad, or you’ll never make anything good.

Step 3: Work through the problems.

The road is always bumpy. Always. But it’s not about being smooth all the time, it’s about recalibrating after a rough patch.

Getting involved with Art again involved struggles. There were times of self-doubt and fear. There were also times where the pressure and expectations I set for myself were just heavy. But with each hardship came a stronger wave of inspiration and determination to keep going, to be better, to do more — and so I did. In this one year of dedication, I have connected more, created more, learned more, and been given more opportunities than I have in most of my relationship with Art. Which tells me that not only am I capable of whatever I put my mind to but also that I am truly doing what I’m meant to.

So when you’re struggling with something or feeling burnt out, you only have one option: Manage the conversation. What do I need to keep going? What do I need to be successful? Sometimes those answers may result in scaling back on freelance projects, taking a break from social, or creating a new process. But what’s important to remember is that you’re not an endless well, and sometimes you need to put aside time to get the good stuff back in. (For ideas about that, check back with #2.)

We all have a purpose, whether it’s been staring us in the face our entire lives or it introduced itself one night while we were staring blankly at our ceiling. You just never know when it’s going to swallow you whole. But when it does, let it take you, and never give it up. Not for money, not for the expectations of others, not for comfort — especially not for comfort. Being in love with what you do is worth so much more than any of that, and I can promise you, you won’t regret a single second of it.

Leigh Stolarz

Author Leigh Stolarz

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