How Did I Get Here?

How did I get here?

I mean, it’s all good. Life is pretty good. You’d rightfully accuse me of being ungrateful if I said anything different. But I have no idea how I got here. Am I the only forty-something who feels this way? (By the way, describing myself as a forty-something in writing is pretty sobering.)

When I say “here”, I mostly mean my career. I can follow the breadcrumb trail and know how I got to my other “heres”. I can tell you how I came to live in this area in 1998 (funny story). I know the chain of events that led me to meet my husband (fate?). But my profession, my position, and my place of work? That feels much more random. Like I really had nothing to do with it.

After graduating high school, I felt like I was on a path. Then, rather than the proverbial fork in the road, I met a dead-end. Or maybe it was more like a round-about? Regardless, I couldn’t find a map that told me YOU ARE HERE that could show me where to go, because I really didn’t know what the destination was. Sorry for all the bad analogies.

When I started university, I wanted to be a high school teacher. Don’t be led to believe that I had any laser-sharp focus or even a clue, when I say this. I switched from wanting to teach French, to History, to English, flitting around because no subject came easy enough. I even thought maybe I should teach elementary school instead of high school for a moment. All in the space of an academic year. I had the quintessential 18-year-old existential crisis, and it sucked. It didn’t help that I was in a toxic living situation (a topic for another day) and that I wasn’t loving any of my courses. Except linguistics – which I truly loved and exceled at – but what the hell could I do with a linguistics degree?

At the end of that year, when an advisor at my university talked to me about the stark realities of finding a job as a teacher in Canada, the existential crisis became an actual crisis. Would I be willing to come out of university with a big, fat student loan and no job prospects? Would I be willing to live at home or work minimum wage while waiting for a teaching job to materialize, perhaps for many years? The answer as it turns out was no.

Fast forward twenty-four (oh my god) years and I’m a professional accountant. I work in Finance at a major corporation, about to move up the ranks from middle management to senior management. I’m not helping anyone in my work, unless you count making my boss look good, or helping shareholders get richer. There’s lots of stuff I like about my work (the people I work with, mainly), but is it fulfilling and rewarding? Am I doing anything to leave the world a better place? Uh, no.

I’ve come to believe that there are two schools of thought on the topic of fulfillment as it relates to your work. The first is to think of your job as, well, a job. A way to pay the bills, but not something that defines you. The idea is to then find things outside of your job to fulfill you – maybe volunteering, hobbies, or a passion project. This is all well and good if you work 9 to 5. It’s no so easy when your job is demanding and unpredictable. My hours are long and my evenings and weekends are never sacred, plus I travel for business a lot.

The other approach is to find a career or organization to work for that you’re passionate about. This is obviously the harder road to travel. I actually tried this many years ago. I left my current job to work for a nonprofit that I believed in, still working in finance. The organization was very cool and the people who worked there were very passionate about the mission of the organization – so inspiring. The only problem was that my department was a disaster. Disfunctional and toxic to the point of giving me stomach aches on the way to work and putting me in tears on the way home. It made me realize that the only way for work to be tolerable, not to mention enjoyable, is to like and care about the people you work with. The organization itself actually matters less, I believe.

There’s no moral to my story, here. I haven’t figured anything out. I work too much for a company that I really don’t believe in. It isn’t evil, but it isn’t doing anything that aligns with my personal values. Is it okay to have just a job. Especially when it takes so much of your time and energy? Or does this mean that I’m selling my soul a little bit?

2. How Will I Know When I’m a Writer (Artist, Musician, etc)?

I can’t remember the source, so unfortunately I can’t give credit here, but I remember in an article about a creative person, the interviewer asked the interviewee when did she know that she was an artist (it might have been Lisa Congdon, a relatively late artistic bloomer). And her answer was when she started calling herself an artist. Simple as that.

Yet, the simple act of calling oneself an artist (or writer or musician, etc) is a humongous step, am I right?

In my mind, the question is how will I know when I’m a writer or an artist? Because when I know this to be true, then I will confidently call myself one. I don’t think it will work in reverse, like a Field of Dreams situation (label myself and I become). I don’t have the chutzpah.

My first inclination is to say that I could call myself a writer once I’ve been published. Or once my blog gets X number of hits per month. I could call myself an artist once I’ve sold a piece.

But is this myopic? Maybe the title comes with prolificacy. Maybe once I’ve filled X number of sketch books or published X number of blog posts, I’ve earned my chops.

Maybe I could take a baby step. I could call myself a part-time writer or an amateur artist, for example.

All I know is that I have to keep creating. Even if I never give myself the designation, as long as I make creativity a part of my life every day, then I will accomplish the same thing.

What’s your answer to this question?

1. What is My Hobby, My Job, My Career, and My Vocation?

In January 2016, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, Big Magic, and many other fabulous works of fiction and non-fiction, posed a question on Facebook: WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? This post blew my mind.

