I’ve never been interested in self-actualisation through my career. Business is too cut throat for my liking. I’ve seen people whose entire identity is invested in their job suffer enormously because of it.
It can never end happily. Indeed, a woman I knew was so invested in her work that a shock redundancy left her so blind-sided she had a breakdown and then joined the ranks of the long-term unemployed, simply because she couldn’t find the strength to put herself back together and get on with things. It stripped her of her confidence, her sense of self, and her self-worth. She became a shell of herself.
Business is business, and I doubt very much her employers had any real understanding of the havoc they were about to wreak when they chose her. And I doubt they would have cared. People are dispensable in business. It is just the way it is.
I’ve never over-invested in my work life. I got to a point where I believed (and still do) that life is too short to be doing a job that doesn’t bring something positive into your life – a sense of achievement or satisfaction, a sense of making a difference, or just enjoying what you are doing on a day to day basis. I don’t think it needs to be momentous, nor do I think we need to change world through our work. But it does need to be ok, to sit well with you.
While work takes up a whole lot of our time, there is still plenty of time outside of that. I think that this is where self-actualisation should happen. It’s just you and your personal goal. There’s no fat-cat in the world that can interfere with this. And if someone pulls the rug from under you at work, you still have your thing.
That thing that makes you happy, that thing that you do because you want to.
We live in a commodified world, where most things have a dollar value, and it’s hard to resist that. There is much confusion around what success looks like and it can easily be mistaken for the big house, the fancy cars and five-star holidays.
You have to be seriously mindful about your approach to life in order not get caught up in this hamster wheel of work-more-buy-more. Having enough is not enough, anymore. But it is, if you choose it to be so.
To help keep me off the hamster wheel, I have devised a list of things that I want to work towards that have nothing to do with keeping me financially afloat. I’ve done quite a bit if navel-gazing these last few years – I think this happens when there are seismic shifts in your life.
One of the things that I’ve learnt is that creative exploration is important to me – this is where I feel most at home, most excited and most free. So most of this list revolves around creative pursuits. Not all, but most.
When my Mum was days away from death, I had a newborn who was taking every ounce of energy I had, and I was just managing to limp through those terrible days at the hospital. In the midst of this my younger brother reminded me of a time where art kept me calm, and helped me navigate through hard times. He bought me a gift of Derwent pencils and a drawing pad.
Those days didn’t get any easier, and after Mum died, they got worse – darker, heavier and more exhausting. Looking after a tiny baby whilst in the throes of grief was like being split in half.
When grief pulled me away from my children, it felt like an assault on my parenting. But when I was wrenched back by my baby’s needs I felt that I wasn’t honouring my mother. But the drawing and the art loosened the vice-like grip of grief and guilt. It was a small light in a dark dark tunnel.
Looking back and seeing how pivotal it was in keeping me functional and keeping me well, led me to make a commitment to keep exploring, to keep trying to find time to make art, and to experiment. I’ve never really painted much, and when I was very active creatively, I used charcoals and soft pastels – so painting is a challenge for me. This coming Saturday I am enrolled to do an acrylics workshop, with a focus on abstract painting.
I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable, a bit challenged. I like to master things immediately, I don’t like the prospect of not loving what I create. But there is a sweet spot somewhere in amongst this discomfort. Not knowing what will unfold, or emerge is alluring and exciting.
I’ve mentioned recently that I was doing the C25K training program. I completed it a few weeks ago and also took part in my first ever organised event. I’ve always done yoga, but never committed to any serious fitness routine. Part of that was down to some health problems, but part of it was also laziness. I liked the idea of being fit, but I didn’t like the idea of putting the work in. Feeling the pain.
One day, very quietly, I downloaded the C25K app, set off on a walk, but did the Day One of Week One, and it didn’t hurt half as much as I expected it to. So I did Day Two, and then it followed. Three weeks in to the program and I had decided there was no way I was not going to finish it.
I’m so glad I did. Running is a huge challenge for me. When I plan to go for a run, I battle the little voice in my head that says ‘it looks like rain out there, maybe go tomorrow instead’ or ‘your knees are a bit sore, rest, go tomorrow’. I have resisted that little voice and now I am regularly running my 5K. I want to get better at 5K, then I might think about increasing my distance. But the 5K is still a real challenge. Again, in amongst the discomfort, I’ve found a sweet spot. The discomfort is paying dividends.
The Artists Way
The Artists Way by Julia Cameron is “A course in discovering and recovering your creative self”. It is a 12 week course aimed at casting off negative conditioning around self-doubt and creative blockages. It helps make the creative process part of your every day life.
Some may say that I have this already, as I write for a living. But earning a living from writing changes the creative process – it attaches a pressure to it, that you don’t have if you are doing it for joy. I get great satisfaction from my paid writing work and enjoy it immensely. But some of the freedom is gone.
This course requires a weekly time commitment and feeling eternally time-poor is one of the reasons I’ve put it off. But I learnt from the C25K that if you don’t commit and just bloody-well do it, then it remains undone.
I’m interested to hear what others think about work, goals and life satisfaction.