I roam over these maps in search of my next destination, calibrating the time zones and coordinates with the rhythmic beating of my own heart trying to adjust itself to where it will land. But no matter how long I stare at the curves of these continents, I cannot trace the path of my Beloved… the longitude of my true longing… or the altitude of my joy.
Since I finally made the decision to pursue freelance writing seriously with the intention to make it my career once I leave my current job at the end of May, people needing writing and content have come out of the woodwork.
I guess it helps that I have a lot of young and creative friends who always “know someone” who needs a website or a mission statement or an article, and are more than happy to recommend me since they know my skills. A few conversations have turned into a myriad of opportunities, to the point that I had to think about becoming a little more selective about what I agree to do.
“No,” my husband (aka professional consultant by day / my personal life-consultant the rest of the time) objected yesterday when I came home with two more potential client requests, “don’t turn anything down when you’re just getting started! It’s still to early to say no.”
I try to make him see reason as I enumerated the issues, “I am already working a fulltime job that takes about 40-60 hrs/week, I’ve taken on 3 clients already in the past two weeks and am still learning how to do this, I teach an online course, and I have youth mentorship volunteer work every week. I don’t want to agree to more work than I can actually deliver!”
“Just talk to them,” he says encouragingly, “you can work out the timelines with them. If you win them over, they’ll wait for you, or they’ll be okay if you have to renegotiate a deadline.”
Ah, the consultant – always a way to talk through anything. But he has a point – it does seem a bit early to say no to jobs when I am trying to build experience, a portfolio, and a network of clients and contacts.
But at the same time the fear of failure at this early stage is a very real thing – do I even know at this point how much work each client will require? Will taking on dozens of hours of extra work outside of my current job affect how well I do in my other commitments when I want to end on a high note? Might I risk damaging relationships with clients if I can’t deliver what they want and when they want it?
I guess these are all things I have to learn at this beginning stage, but at least I have a lot to work with.
So what do you think – is it too early to say no at this early stage? Or should I be firm and realistic with the amount of work I can comfortably manage?
There are times in life that just seem to race ahead of the others. In the past few months (almost a year, really), I have gone through a long phase of trying to figure out for myself what will be my long-term path in terms of work and a career. I am working fulltime now but know that this is just a temporary step and not a career, and have given notice to leave at the end of my contract at the end of May, so the search is on.
After applying half-heartedly to jobs I have little interest in, putting effort into starting a small business that seemed interesting but that I knew I would find little joy in the manufacturing side of, and exploring a wide range of PhD programs while feeling a growing aversion to the lifestyle of an academic, it was hard sometimes not to feel more than a little lost – something I never thought I would be grappling towards the ends of my 20s, with so much education and experience under my belt (relatively speaking of course).
And yet, for some reason I never seemed to feel that anxious – I kept telling myself and those who were closest to me that I have faith that the next step in my life will appear organically, as it always has in my life. That may sound a bit naïve (sometimes it does to me too!), but I don’t think it’s blind faith either. While I didn’t know exactly what I would decide to do, I do know what would guide my decisions, as and in general what guides my life. Through striving to identify and learn about my talents and abilities, it became a rich process of reflection and exploration of new and exciting thing. Through thinking about how what I can do will benefit others beyond myself or simply collecting a paycheck, it avoids an over-emphasis on the self and gives value to a search for meaningful and fulfilling work. And finally, by making efforts and see what doors did or didn’t open before me, try to develop my perception of what I think God wants for me or doesn’t, and where I am being confirmed – and when I am not!
I have learned a lot in the process, about all of those things, and that alone I think has value. Life is more than my career, and although my career will occupy vast amounts of my time, focus, and energy, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact of my purpose.
And so, through all of these efforts, I finally realized what was right in front of me all along – that what I love to do, and have done in every avenue of my education, work and service, is to write. The idea seemed so elusive though – what does a “writer” do every day?? Having devoted time to working on a book over the past couple of years, as well as the odd short story and one-act play every now and then, I realized the impracticality of the idea that requires vast amounts of investment with only the possibility of pay-off, quite later down the line.
But this is where doors started to open. I started to research about ways that writers can earn a living in other markets, and as soon as I started to talk to people about this idea, suddenly opportunities came out of the woodwork – Can you help me write a mission statement for my non-profit organization? Can we hire you to overhaul the content on our website? Can we recommend you as to this client who is asking for a copywriter? Can we hire you as a blogger for our design company?
And thus my career as a freelance writer was born.
My experience is still so limited, and I’m aware of that. I feel a bit like I am at the top of a roller coaster, and there is a voice in my head that is saying to me, “are you SURE this was a good idea?!” But that voice is nowhere near as present as the excitement and opportunity I feel unfolding before me.
I am not blind to the challenges either: I have had to be selective of the opportunities that I say yes to, realistic of what I do and don’t know how to do at this point, researching and teaching myself along the way, and cognizant that I still do an excellent job at my fulltime employment. But it is the glimmerings of something that I think will grow quickly as my time increases to dedicate the space to it, as I learn and make every effort.
