Do What You Love (or, THP: Chapter Nine)

(This is part nine in a series about The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  To start at the beginning, click here. )

Gretchen Rubin “pursued her passion” of books during her happiness project, and reading about it simultaneously depressed and inspired me.  This chapter, by far, was the hardest for me to read. While she takes the love of reading and writing to a whole other level (where does she find the time?!), I myself have–at various times in my life–been an avid reader and writer as well.  Seeing how ardently she chases her dreams, as well as a select few of my own friends, leads me to question my own dreams.  More often than not, I’m left feeling like a failure (least professionally) because I haven’t really done anything ‘of note.’  Especially in light of the fact that I’m not working outside the home right now, what am I doing to further my own dreams?

Which, of course, begs the question: “What ARE my dreams?”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve called myself and writer and wanted to be a ‘real’ writer.  As a child, all I did was read and write (likely to the detriment of time spent outside or being active).  Couple that with some struggles in math at a young age, and I got it in my head that all I COULD do was be a writer.  So, I majored in journalism, wrote for my college paper, and served as a Public Affairs Officer in the U. S. Air Force (the closest thing to a writing job the military offers).  Writing has been, and will always be, my first passion, for sure.  However, I’m thankful I wised-up and realized I COULD do more things in life, and went back to school to become a dietitian, which included multiple courses in chemistry, biology and math.  Fast-forward a few years: I’m a registered dietitian who has worked in fits and spurts in my field during the last three years, writes infrequently (a monthly column for the local paper and this blog), volunteers monthly in a nutrition capacity, teaches a weekly fitness class, participates in weekly Bible study and has a pretty strong social circle going.  And I’m married, six months pregnant and my husband and I are constantly working on one house project or another.

All that to say, “What am I doing with my time?” Theoretically, I should be ‘pursuing my passions’ rather easily.  But I’m not.  Or at least it doesn’t feel like it.  Sure, I have to take time each day to take care of the various ‘housekeeping’ tasks that someone in every relationship has to do.  But really, why am I not writing, if that’s really what I’m passionate about?

Honestly, I think there are two reasons I don’t spend more time writing.  First, I see it as indulgent.  Because it’s not a source of income at this point, blogging gets moved to the end of the to-do list.  Therefore, it never gets done.  Second, it’s scary.  It’s hard to start from scratch as a freelancer.  Especially in our era of social media and digital content, who am I to break into all that and what do I have to offer that someone else isn’t offering already?

Gretchen addresses the first part, saying research shows that by treating our passions as a priority results in a boost in happiness.  She also says that what we tend to do in our free time, or what we liked as children, is a clue as to where our passions lie.  Unfortunately, I feel like the ‘free time’ barometer is tough, since I don’t tend to have defined ‘free time.’  I’m constantly accomplishing the to-do list!  Technically, because I don’t have a job, ALL of my time is both ‘free time’ and ‘work time’ at the SAME time.  Perhaps because the line between being productive and being ‘free’ is a little blurry, I have trouble carving out time to write? That, and being productive actually makes me very happy, which makes me want to continue being productive!

My desire–no, NEED–to constantly be productive is just one clue that I grew up with a very ‘performance-based’ view of love (and what Type-A person didn’t??), but that’s something for a therapist’s office and not this post.

So, maybe I should just add ‘write’ to my to-do list and see what happens??

(Note: In the past two weeks I’ve implemented a series of alarms on my phone to structure my time, including Bible study, ‘work-related’ tasks, exercise and ‘to-do’ list items.  My new schedule has been mildly effective so far, resulting in more blog posts and fewer skipped devotions.  However, I do allow myself to go ‘off-schedule’ to do things like painting the baby’s room or meeting a friend for a walk.)

All that to say, I’ve really been struggling with what–if anything–I should be doing with my time to further a ‘professional’ side of my life, and with whether or not writing is truly a passion of mine.  I’ve actually been ruminating on this for a number of months now…thanks for letting me process a bit more.

OK, back to Gretchen and her books.

As I said before, Gretchen decided to write a book in one month.  This isn’t a new idea; National Novel Writing Month is held annually in November and I was tempted to do it last year.  I kinda wish I had right about now.  Gretchen did, in fact, write her novel in a month (no edits, simply the accruing of at least 50,000 words total) and said it contributed to her theory that happiness involves a state of growth.  Makes sense.  Some of my happiest moments were definite moments of growth; some of my most recent happy moments include completing a triathlon, becoming a dietitian and becoming pregnant after a long struggle to do so.

Gretchen identified a few other things that would help her pursue her passion of books that month, including simply making time to read (What a concept!  Although, I continue to marvel at the amount of time she spends reading…).  To do that, she gave herself permission to not finish books she wasn’t enjoying, something I also struggle with.  Perhaps this freedom to ditch an uninteresting book also ties into another thing she challenged herself to do: forget about results.  I realize not everyone lives their lives in a results-oriented vacuum, but I certainly do and it’s so hard for me to do something that doesn’t technically ‘matter.’  She says, “An atmosphere of growth brings great happiness, but at the same time, happiness sometimes also comes when you’re free from the pressure to see much growth.”  It’s true, and VERY FREEING.  Lastly, Gretchen decided to master a new technology, which reminded me of when she started her blog a few months back.  At first, she was intimidated, but once she got the hang of it, writing the blog was relatively simple.  Gretchen ended up printing her own books, including that novel she wrote and compilations of notes, quotations and her daughters’ artwork.  I also initially shy away from things that seem daunting, and am often surprised at how easy a task is once I apply myself.  Reading this section challenged me to think about areas of my life where I’m ‘shying away’ from learning something new.  That broken tile on the steps to our basement that I mentioned in the Chapter Five blog post comes to mind.

So what’s my takeaway from this chapter?  I hate to belabor the point, but I think I’m still struggling with where my passions lie and how I spend my time.  While I don’t want to fall into the comparison trap (with Gretchen or anyone else), my Type-A/performance-based/results-oriented self wonders why I’m not at least trying to break into the world of freelance writing.  I could list countless things I’ve spent my time doing in the last eight months since I quit my job–training for that triathlon, landscaping the backyard, taking care of loved ones, pursuing infertility treatments–but none of them furthered my dream of writing, professionally or otherwise.  While in my heart of hearts I know it’s OK to aspire to be a wife and mother, I personally want more than that.  Right now, I’m about to enter motherhood, and I understand that that is going to take priority in my life for a time, and I’m OK with that.  But there is a part of me that knows, and has known, that I have more that I need to do.  It’s as if I have all this ‘potential’ bottled up inside that I haven’t let out yet.  I’m simply wondering what’s keeping me from taking that first step.  Is it not knowing what the first step is?  Is it fear?  Is it a feeling of being overwhelmed?

While Gretchen swears that asking herself IF she was happy has led to a state of increased happiness, I’d say I’m not quite there yet…


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