She addresses those of us “seeking purpose and meaning and direction in their lives” by differentiating how we spend our time into the buckets: Hobby, Job, Career, and Vocation. Please, please, please go and read her post, but here’s a very summarized definition of these terms.

  1. A hobby is something you do strictly for enjoyment.
  2. A job is how you look after yourself in the world, financially. Says Elizabeth: “Even after I’d already published three books, I still kept a regular job, because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the responsibility of paying for my life.” Cool, right? She also says “Your job does not need to be how you define yourself; you can create your own definitions of your purpose and your meaning, pulled from deep within your imagination.”
  3. A career is a job that you put your energy, passion, and commitment into.
  4. A vocation is a calling, “a summons that comes directly from the universe, and is communicated through the yearnings of your soul.”

Question:

What are these for me? What is my hobby, my job, my career, and my vocation?

Answer:

I have a few hobbies: reading, knitting, writing, drawing, painting, watching Vlogs on YouTube, and fitness. Chris calls me a “dabbler” because I rotate through these depending on my whims and my schedule – pretty appropriate, I’d say.

When I think about job and career, I get caught up in a feedback loop. I work in finance and I’ve risen the ranks into a senior position in my field, mostly at one company. I’ve put my energy and commitment into this, but it’s most definitely not out of a sense of passion, but out of my damned need to please others. In this regard, it’s a job: there’s no passion, there’s no sense of purpose or meaning for me. But, it some ways it feels a lot like a career. I’ve dedicated a lot of time getting my accounting designation and a lot of overtime hours getting to my current position. I’m good at what I do, I like most of the people I work with, but I don’t love it. It doesn’t feed my soul. In fact, it probably sucks a little bit of the life out if it.

When I think about vocation and read and re-read Elizabeth’s essay, I realize that this is the scariest prospect of all. WHAT IF DON’T HAVE A VOCATION? WHAT IF I WASTE MY ENTIRE LIFE MISSING THE SIGNS OF WHAT MY CALLING REALLY IS? She advocates paying attention to your senses, and considering your talents, tastes, passions, and curiosities. She urges everyone to seek. In my case, I look to my hobbies (which represent my talents, tastes, passions, and curiosities) and wonder if my vocation lies amongst the dabbles. I also think about what I gravitated to as a child: drawing, reading, and writing, for sure, but also teaching – my favorite game was to play teacher. I would create syllabuses for the younger children in my mother’s home daycare – I taught everything from math to science to gymnastics. There are also other things I’m passionate about that are currently hobbies, or that I’m not actively dedicating any productive time to: animal rights advocacy, sustainable transportation, the environment.

Follow-Up:

Elizabeth reminds us that we don’t need a career. If this is true, can I ditch mine? Or, more realistically, can I convert my career into a job? That is, can I pull back the time and energy I currently put into it so that I can focus on a vocation and get the sense of purpose and meaning in my life? For me, this is going to take a lot of courage and assertiveness. Hell, it might even take some planning and accountability.

What the heck is my vocation? Dabbling is good for hobbies, but if I’m trying to find meaning and purpose in my life, I think I need to focus on something. What should that be? My gut tells me that if I dedicate myself to this blog, focus the content to something meaningful, I could reach a lot of people, satisfying the writing and teaching urges that I have. Maybe I’m onto something here. Also, what Elizabeth says about not burdening creativity with the responsibility for paying for life is so profound. I feel like I would really start to hate drawing and painting if I had to force it.

Interaction is Fun!

If there’s anyone out there reading this, and if you’re inclined, I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic and your answers to the questions.

On Making a Plan, Keeping a Memory

I have about 362* started and never finished (or acquired and never started) planners, journals, scrapbooks, sketchbooks, and photo albums on my bookshelves. It’s slightly embarrassing, actually. Every time I make yet another purchase at my local stationery shop, I feel like I need to apologize for buying a planner or sketchbook, because I’m obviously not using these beautiful specimens the way they were intended to be used (i.e. carried everywhere, lovingly dog-eared and coffee stained). I know that the frequency with which I buy these is a tip-off that I’m obviously filling out a page or two and abandoning them deep in my closet. What is wrong with me?

Wanting to capture my life via plans and/or memories is a longtime compulsion. I started my first padlocked diary when I was about eight years old. As a grownup, I watch “plan with me” YouTube videos regularly. I start a new paper planner system at work every few months or so (hoping my staff doesn’t notice). I check my instagram feed for the hashtag #bujo all day long. The compulsion wouldn’t be so bad if following through with it consistently weren’t merely a pipe dream. I know I’m not alone here. The theme of finding “planner peace” abounds on the interwebs.

But, the end of 2017 is coming quick, and that, for me means a chance to turn over a new leaf. An opportunity to (let’s be honest here) go shopping for some new pens and highlighters and breaking the spine on some new analog life-hacking supplies.

My approach in 2018 will be simplicity. Using analog and digital where each makes more sense. Doing what works for me and not for anyone else. Embracing imperfection and a not giving up when I fail to plan a day or two.

Want to see what I’m planning to use in 2018? (Yes, I’m planning on how to plan … ugh … I can’t stop).

