I’ve held a few jobs in my life. I spent my college years as an “office slave,” as I called it, so I can attest that not all jobs are lifestyles or passions or careers.
Some are one of those things, or two. Some are all of them. And I always knew that, with dreams of being a creative and making a living at it, that’s what it would take. Building a career as a novelist would require passion, and it would be my life. I’m not just a mom or a homeschool teacher who writes on the side. I am a novelist.
The thing with pursuing any work with the kind of determination that leads to it becoming a career is that you drive so hard, so long, that you run the risk of burnout. Worse, you run the risk of losing the passion and seeing only the work. That’s often when creatives step away–sometimes entirely, sometimes just for a season of rest. Or they dial it back. Or they make some other change.
For the past several years, my writing and design income has supported out family–and I’ll be honest, it was extremely satisfying to be able to do that. To say to my husband, “You’ve worked a lot of years in a job you mostly hated so that I would have the freedom to write–pursue your dreams now.”
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my flagging energy wasn’t just from overwhelm, it was from a pituitary tumor literally sapping me of strength and clarity. I worked with it for years, and I worked hard. I was, as my husband put it, in “professional athlete mode.” I trained my creative muscles, I worked them out, I exercised them. I showed up on game day, and I got the job done. It was work I loved, but it was still work. Sometimes it left me dry. Sometimes it left me exhausted. Never ready to give up–never!–always so grateful I got to do this work. But it came with a cost.
Creativity always comes with a cost, which is strange. It drains and it fills. It gives life and it takes life. I like to think of it like a garden. It gives immeasurable peace and satisfaction, it produces a harvest that will fill you and delight you, and tending it can soothe your soul…but you can’t ever stop that tending, or it’s all over. Sometimes the garden doesn’t get enough water and it dries up. Sometimes it gets too much. Sometimes you leave for a week and come back and it’s overrun.
The creative life can be the same way. We need it, we love it, it fills us up…but sometimes it also takes all our spare time and doesn’t seem to give anything back, or our expected successes are snatched away…like when the deer get the fruit and veggies the night before you were going to harvest (yep, we’ve had that happen!).
I’ve written about bits and pieces of this in my “Let Me Tell You a Story” segment in my newsletter, so you’ve possibly read my thoughts on this before. But they bear repeating, or expounding on if you haven’t seen those.
Creativity is like a garden–it will give, but it also needs to be fed. If you’re feeling dry and burned out, burnt up in the scorching sun of life, then it isn’t necessarily time to pack it in and retire to your air conditioning and just say, “I can’t. I don’t care anymore.” It’s time to refill the well. Let the water overflow. Get back to the first love.
For me, that meant not just focusing on what I had to do–but rather, taking time to just create, when it meant nothing. When there were no deadlines or strings attached. When it’s just fun. I hadn’t done that in…years.
After I shared about it in my newsletter, I heard from people who’d had the same experience with their music, with their art, with teaching. Things they’d begun because they were passionate about them…but over the years, the passion wore away and left them just with the job. There was no joy in it anymore.
So the musician took some time to sing some old favorites just for herself, not for the choir. The artist turned to some sketches just for fun. The teacher put aside lesson plans with demands and remembered her own favorite days in school, what led her to that job, and pondered how to bring that to the kids today.
Rekindling a first love isn’t usually all that difficult…but it does have to be purposeful. It has to be tended with care. Nurtured. Appreciated.
We work hard to be professionals in our fields, to turn our love into our careers. But we also have to remember what brought us here. We have to cling to that seed. We have to take time for the joy of it, not just the job of it.
I’m so blessed to be a professional writer. But one of the most amazing lessons I’ve learned in the past year is that sometimes I need to set aside the professional…and just be a writer.