Do what you love: Living your calling in the face of opposition
If there's anything you learn from a season (or two, or 10 or so many you lose count) away from doing what you love, it's that you need to do what you love and nothing else.
And as with most valuable lessons, I learned this the hard way by stepping away from what I love not just in order to survive, but by taking misguided advice and outside opinions to heart about what I was supposed to do with my life.
There were some who never saw journalism or writing as a “real job” for me because I didn’t (don’t) have a degree and because I struggled financially for a time. The thought was: If I had a degree, I’d have a “real job” and wouldn’t be struggling financially. It was never said to me in those words, but I felt it. And I believed it too, in my gut. And it also took me a long time to take myself seriously as a writer, if I'm honest. I absorbed and internalized it all.
When I first started blogging in 2007ish (not to be confused with journalism, which I’d been doing for a few years) I wrote with so much passion and so wholeheartedly. While I had certain fears and insecurities about sharing it, it still flowed from the heart without hesitation. I was in such a good place personally and professionally for those few years. Even though I didn't publish a lot of my own work, that period of creating with unencumbered joy and authenticity lasted about three years. Those were also my heyday days in journalism. I was loving life and work.
Then, life changed.
Apart from going through period of severe personal trial and hardship (including to two hit and runs) that pretty much killed my creativity and the joy of writing, leaving journalism a few years after that set me down a path of frustration and survival that fizzled out any remaining spark of creative impulse or inspiration left in me.
What really killed me wasn’t so much that I left a long-term job to look for another; people do that all the time. But rather, it was my approach and mindset. I heard really out of touch comments and attitudes like
"Screw writing, there's no future in it"
“Maybe it's time to switch careers"
“You're smart, you can do other things”
"You're just like everyone else, go get in line at the employment agency"
“So… how’s that working out for you…” whatever “that” pursuing my own dreams happened to be.
When these words come from people you thought knew you better or were genuinely supportive, it's quite a blow to your confidence. And because I was struggling so much, and didn’t have the degree, and my confidence was so low, I took all of it to heart and thought that maybe others did know better than I did (Mistake 1). My heart and brain had little to no filter. But I suppose that's how you develop one, right?
Until then, I had looked for jobs in communications, marketing and PR. A few noteworthy possibilities came my but they didn't happen. I eventually ended up working low-paying, demeaning jobs in totally unrelated industries just to survive. I was miserable but fitting the “should” narrative perfectly.
I really wanted to do the right thing. I didn’t want to be labeled “stubborn” by insisting on find work in my own field rather than doing “other things”. So I genuinely gave it a shot. I moved on to "other things" because I didn't want it to be said that I didn't try.
But I didn't approach "other things" as just work but rather as a new identity and God given purpose (Mistake 2). Maybe I wasn't meant to write. Writing was something I'd do for fun or on the side. It'd be an "extra", if I could squeeze it in after my “real job”. Maybe God was calling me to do something new. And if I excelled at writing and journalism, I was sure to excel in "other things" too, right?
Except, I didn’t excel.
I fumbled and struggled. I felt like an incompetent chimp who couldn’t perform basic tasks. I did my best to show some enthusiasm. I felt so out of my element. I endured morale killing environments and degrading situations for a paycheck. I felt like none of my skills or experience mattered.
(Side note: I used to feel so awful about not being able to do clerical work well enough or fast enough. I took to heart the criticism and whispers behind my back that came as a result of it. Then it hit me: would any of them be able to produce 500+ word news article in under an hour? I suddenly didn’t feel quite as bad about myself anymore.)
And after many months of feeling like a fish trying to ride a bike and so disconnected from "me"...
here I am writing a blog post about it and why I will never again question who I am or what I'm meant to be doing
Part of that was due to a long overdue conversation with a mentor who set me straight.
"You know what you're going through right now, Cynthia?" They asked after they listened to me unburden my soul for almost 20 minutes. "An education; this is an education that's teaching you what...? You just said it.."
"Uh... I have to do what I love...?"
"Say it again."
"I have to do what I love."
"You have to do what you love."
I have to do what I love.
Shortly after that conversation, I had no choice but to move out of state (whole other post). I did find a decent job shortly after arriving but was then laid off about a year later due to budget cuts. But here I am. Not letting go of my own dreams, not taking outside influences to heart, but still feeling intense and systematic pressure to become a time clock punching robot. All the rules and expectations about what I'm "supposed" to be doing seem very ominous and foreboding. I have to go stand in line at the employment agency. I have to get any ol' job because that's better than no job. I am everyone else. I have to learn cliche, robotic interview language so I can get another "good job" because that's just the way it has to be. That's my only hope. I have no choice. There's no way around any of it.
An overwhelming sense of dystopian disconnect, hopelessness and isolation grips me on a regular basis at the thought of never doing what I love again and being trapped in a system that is set up to program dependent robots and nothing more. There's no way around "the system".
Except that.... No.
