The vulnerable things we find it hard to say
A year ago, I lost my job. I'd only worked for this remote tech startup for five weeks, so being let go hit my ego hard. In the days leading up to my dismissal, I told a former co-worker over coffee that I'd be humiliated to be let go, and he cooed that he had faith in me, and then it was over in a matter of hours.
Everything that happens to us is public these days. Do you feel that, too? That every move and choice and moment is broadcast?
Sometimes life tumbles out of our control, and being fired because a company's priorities changed pushed me into damage control, like a dehydrated starlet.
Being fired also, conveniently, got me everything I always wanted. Without having to close my eyes and intuit the right moment to leap, I'd arrived at my longtime goal: being a full-time writer. It should've been exciting, momentous and life-giving, and there've been moments this last year that my heart swelled with gratitude:
- I didn't have to ask permission to take a long trip to Australia.
- I spent all the time I wanted with family over the holidays.
- I checked out so many library books I asked my husband to get his own card so I could skirt my limit (he refused and prescribed a chill pill).
- I got a book deal.
Then there are the moments of being self-employed that keep me quiet. Most friends and family members have jobs we can understand, as the narrative is universal: They go to an office or work remotely, have scheduled meetings and answer client calls, lament their commute and talk about comfort shoes and who takes the last of the communal coffee pot. Self-employment, as it differs from their jobs, fascinates these folks. What it means is that we self-starters are constantly asked to defend the work we do and offer our elevator pitches around the clock. I've given a rundown of who I am and what I do to the woman at the deli counter (I just wanted my meats), a personal trainer (I just wanted my muscles) and strangers at a bridal shower (I just wanted their names). It comes from a place of their wanting to understand, but for someone grappling daily with figuring out a narrative that isn't universal, it can send one reeling.
It isn't an exaggeration to say that every day, I feel called upon to defend my lifestyle. Sometimes I'm calling upon myself, and sometimes the call arrives from the outside.
Here's the thing: When you no longer have to be at your desk Monday through Friday, work nine hours a day, take a lunch break around noon and maintain a to-do list, what does your workday look like?
It isn't lost on me that so, so many creatives want this freedom to dip into their art whenever they want without a boss or supervisor chiming in with unrelated duties. (I talk more about how I make this work financially in this podcast.) They're the people hustling, using lunch breaks and late-night quiet moments to bang out their art, all the while longing for that one day when they can live the life they feel they're meant to.
I think I'm living that now. I say it hesitantly and with humility because I feel I owe the universe a major thanks, but it's hard to muster. Are my fellow self-employed friends going through this, too? Do you find yourself wandering around your space, wondering who you are compared to your neighbors, composing pithy sentences to whip out in explanation of your work, all the while questioning that work and your connection to it? A big part of my identity while in the average workforce was acting upon my responsibility to other women by asking for raises, speaking up in meetings, banishing weak words from my vocabulary. I worked so hard to do everything and be everything and say "hell yes" that I found myself with four jobs last spring.
Of course, when you're maxed out, something has to give, and that something was writing. I don't want that something to be writing.
This year feels different, and in large part, it's because I've had health issues. My body's saying, "Slow down, sweetheart," and my thyroid's making sure of it. I write this from my backyard, where I've been tasked with sitting 20 minutes a day because blood tests say I don't have enough vitamin D in me. I'm loading up with cruciferous vegetables, canceling plans left and right to spend more time at home, reading, lounging, slowing. I'm making more things myself by hand, like cleaning supplies, candles, bread, bone broth. I'm logging out of social platforms and trying really, really hard not to care about what I'm missing out on.
It's hard. How privileged are we to find disconnecting from others' updates a hard lot in life?
I don't want to share everything I do, in my life or in writing. This passage from Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O'Keeffe by Dawn Tripp speaks to me:
"I've begun to understand that there is work I will do that I will put out to the world and there is work I will keep as my own. That feels important to me. Like it needs to be that way. That slight, but very clear delineation."
I'll never not write. I'll always write. We start with this in The One-Week Daily Writing Devotional: When I peel away every other layer I've lacquered onto my skin -- like yogi, gardener, dog-lover, friend, daughter, sister, wife, community member, question asker -- being a writer is the last remaining skin. But it's a skin, nonetheless, and now I'm trying to figure out who my "self" is at the core, who I am aside from a writer, and trying my damnedest to do it privately without sharing every step.
It's back to basics, like M. L. Stedman writes in The Light Between Oceans:
"It's a hard job, and a busy one. The lightkeepers have no union -- not like the men on the store boats -- no one strikes for better pay or conditions. The days can leave him exhausted and sore, worried by the way hailstones crush the vegetable patch. But if he doesn't think about it too hard, he knows who he is and what he's for. He just has to keep the light burning. Nothing more."
Can I share how frightening I find it? To disengage from the only me I know, the writer-me, leaves me like an actor without lines. I write in this blog and elsewhere about the importance of writing every day, sitting at your desk and doing the hard work. It seemed somehow disingenuous to wear Writer as a nametag yet break from that association. Yet, even Ann Patchett has spoken in favor of taking a break:
"I go through long periods of time when I don't write, and I'm fine. Writing is an amazing place to hide, to go into the rabbit hole and pull the trap door down over your head. I want to have time in my life when I don't have that cover."
All this is to say that my priorities are changing. I'm still writing -- creatively, for myself, and professionally, as a content marketer -- all the while still learning about what feeds my soul. What would it be like if I worried less about the money I'm making and more about my social impact? What can I do to contribute positively?
I know with certainty that this shift is due to having lost that job last year. These days, I'm exhausted from overthinking, while my thyroid's pooped from underworking, instead of being annoyed by a long commute and frustrated after a client phone call that didn't go well. I think about how we're meant to take gentle care of ourselves and others, and I'm not sure I've done that as of late.
I'll speak more definitely: I haven't done that.
So now I am, and I'm starting with October, my favorite month. I'm saying it quietly, out loud and online: I'm taking a break this month, reverting to my factory settings. I hope something creative comes of it. I hope I feel fuller, rounder, more complete. I plan to write, and hope that you do, too. I have a couple free projects that may encourage you (they're totally automated, so I'll be keeping my promise not to work):
Reading others' self-employment and entrepreneurship blogs this last year made me believe I needed to offer e-courses, incentive webinars and a slew of products, all the while pushing upsells. Instead, I realized the other day, I created a bunch of free shit, and offering these resources has fulfilled me in ways I didn't think possible. I hope you find meaning in them, too.
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