Bullet Journal:

If you need a primer on this, check out the website by Ryder Carroll that started it all. The minimalism and simplicity of his invention is really my jam. If you search bullet journal (or BuJo as it’s sometimes referred to) on the web, you’ll find thousands of devotees, many of whose BuJo’s are works of art. But don’t let that scare you away if, like me, you like neat handwriting and organized list-making, but could do without the wedding-invitation-worthy calligraphy, Zentangles, and colour-coding that some people incorporate into their journals. At its core, it’s minimalism at its best.

I’m going to use my bullet journal to collect and track my goals (short-term and long-term), daily to-do’s, random lists, gratitudes, photos/stickers/cards that I accumulate, and other life ephemera that comes my way next year. If I’m successful, it will serve as a productivity tool, and a scrapbook of sorts.

Here are a couple of the pages I’ve set up so far. I’ll do another in-depth post about the content sometime in the future (after a few weeks of solid use).

Sketchlog:

I stole this idea from Austin Kleon (who is the author of Steal Like An Artist, so I don’t feel too bad for stealing from him) and renamed what he calls a logbook a “sketchlog” to suit my purpose. I even stole the medium from Austin (Moleskine softcover daily planner). While I love the freedom of the open concept of a bullet journal, for my sketchlog log, I like the structure of a dated book to keep me on track with a simple goal for 2018: a drawing a day.

The concept: a simple line drawing (and maybe a line or two of text, depending on my mood) every day. The purpose: being creative everyday and keep a “micro-diary”.

I thought about sketching in my bullet journal, but I know myself well enough to know that my BuJo will be a little bit precious. I want my sketch log to be intentionally messy. No correction tape will be present in this book. And the dated pages will allow me to quickly see if I draw every single day, as I hope to. The pocket-sized Moleskine means less daunting white space to fill. Plus line drawings look better when they are small. Maybe this is the place where I’ll Zentangle. Probably not. If I keep up this habit, I might start to add a little colour.

The virgin Moleskine looks like this. The fact that it’s lined with time slots adds to the feeling of intentionally messy artistic freedom, in my opinion.

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Digital Tools:

Like I said earlier, I can’t live by analog alone. My memory is too gerbil-like to do that. And there are many times I just won’t have the ability to refer to my bullet journal. Here are the digital tools in my arsenal.

Google Calendars. Yes, that’s calendars with an S. I’m up to three that I maintain. The first is the calendar I share with Chris. We keep mutual appointments in there, along with appointments that the other needs to know about (i.e. for coordination of dog-duties). The second is my personal calendar, also for appointments, but this one is for appointments that I don’t need to clutter up Chris’s calendar with, nor bother him with alerts and reminders. The third Google calendar is my most recent invention. It’s what I call my “Daily Routine” and I use it to map out what a good day/week should look like: including sleep enough, not working too much, and fitting in everything I want and need to do. I overlay the “real” calendars over it and then I can see what I need to juggle to not forget about the big rocks.

I don’t have the Daily Routine calendar linked to my phone (so my phone calendar isn’t overwhelming and I don’t get reminders), and I can easily hide and unhide the green overlay on my computer.

Looks like this:

Screenshot 2017-12-26 13.03.17

iOS Tasks. Again, Chris and I take advantage of sharing certain task lists and not sharing others. We have shared task lists so that we can divide and conquer all the home maintenance duties that we’d otherwise never remember (or muster up the willpower) to do. I have a miscellaneous unshared task list for things that are strictly my to-do’s. I mainly use this task list with Siri on my phone, so that if something pops into my head while I’m driving or walking, I don’t need to worry about forgetting it by the time I’m able to write it in my bullet journal. I usually set a time reminder on these tasks and I either do the task when I’m reminded, or write it down in my BuJo for future action if it’s not urgent.

Strides App. I’ve been using this app for about a year and I love it. For me, it’s a habit tracker, but it can be used for other purposes. I know that habit tracking layouts are very popular in the BuJo community, and I’ve dabbled with them in the past, but failed miserably. I need digital reminders and the ability to mark habits as complete in less than a second to be successful. I also loathe the idea of drawing out a tracker month after month or writing out these tasks everyday in my BuJo daily list (simplicity, remember?). So for me, it’s an app. I use it for tracking the little things I want to do every day, including the habits I’m developing as part of the Precision Nutrition Coaching Program (watch out for a future post on this topic).

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iOS Notes. Last but not least, is the notes app in my iPhone. I used to use this app as kind of a digital bullet journal (at least the future log and other lists). Nowadays I use it for lists that I don’t want to lose if I ever (gasp) lose my analog journal, or notes on the go when I’m comfortable pulling out my phone and taking a quick note, but not so comfortable pulling out my journal.

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That’s it! I’ll do some future posts about these tools in more detail once I get on a roll in the new year.

And, please – wish me luck. Hopefully I’ll have followed through with this in about 365 days from now.

*Rough, but directionally correct estimate