Meaningful Work & Slash Careers

For many reasons, I felt pretty stuck with my various jobs and career goals this fall. I was being pulled in so many directions– my copywriting work, my reading specialist/tutoring work, my freelance work. That’s on top of the work of parenting and being a mother.

Oh, and that’s on top of what feels like a never-ending worldwide pandemic.

I know I’m not alone here. I know that COVID has impacted just about everyone on the planet, some more intensely and horribly than than others.

But I kept plugging away, going through the motions, and at the very least, completing my assignments on time and meeting with the students who were on my schedule.

But something felt wrong. For most of my life, writing has been a passion. I’m rarely stumped or lacking creative inspiration, so the absence of the desire to write anything was worrisome to me. I hope it was a dry spell.

I think it was. I pray it was.

Because I recently did something that felt radical: I found my old (and yes, I do mean old– 10.5 years old to be exact) flash drive where I was (pretty) sure I had saved the final draft of the middle-grade novel I wrote more than a decade ago.

A decade ago means before I had kids, any kids. My son is now 10.5, and my daughter is 8. The feeling of an unfinished passion project that I had once worked so hard and diligently on had nagged at me for many, many years, though I was often so busy that my conscious self could ignore that very uncomfortable pull most days.

I happened to start reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection the week or so leading up to finding that flash drive. I give her a lot of credit for motivating and inspiring me to get up and get started again. She talks about meaningful work in her book and how “squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives.”

Ouch.

So very true, right?

That’s exactly what it felt like to ignore the desire– and dare I say– the calling I felt deep down to write and complete my book.

But wait. There’s plenty to hold me back from working on it again. I don’t get paid for it (or for anything) while I work on a book that may or may not ever be published. However, Brown also addresses this concern: “using our gifts and talent to create meaningful work takes a tremendous amount of commitment, because in many cases…it is not what pays the bills.” Amen!

She goes on to talk about the nasty “gremlins” who whisper in our ear, encouraging the self-doubt that lurks so painfully close under the surface.

In my experience, gremlins for writers might sound something like this:

“Who would want to read your work?”

“What gives you the big idea that you can produce anything that hasn’t already been done– and better?

“How can you give up time earning money/playing board games with your kids/cleaning your house/substitute teaching/tutoring more clients/grocery shopping/volunteering/etc. to indulge in a creative hobby [“hobby” said in a derisive tone]?”

“Isn’t it kind of lame that you’re using your Master’s degree to type away on your laptop for free when you could be out doing something in the world?”

Brown addresses the intensity of self-doubt, reminding us “no one can define what’s meaningful for us. Self-doubt,” she notes, “undermines the process of finding our gifts and sharing them with the world.”

So good, right?

My creative-type readers get it. I know they do. Maybe everyone reading, in some capacity, has felt those powerful gremlins encouraging them to doubt their goals, passions, or dreams?

The other issue I’ve had for years with my work is that I don’t just do ‘one thing.’ And, aha! Brown addresses that too!

(Side note: I couldn’t believe my eyes when I began reading her section about living in a culture that values the primacy of work. That we live in a society where we are expected to have one goal, one job, one career. That’s never been my experience. This can also stir up the gremlins within. Side, side note: If this sounds like you, and you’ve never watched the Ted Talk on being a “multipotentialite,” you owe it to yourself to find it.)

From full-time teacher, to stay-at-home mom, to part-time teacher and mom, to blogger/tutor/mom, to what I’d consider my current jobs and primary roles– writer/tutor/mom. There’s been a “slash” in my career description for almost as long as I’ve been an adult.

I LOVE that Brown says that when someone asks her what she does, it’s complicated and that “to be honest with you, I’m tired of choosing to make it easier on the person who asked.” Ha! Me too, Brene, me too.

How many times have I paused and not known how long of an answer someone really wanted to what seems to be such a simple question? (Many times, dear reader. Many, many times).

She goes on to introduce the work of Marci Alboher, an “author/speaker/coach.” YES! Someone else with a complicated, hard-to-explain career path.

She writes that Alboher “interviewed hundreds of people pursuing multiple careers simultaneously and discovered how slash careers” (like hers) “integrate and fully express the multiple passions, talents, and interests that a single career cannot accommodate.”

Let’s sit with that a moment…

This post is getting long, and I could write much more (hooray for inspiration!), but I will share one more quote Brown shares with her readers from theologian Howard Thurman, who has studied the importance of meaningful work. He says, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Refreshing, isn’t it? It’s actually almost counterintuitive to a culture that constantly tells us to save the world. But maybe to ‘save the world,’ we need to save ourselves first.

~Julia

Do any of my readers have “slash” careers? If so, I’d love to hear how you balance both. Please message me or find me on Facebook, where I am trying to make time to engage more despite, you know, all the “slash stuff” that keeps me busy :).

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