"We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same." ~ Carlos Castaneda, American anthropologist and author
I've been thinking a lot about work this week. Not necessarily where I am employed, but rather the broader definition of work that encompasses all of the activities that I am engaged in every day. The most valuable, affecting, satisfying work I do all day involves my writing. Whether it's on this blog, for TJCC, the fiction I'm currently working on, or my after-school program, I now know that writing is what I'm meant to do. I really can't imagine taking up another profession that doesn't have writing and content creation as its main activity.
Now I've been down this road before. I've had several opportunities to take up writing full-time and I've turned away out of fear. Again, I am at this same, familiar cross-roads: Can I jump off the cliff as so many successful writers say they ultimately had to do? We hear it all the time - lawyers who just couldn't be lawyers for one more day, doctors and nurses who couldn't work one more overnight shift, corporate employees who lost all interest in climbing any kind of ladder. They wanted so much to do something creative that they could no longer make their living any other way. Can I be that brave (or ignorant as the case may be for me)?
There are a few tough things about taking great risks, whether the risk is in our professional or personal lives:
1.) Once you jump off the cliff, you can't change your mind. You can't get back to where you were before.
2.) There are no guarantees.
3.) You won't know if it's the right choice until you actually jump.
These are weighty considerations. I think of my friend, Allan, who is very close to returning to school for a degree that he knows will lead him in the direction of his dream job. Or my friend, LT, who is a phenomenal and engaging public speaker who is beginning to lay the groundwork for his own business. Or my friend, Lissa, who left behind her work as a GYN so she could build a supportive on-line community for women and conduct self-empowerment and personal development workshops. And my dear friends, Amy and Rob, who are in the transition process from financially lucrative careers in the arts to personally fulfilling ventures in peace building and social work. I'm drawing my inspiration from them these days. "Maybe I can do this," I thought this morning in my cubicle.
The latest iteration of this thought started to take shape on Wednesday. At 10am I had a full-on argument, not raising the volume of my voice. Thank goodness it was by phone and not in person. Then someone basically told me to shut up and do what I was told. Hmmm....that doesn't exactly sit well with me. I don't do any of the things in that phrase well - I don't shut up, I don't like being told what to do if I completely disagree with it, and I certainly don't take kindly to being told to do those two things in combination. And then I completely surprised myself - I articulated with passion and clarity why I would not comply with this person's request. And my comments were met with complete silence. My friend, Jeff, calls it "The Ba-bam Response", as in "Ba-bam, take that!" In that moment, the person yelling at me is the one who sat down and I stood up, way up, perhaps as straight and tall as I have ever been.
Today I read the quote above by Carlos Castaneda, and I have not been able to get it out of my mind. Castaneda is right. To not write requires that I work very hard at something that I'd rather not do for a living, and to choose to write full-time (and make a living at it) will be a tremendous amount of work, too. So shouldn't I do a tremendous amount of work for something I really want to do rather than something I don't want to do?
I went through this same process in my personal life a few years ago. I used to be afraid, very afraid, to fall in love. I flat out refused to do it. There is a great risk involved in opening up our hearts and loving someone. We could get hurt. Very hurt. And then one day I was able to consider the alternative: if I don't open up my heart, if I never fall in love and never allow anyone to be close enough to fall in love with me then I will always be a very lonely person who feels disconnected and isolated from the world around me. This loneliness and isolation is its own kind of hurt.
So then I reasoned, "shouldn't I take the risk and open up my heart because at least in that scenario there is a chance that falling in love can bring me great happiness and joy?" Loneliness and isolation will always, certainly lead to being hurt. And with that reasoning my heart opened up. And yes, I did get hurt, many times, and I also found a lot of joy and happiness, too. Falling in love generates a much stronger likelihood for happiness than not falling in love so I could no longer keep my heart locked up inside of me. It was no longer logical to resist falling in love.
And so it goes with writing full-time, and I think that this time around, when that fork presents itself, I will choose to go down the writing road. Carlos Castaneda's quote made me realize that any other choice just doesn't make sense.