That's when I remember I'm free. I believe in the Living God who is all-powerful. He's got my back. I have goals. I have dreams and I'm working towards them. No one can stop me from pursuing them. No one can censor me. No one can bully me out of them. I have a network of incredible mentors and an incredible #girltribe of godly, likeminded women and prayer warriors, some of whom have or are enduring their own painful battles in creating a meaningful life through meaningful work. I have God given talents, experience and oh, the stories... and I'm actually DOING something in the direction of my goals. I'm at the keyboard when I'd rather be under the covers. I am inherently FREE. While I may have to work other jobs for a while, and perhaps even good ones, they are not a new God given purpose or identity just because someone or many someones says so.
So from here on out, #myjourneyisthis
I will never again take to heart outside opinions or systematic pressures about who I am or what I'm "supposed" to do, nor expect to be understood and applauded for carving out my own path. I will not cower to fear-mongering or ridicule. Because in carving out my own path, it's not so much about me as it is about following God's leading, trusting Him in the face of uncertainty and using the talents He gave me in a meaningful way.
God-given talents aren't meant to be side jobs; they're meant to be front in center
Even if no one else gets it. And very few people do. As in pretty much no one except maybe one or two people. Literally that few.
And by default, regardless of one's talents or skills, following God's leading in a meaningful way usually includes being misunderstood. Jesus, the epitome of love and perfection in character and work, was so misunderstood He hung on a cross because of it. It stands to reason that when you're not living or working the way 98% of everyone else is, it does bring judgement, criticism and even scorn and ridicule. (And many times, behind your back...)
What few realize either is that many times we don't choose our callings and gifts, they choose us, even before we are aware of it; sort of along the same lines as God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called. It took me a long time to realize this. I often heard things like "You chose a very competitive field" or variations thereof, as if writing was "just" something I wanted to do because it was fun and I enjoyed it but nothing deeper. But it became soberingly clear to me that there was nothing random or on a whim about my journey in writing.
I didn't choose writing; it chose me.
Even before I realized it or knew how to articulate it. It chose ME
A concept completely lost on the 98%.
It is also worth noting that creatives are in a class of their own in terms of how we work. For many creatives, going from creative work to non-creative work isn't the same as going from one non-creative line of work to another non-creative. But again, very few people understand that; a job is a job, right? And as my mentor said, to except others understand is "an exercise in futility." (If only it burned calories, I'd try to make the peanut gallery understand)
Those who faced little to no opposition or derailments in their careers, or who chose to take an easier route than pursuing their own dreams, will likely not understand the struggle that comes from pursuing meaningful work in the face of rabid opposition.
We hear that word and we think picket signs and carnage, but that's not always the case. Opposition comes in many forms:
- Enemies masquerading as allies who mistreat you, look down on you and make you question your worth and your capabilities
- A Stepford Wife-ish career culture that systematically attempts to make robots and punishes those who say, "I don't think so."
- Toxic work environments where people with integrity must choose between "playing the game" (gossip, office politics or engaging in other questionable practices) in order to fit in, or becoming the outsider. (Outsider, right here)
- Discouragement so intense it makes you you wonder if everyone else is right and you're the one who's wrong about your own life
- The very REAL struggle to stay positive, focused and hopeful when nothing is working out in spite of your best efforts and earnest prayers
- Ultimately, it's the battle to be simply be yourself and live your purpose, in a world that tries to make you an inflatable, mass produced "everyone else."
"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting." E.E. Cummings
(And when being yourself includes a desire to genuinely serve God and not sell out for an easy buck or mindless popularity, it's an even bigger fight)
I write this at the cross roads of limbo and where do I go from here. I have several key intersecting decisions I need to make. I feel beat up from several years of intense struggle, not knowing what to do that will actually make the difference I'm longing for as far as living my calling in a meaningful way that will once again bring joy and earn a living.
Then it hits me.
This... This right here...what you're reading now... this, on this platform, is what I'm meant to be doing, regardless of where my paycheck comes from. And I will never again question my purpose or give up on pursuing what I love.
If you're in a season of unemployment, wondering what your purpose is, feeling discouraged, incapable, misunderstood, beat down by the struggle or rejected, let me just tell you:
Don't give up. Ever.
No matter how intense the discouragement and opposition, don't ever give up. Here is what has worked for me in staying staying the course after a massive derailment and persistent discouragement:
1) Keep writing (designing, singing, playing, composing, building) or whatever you know your calling to be, even in the face of judgement, criticism or ridicule. Take other jobs if you have to for a time, but don't give up on pursuing your own dreams.
2) Don't take outside opinions to heart. Be extremely selective with whom you share your dreams. Whether they're "well-meaning" or hateful, from people we know or from strangers, outside influences can be extremely discouraging, demeaning and appear seemingly "right". Don't take them to heart, no matter who they come from.
3) Find at least ONE like-minded person who "gets" you and forget the rest. I'm blessed to have several someone's in my life that are genuinely supportive.
