How do you find your path to happiness when so much else (making a living) rides on it?
Well, that’s quite a question with which to start a week, eh? And while I am not even sure I am qualified to answer it (I’m a writer in a backyard shack, after all, and not a business coach), I was asked and I thought I would give answering it a go from the perspective of my journey.
But, first, before I can give it a go, it’s important to provide some background for those of you who don’t have my history at the ready in your mental Rolodex (no worries, BF doesn’t have my history at the ready so I certainly don’t expect anyone else to have it down). The long version of how I landed here in the Sugar Shack today (read: how I figured out what my passion was and figured out a purposeful way I could live it) is here. The short version is that I was a high school teacher who used writing a lot in my classroom because writing had been such a powerful tool for me when I was in high school. I decided I wanted to know even more about using writing in the classroom and so I went off and got a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing. During my MFA program, I specialized in non-fiction and poetic forms and wrote a manuscript called Giving Up Beauty about my coming of age experiences that explored ethnic identity, body image, and beauty perfection. While I was getting my MFA and for several years after I completed my degree, I worked as a college administrator, organizing the college’s engagement in local and global community issues. Something happened at work that I was fundamentally opposed to so I pretty impulsively resigned. I thought the natural next step was to go run a non-profit, but BF said, “You always said you wanted to be a writer when you retired. Consider this your retirement. This is as cheap as our life’s getting. Might as well try to make a go of it now when it is only you and me eating rice and beans.” And so I did (with lots of growing pains and mistakes along the way).
Now, here is my attempt to answer a huge multi-faceted question in 10 parts– what to do to get in the position to give up your day job and make way for living the professional purpose of your dreams (and of note: this doesn’t have to be consecutive steps; you can do several at the same time)…
1. Know your passion and purpose. Do the work to figure out what it is you love and how it is you want to share your talents with the world. While I had always loved writing, I realized that I couldn’t live without writing and, in fact, might want to make a living at it, when I completed The Artist’s Way experience (check it out, it’s by Julia Cameron) in my early 20s. So, start paying attention to what lights your fire and in what ways. There are lots of nuances to the things that we love, the thing that could be our purpose, the way we can give our gifts to the world, so hone in and get your bearings about it to the point where you can talk about it in a sentence or two.
2. Immerse yourself in becoming an expert and invest in yourself. Once you’ve honed in on what you love, what you would love to be doing in the world, how you would like to give your gifts to the world, become an expert. Yes, I happened to get an MFA but I don’t think an MFA is necessary to be a writer. I do think that all the reading I did, all the writing I did, all the workshops I signed up for, all the readings I went to were necessary. In Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, he mentions the 10,000-Hour Rule, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. So, go ahead and get started. Even if you can’t ditch your current professional gig for awhile, start clocking those 10,000 hours. Depending on what your passion might be, you can read your face off, watch movies, go to speakers, volunteer, take classes, etc. etc. Just do it. You’ll never regret becoming more and more proficient. Trust me, your passion- and you- are worth every minute, every dollar, every extended thought. Moreover, investing in yourself (I, for example, took a magazine writing class at a continuing education program after my MFA program was done because I thought I might really dig the variety of work and learning that freelance writing offered and freelancing was just not something covered in my MFA experience) shows YOU that you take yourself seriously. And sometimes that is the most important step of all.
3. Record everything. Beginning to decide how to live your passion and purpose is really a creative process and here’s how it will work. You will fill your brain up with pages of books, words from speakers, images, experiences, whatever, and your subconscious will start to percolate and if you aren’t ready to capture it, it’ll evaporate. So you have to be ready– you have to record all those fleeting thoughts you have (take a notebook with you wherever you go and consider these other tips to harness your creativity) as they very well could be the roots to your new beginning.
4. Get organized. G0 ahead and play the part– get yourself organized like you are already doing what you want to do. For example, I started keeping folders of every single magazine that I dreamed of writing for back when I was engrossed in becoming a freelancer. Inside, I stored articles that were like what I wanted to write, table of contents so I could see what they’d already covered and wouldn’t query the same idea, mast heads, etc. I also started keeping folders on topics that I wanted to be writing on, organized my computer in a way that said “I am a writer”, created charts to keep track of my queries, possible publishers, contests, etc. So go ahead and act like you are doing what you want to do and begin to create and put into place the systems you will need to make it happen.
5. Identify your information. So, we all have our challenges, but I don’t even call them challenges or weaknesses. I just call them information (a post on this idea is percolating). And, so here you are, thinking about pursuing your passion and purpose, and you need to have a realistic sense of what you are good at, where you are growing, what you want to avoid, etc. This is your information. Knowing your full range might feel scary; but it’s not. It’s empowering. It lets you know what to embrace, what to avoid, where to offer yourself support (for example, when I was in grad school, I noticed a few of my writing ticks. I made myself a cheat sheet of them so I could put it on my desk beside every piece I was editing to make sure that I was addressing those issues. Now, I write in a way that avoids most but not all (I still have a couple) of those ticks. I never would have gotten there without gathering information. So, whatever you want to pursue– there is information out there for you. Gather it so you can act from a place of self-awareness. No one expects perfection but knowing what your information is makes a load of difference.
6. Face your fears. At some point in your journey, your naysayer will come forward and it will tell you that you are ridiculous. That what you want to do comes without health insurance and what responsible person does that? Or how will you invest in your retirement? Or your child’s education? You get the picture. Typically what happens is that we chicken out of our big idea OR we ignore the fears. Don’t do either. Take out a sheet of paper and write down every single thing you are afraid of (poverty! rejection! being laughed at for dreaming big! You get the picture) and, then, write down what you can do to respond to every single fear (research self-employed health insurance, etc). Our fear is only unsurmountable when we don’t have a plan.
7. Capture your vision. By now, you’ve begun to get a sense of how you might give your gifts to the world. You have begun to plug in how you will address one of the world’s needs and have some short term and long term ideas about what that can look like. Now, I suggest you capture that vision in a vision board and place it somewhere where you can see it everyday for continual reinforcement.
8. Know what you need. Just like you got nitty gritty with your fears, you gotta get nitty gritty with the details. What do you need financially to make it? How soon do you need it? What can you do now to allow yourself support, wiggle room, whatever you want to call it? What can you pay off, sell, downsize, etc? At this point, you are more serious about making your dream a reality so you have to do the numbers to totally understand what you need. You also have to tackle other logistics, too. Perhaps you’ll need insurance (yes, there I go with the insurance bit again). Perhaps you’ll need childcare. What do you want your work days to look like? Where will you work? Start looking at all this now so you are ready when the time comes which brings us to…
9. Get prepared. Because it is highly likely that that when the time comes to make the move, it’ll come faster than you expected (both BF and I made gigantic career decisions- from employment to self-employment0 in, oh, less than an hour at different points in our marriage). So go ahead and make like it’s going to happen one day because, chances are, it’s going to happen one day. And because you’ve laid such a good foundation that it is far less impulsive than it actually feels.
10. Take the leap. Finally, you will just one day have to take the leap if it is your calling. And, unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure that you are really, really ready and that nothing will go wrong. In fact, something is probably going to go wrong but it’s not a mistake. It’s just information. Here’s the deal. You take the leap not because everything is safe, not because you are assured that you won’t fail but because you now know, after all this work, after all this investment, that failing at this is better than not trying. You have to try and give the world your gift this way and you are willing to believe that the world needs it. Because when we believe that, we are on the way to one of the miracles this world needs.
Now, it’s your turn. What advice do you have for this situation? What steps have you taken on your path to happiness?