I was here.

I know a woman who’s an unstoppable machine. Any goal that she sets, she achieves it. From running, to real estate, to launching a business, whatever she decides she wants to do, she just does it. No stagnation. No excuses. She powers through to the finish line.

Her latest goal is… writing a book. With this particular goal, something is different.

“I’m having trouble just… sitting down and working on the book,” she told me. “I schedule time to do it. I put the time on my calendar. But then when that timeslot rolls around, I just… don’t do it.”

Instead of working on her book, she’ll work on something else instead — like answering emails, or a business project that generates money. Something with a clear pay-off, a clear benefit, a clear reward. Something that creates a feeling of “instant gratification.”

As human beings, we love instant gratification. We love guaranteed results. We love knowing, “If I do X, then I’ll get Y.”

If I hit the gym, I’ll get toned abs. If I send out this invoice, I’ll get paid. If I post this photo, I’ll get hearts and likes and praise.

But what if you’re tackling a project that doesn’t bring that type of immediate gratification? Yikes. That’s different. That’s uncomfortable. That tends to make us feel very uneasy. That’s why writing a book — or working on any type of creative project — can be so emotionally complicated.

“If I pour tons of time and energy into writing this book, then… what do I get in return?”

The answer is: Nobody knows for sure.

This is not a bank transaction. This is your art. Your body of work. The pay-off can be unpredictable, and that’s part of the magic.

Maybe you’ll release your book into the world and then you’ll get tons of praise. Maybe you’ll get positive reviews. Maybe you’ll sell millions of copies. Maybe you’ll get a movie deal. Maybe you’ll get one handwritten letter (“Thank you for writing this.”) that makes you cry. Maybe you’ll get “nothing” except for the quiet, profound sense of pride that comes with knowing, “I made something beautiful. I didn’t quit on this project. I finished what I started.” Maybe that feeling of pride is all that you’ll get. And maybe that can be enough.

. . .

A friend who recently completed a 460 mile hike through the wilderness said to me:

“It was beautiful and it was awful. My feet were blistered the entire time. I collapsed and cried and I almost gave up a hundred different times. But I wanted to prove to myself that I can be the type of person who finishes what she starts. I’ve always quit on myself in the past, but this time, I promised myself it would be different. So I finished the hike. And I felt so much joy. And I can’t wait to do it again.”

Maybe this is why we challenge ourselves mentally, physically, and creatively. It’s not just for applause. It’s not for Amazon reviews. It’s not for comments and Instagram hearts. It’s because we want to feel joy — not the fleeting dopamine burst of a re-tweet, but deep, powerful joy. Because we want to feel proud of ourselves. Because we want to feel strong and capable. Because we want to feel alive. Because we want to make things and do things, and leave a mark on the world to say, “I was here.”

Hey, look. There’s no need to write a book if you don’t want to. Books are optional. Hiking 460 miles is optional, too. There are plenty of other things you can make and do with your time in this human body. But don’t let your entire life go by without finding some way of saying, “I was here.”

In my experience, the projects, goals, and endeavors that bring that incredible feeling—“I was here.” “I matter.” “I’m alive.”—typically aren’t the endeavors that bring immediate gratification. The gratification comes later. You wait for it. You earn it. And it’s worth it.