A lot of people my age don’t exercise and they eat like crap. In their 20s or early 30s they feel like they are on top of the world. I live right down the street from Wrigley Field, and all year long there are crowds of people several days a week who drink and eat away their paychecks. Some of them, no longer getting to walk as much as they did in college, begin to get fat. Some of them, seem to have little or no consequences from this lack of self discipline.
I don’t have a problem with people going out for the occasional drink. I do have a problem seeing talented people waste their brain cells by doing it after every improv show, poetry slam or day of nine to five work. I do have a problem with drinking being one of the only acceptable forms of entertainment once you pass the age of 21. And I do have a problem with people trying to get me to drink more so that they can feel better.
Perhaps I’m a “lightweight" but the day after I drink: I don’t feel good. And when I don’t feel good, I don’t want to write, I just want to lay there until I feel better. I don’t get a lot of work done that way.
But this isn’t my rant against substances getting in the way of the work you are doing now. It is a plea to give yourself more powerful years later in your life by keeping yourself healthy through your 20s and 30s.
A lot of people take this time in their lives to be wild and crazy because they think they won’t be able to later in life. They don’t exercise, or eat well, or stay in on a Saturday night every once in a while, because they feel and look fine. Internally though, you are kicking your ass, and by the time it manifests on the outside or a doctor tells you to change your ways, it might be too late.
The more damage you do to your system now, the earlier you will begin to break down. The body and mind are much frailer than we think. A good blow to the head can knock memories and skills quickly out of our brains. Why do the same thing over time by pouring chemicals in there?
I want to have all of my creative and cognitive abilities still in tact by the time I’m 80. With the technology in health care that’s developing right now, that is entirely possible. But I know that if I spend most of my time partying, that my chances of maintaining those functions in working condition is going to be much more difficult. If you are a writer, you should try to maintain those abilities too.
Chances are you are going out and drinking with people less talented than you. Of course they don’t have a problem drinking their lives away, they don’t have the promising future that you do. These are the people who pressure you into one more drink. They want you to be as drunk as they are so they aren’t embarrassed. Does that sound like a good reason to do something?
Also, you start getting in the habit of using alcohol to dull your emotions. What happens if you become more successful and start to endure more pressure and more emotions? Are you just going to quit then, or start dealing with your life better at that point? You need to start forming healthy habits to deal with that stress instead of finding your panacea in the bottom of a glass.
I get really sad thinking about my friends who drink regularly and otherwise don’t take care of themselves. I think about when I’m 60, and I ask them if they want to go for a jog around the block or possibly just a walk. I see them looking up at me and wishing that they could but knowing that their bodies are so ravaged that it’s just not possible. They gave that opportunity up a long time ago so they could be social with a bunch of guys and gals whose names are now distant memories.
I’ve gone on a major tangent with alcohol here, but that’s not the only thing that a lack of self discipline can hold you back from still being brilliant late into life. Look at the kind of food you eat. Is it full of artificial junk or are they mostly ingredients you can find in the earth? Do you exercise regularly? If you had to run the old “high school mile" right now, how would you do? While alcohol and other drugs are a quicker shot of bad health, a nice slow and steady track to unhealthiness lies in diet and exercise.
If you are poor and you can’t afford a gym membership or classy organic food, there are still options. Walking to places more is free and can save you money on public transportation. Try to play some kind of sport once a week (even mini golf can get your legs and arms moving a bit). Find a discount produce market (Stanley’s is the tops in Chicago, IL) and you will soon be able to buy fruits and vegetables for the price of Ramen Noodles. Believe me when I say, Ramen Noodles are horrible for you, please find a way to work those out of your life. Hold healthy potluck dinners, find good deals at organic and raw food restaurants, or start dating a healthy food cook. There are ways to literally add more life to your daily routine, do not avoid them.
Investing in your health with self discipline now can lead to a lot of positive returns in the future. Creatively, you will benefit from being at full capacity mentally and physically after having had more and more life experience. Please give yourself the chance of being healthy when you are a middle-aged and elderly creative writer by practicing self discipline. Start an exercise routine. Get some fruits and vegetables into your diet. And get used to the phrase, I’ll just have water. A few simple choices can lead to some amazing work in your many productive years to come.