4) Every single day, do at least ONE small thing in the direction of your dreams: send an email. Make a phone call. Send a text message. Post something worth reading on social media. Scribble down some ideas. At least begin to write a blog post, even if you don't share it yet. It all adds up and it all matters.
5) Don't expect to be understood or patted on the back, from anyone. Ever. You will be mercilessly disappointed. Always keep in mind that carving out your own path can be a lonely journey, no matter how many people you're surrounded with.
6) Privately document or journal your thoughts, experiences and processes. It's just a good idea for both personal reflection and professional growth down the road.
8) Pray. A lot. Even if, or especially when you least feel like it. Be raw and uncensored with God. He already knows it all anyway. But the act of pouring your heart out to Him brings so much healing and a deeper connection with Him and that is what sustains us in the hardest times.
9) Above any influencer, author, business leader or other public figure, go to God's word first and always for comfort, affirmation, and very real guidance and direction. Be willing and open to God's leading always, even if it seems counter productive or unpopular by human wisdom.
10) Stay faithful, maintain your integrity and strong work ethic. When we're in the pit of disappointment and discouragement it's so easy to not care or not do our best, but we need to do our best to thrive and to serve others right where we are, just as Joseph did, in spite of the hurt. Don't cut corners. No matter where you are or how low you think you've sunk, do everything as unto the Lord. When we remember Him and choose faithfulness in the hardest of times, He will also remember us when the blessings come.
It's also worth noting that the business world is changing. New economies and professions are emerging. Many traditional workplaces are not what they used to be and college degrees aren't the vaccines against job insecurity they've been hyped up to be, at least not anymore. Few people get this, especially many in the older generations where life was all about the 40-hour workweek and that was that.
Social media has fundamentally changed everything. And a few years down the road, a new game changer will change it all again and we have to be ready for it. For almost anyone, but especially creatives, meaningful work possibilities are almost endless in a way they've never been in the past. But we can't rely on anyone to hand us those opportunities. We have to create them ourselves.
By choosing faith over unbelief. Hope over cynicism. Courage over fear. Principled backbone over spineless complacency. Effort over entitlement. Seasonal loneliness over long time superficial friendships. By owning and showcasing your voice, your talents and your abilities now, on your own platform, on your own terms, rather than waiting for someone else to validate them through cushy job offers. And again... old fashioned grit, determination and simply... Not.Giving.Up. Ever. No matter what anyone has to say about it.
I sat on the bulk of this post for nearly two years. Every time I thought of posting, I happened to be applying for a random job and became fearful of putting all this "out there" and scaring off potential employers, and oh my goodness what would I do then? Then I'd hear the negative voices in my head about what I "should" be doing instead of pursuing my goals and they'd freak me out and I just couldn't bring myself to hit publish, because what if they were right? What if I did end up on welfare for the rest of my life, because isn't that what happens to people who don't have a college degree? (Having said that, if I could get a re-do, I would have loved to complete mine back in the day.) Even just a few days ago, I had misgivings for similar reasons, which I will share in a future post. But I am not afraid anymore. I am not afraid to cut the umbilical cord to "supposed to", "should", "have to", or "or else." "They" don't own me. I own me. God owns me. Not people or circumstance.
I don't know how this new journey will play out, but I do know that God will provide. He honors those who live by faith, not by sight. He rewards those who diligently seek Him. He works wonderful miracles for those who choose to go where He leads even if it's scary or unpopular. He promises much and then way over delivers.
And in my own life, I don't have to look too far for inspiration and encouragement from likeminded trailblazers who have pursued their own God given purpose and talents in the face of far more horrific challenges, suffering and opposition than I ever have. I won't name them now, but perhaps they'll let me interview them for an upcoming post soon. I just know I'm so honored to call them friends.
So yes, ya'll... Do what you love. Do what you're good at. Want to be an engineer? Do it! Want to be a teacher? Do it! Want to be a writer, singer, designer? Do it! It's not about the what so much as it is about the why. Do what you do best in a way that serves God and blesses others. Better to die doing what you love, or working towards that goal, than to live cowering to fear or complacency. Doing what you love doesn't guarantee a problem or struggle free life, but it gives you the motivation and strength you need to keep pushing past the hard times.
I don't know what's next for me in the big picture. What I do know for now, is that when I'm done writing this I'll be applying for a restaurant job, but that's ok. My plan is to keep writing. A lot. My plan is to pound on heaven's door in prayer until it swings wide open and pours out stored up blessings. My plan is to cherish and nurture the few but meaningful, likeminded friendships that help keep me strengthened and encouraged. My plan is to keep writing here in the wee hours of the night, even when I don't feel like it. My plan is to daily do at least one thing in the direction of my dreams, small as it may be. My plan is to never again cower to fear or question my God given talents, worth or purpose.
Call me crazy, stubborn, stupid, pigheaded, idealistic, or unrealistic, but I'm actually going to do what I love. Yay me!
What a concept.