And hence the feeling that this time of life is racing ahead of all that has been accomplished in the long months of soul-search that preceded it – and led me here.
I’ve learned to take advantage of these busy times, even if I know they are not sustainable in the long term, because within them I will often grow more quickly and in unexpected ways that will set the patterns for later on.
I’d love to hear from those of you who write about your thoughts on the process I’ve just described:
How did you decide that you wanted to write? What is the biggest thing that you’ve learned since you started, that you wish you’d known earlier?
Last weekend I attended a talk by award-winning Canadian architect Siamak Hariri about his experience over the past ten years of working on the continental Baha’i temple of South America, currently being built in Santiago, Chile.
Before going into the details of the project, he began his talk by talking about the “creative process” that he undertakes in all his work as an architect to achieve such unique, beautiful, and complex designs that are not only works of art, but functional buildings.
While I know next to nothing about architecture, I found his description of the creative process spoke as much to any art form, and as a writer I saw some immediate parallels in many of the themes that I describe below. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive summary of Hariri’s talk, but rather to share a few of his points that speak to any manifestation of the creative process, in trying to bring something out of the invisible world into the visible, in any art form.
You have to fall in “crazy love”
Hariri began his talk by telling the Persian mystical love story of Leyli and Majnun. Majnun, he said, was a “crazy lover”, who longed for his beloved Leyli with such fervor that he could not eat or sleep, and doctors feared he would die of longing for his heart’s desire. One day while seeking her, a watchman appeared from the shadows and started to chase Majnun. Majnun began to run and then another watchman appeared, and then another, until he was running for his life. Reaching a dead end, he saw no option but to scale the wall before him that in any other circumstance would have seen impossible. But as he dropped down on the other side, what should he find but his beloved Leyli, and he was finally united with his beloved.
Love is what makes us push through, to persevere, to overcome obstacles, to be driven at times what feels to be an unseen hands, or to keep pressing forward, driving oneself forward when inspiration feels distant.
Seek inspiration everywhere
Hariri showed a series of images that he collected in the early stages of thinking of a design for the Chile temple. The images were varied and at first appeared unrelated – the sun shining through the branches of treetops, a chair with interesting curves, a whirling dervish spinning so fast that the camera blurred its motions.
He didn’t know if or how many of these things would ultimately contribute to the design of the temple. Sometimes it was just the feeling that an image evoked that twigged some respones. But it was only through all of these sources of inspiration that he arrived at a final design and image of designing a “temple of light.”
In the story of Leyli and Majnun, the people berate Majnun for seeking Leyli in the dust, as she was made of pure spirit. “I seek her everywhere,” was his response.
We were asked to think of that trust game in which you close your eyes, stand stiff straight, and fall backwards, trusting that the person behind you will catch you before you fall. The creative process is a bit like falling backwards, not seeing what is behind you, feeling that drop in the pit of your stomach in a moment of uncertainty, but ultimately trusting that something will catch your fall. And in Hariri’s experience, he told us, something always has.
Majnun, upon discovering his Leyli after the pursuit of the watchmen, says that had he known where they would lead him, he would have blessed them from the start. That’s how we should think of our own moments of uncertainty and fear, trusting they will lead us on to something we do not expect.
Playing Through the Messy Bits
Sometimes, Hariri told the audience, when he is trying to work through an idea or stuck on something, he just likes to play with modeling clay and see what happens – often it takes him in a new direction, or opens his mind to a possibility he hadn’t expected to find. I find in writing, play is important for the same reason – that’s when some of the most exciting discoveries happen.
A Simple structure gives strength
While a fairly complex superstructure, each piece of the building is unique and requiring a complex lattice frame woven within each wing, the Chile temple looks far from simple as far as architecture goes. However, the structural integrity of the entire building rests on three perfect circles – one at the base, one at the widest point of its diameter perhaps a third of the way off the ground, and the smallest circle at the temple’s peak. The complexity that stems from this to give the temple its unique effect depends on simplicity at its core – a rule I hear again and again for how to tell a good story, at the heart of which must be a strong message or core, upon which more elabourate themes can then transpire and unfold.
Achieving the Impossible
What Hariri did not focus on explicitly in his presentation – but what came though implicitly – is the tremendous amount of hard work, collaboration, dedication and time that is given month after month, year after year, once the vision has been set – that’s when the work begins. For example, the create a “temple of light”, the architect envisioned a structure made of a translucent alabaster-like glass. But how can you build a glass structure on an earthquake-prone coastal city? A team spent a year and a half dedicated to creating a new form of glass that would balance the right combination of function and visual effect to achieve what they were looking for. Thus in this case, art begets innovation as vision drives the creative process to new heights.
Overall, I find sometimes that whether we are artists or architects, writers or musicians, at times we get so caught up in the minutiae of what we are doing that we forget that we are a part of a broader process that demands of us different things and different times. This isn’t only true for art either, but in many aspects of our lives and relationships. Taking a step back from it reminds us that the process as a whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, and we can move forward each moment when driven by the force of our crazy love.