Fighting Vocational FOMO

This summer I have one overarching goal: to focus on my writing. There are several aspects of this in play: there’s the editing business I’m building, the book I’m writing with my best friend, the coursework for my creative writing MFA, and of course, the lifelong journey of learning to Just Write.

In many ways, I’m very well cut out for this life. I love thinking thoughts and exploring life through the written word. I enjoy both the solitude and the collaboration that this vocation requires.

But one sneaky part of my personality comes into play when I decide to Just Write: apparently, I have Vocational FOMO.

According to the kids these days, FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out. I don’t really have FOMO in the sense that the kids these days do; I’ll stay home while you party on a Friday night and I don’t really care about missing out. But show me your steady job while I’m building a freelance career, and hello, FOMO. Soon I am diverging from my own career path to follow someone else’s, and of course it doesn’t work, because, well, it’s someone else’s. Then I’m back to square one, knowing what I, me, myself, should be focusing on, and feeling guilty that I haven’t gotten farther, and guilty that I keep losing focus. Vocational FOMO.

In the Bible there’s a letter in which Paul, a writer in his own right, looks forward to the day the church is brought together in unity, not “blown aside by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). Paul is a very metaphorical writer, and this letter is no exception. Many of Paul’s letters to his friends talk about guarding against various false messengers. These evil people often bullied and manipulated Paul’s fellow Christians into losing focus, abandoning what they believed in favor of something that sounded true, but was actually a ticket back to mental and spiritual slavery. “Stop letting these heavy winds of doctrine blow you aside,” says Paul. “Enough with the spiritual FOMO.”

Some days I feel very much like Paul’s friends. I get excited by this opportunity, that job, this career path, that life philosophy. But they all distract me from what I know I need to do. It ends up taking me weeks to detox myself of all the mental noise, the you should be doing thises and why aren’t you doing thats. The fear that I’m not doing what I ought keeps me from doing what I must.

Luckily, I have a Paul. I have a best friend who is always telling me not to be blown aside by the winds of doctrine. She knows I am happier when I’m not giving into Vocational FOMO. She also, unlike Paul, has unlimited texting, so the message gets to me sooner.

This, I’ve found, is why community is extremely important for writers. We need Pauls to keep us focused, to use metaphors to keep us on our own unique career paths, to remind us not to be blown aside by the winds of doctrine.

I suspect this doesn’t just apply to writing, either. All of us, especially in our success-driven culture, give way to FOMO. We are always unconsciously sacrificing what we must do to chase what we feel we should do. The catch-22 is that society’s definition of success changes on a decade-to-decade basis. Luckily, I think we’re realizing just how important it is to have Vocational Joy, not Vocational FOMO. If we’re all different and unique, our vocations will be different, and that’s okay.

As a millennial, I grew up with a sense of insecurity in any given career path or economic system, and this is actually a blessing in disguise. The lack of surety is freedom, because it means I can follow my calling in my timeline. I don’t have to fear missing out. None of us do.

Knowing this, of course, is one thing, and putting it into practice is another. I have to remind myself daily that my pursuits are worthwhile, even when they don’t immediately pay off. I have to learn to quiet the noise, clear the table, and Just Write, and little by little the small voice that tells me what I truly need gets louder and louder.

 

Writing to Myself

I love journals.

I’ve kept a personal journal since I was ten or eleven, and I have them all lined up on a shelf in my room. Every Christmas and birthday, I acquire journals as gifts, and I use gift money to buy more journals. Something about the pretty covers and blank pages of yet-unlived stories gets me every time.

I don’t recall how exactly it started, but I do remember starting to journal my thoughts, daily life, and memories with the conviction that these were all very important. I remember becoming so overwhelmed with each detail of life, so convinced that they were all significant, that I had no choice but to write my life down as I was living it.

I still don’t know why the ins and outs of daily life have always been so significant to me, unless of course it has something to do with me being a writer. I always wrote with the conviction that people in the future would want to know what my life was like, and I wrote, at first, like I was writing a story.

As I got older, of course, my journals became more raw, more honest, more stream-of-consciousness. This shift has made each journal like a tiny time capsule of who I was at the time. Now, I look back at my numerous autobiographical tomes and see patterns in my life that led to where I am now. I read about an event that happened six years ago, and I see how that led to some of my present-day behaviors. It’s fascinating how my own words, thoughts, and feelings jog my present memory. They put me in situations long forgotten.

Reading a diary is like time travelling; you meet your old self, hear her hopes and fears, and tell her things you’ve learned, things you know now that you didn’t know then. It’s very therapeutic in a way; it closes a loop and completes a journey. The things I struggled with in the past find peace, or at the very least explanation, in the future. The older and wiser me can meet the younger with more knowledge, more grace. It makes you more forgiving of yourself, more aware of the process that life entails. And even this pseudo-time travel is a process, because someday I’ll be older and wiser than I am now, and the cycle, the journey, continues.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? While I thought I was writing for posterity, I was really writing for myself.

 

Be a Person, Not a Brand

As a freelance writer, a lot of the advice I’ve come across for building a blog, a client base, and social media following all boils down to one mantra, humming over and over and over:

Build your brand.

It’s the mantra of many a millennial. In the internet age, the dream is that we can all achieve success with our passions. We just have to market ourselves enough, post on social media enough, add a healthy dose of capitalism, and boom. The career of our dreams.

The phrase means that if you want to be an entrepreneur or creative, if you want to have a nontraditional career where you work from home or build a business, you must market yourself, sell yourself like a product. You must create an empire of one: you.

Every time I hear that phrase, build your brand, my soul shrinks back and grits its teeth, as if my entire being has just bitten into a metaphysical lemon. The mantra sounds good, and it’s worked, really well, for a lot of people. And I’m happy for them; I really am. But the idea at the root of branding yourself is one that absolutely terrifies me, because I think the implications of it go farther than we’re willing to consider.

A brand is a created entity. A brand is something a corporation makes to sell another thing. A brand is a surface-level household name constructed to be consumed. Oreos: you eat them. Nikes: you wear them. Sharpies: you bleed them dry. (I think I have a future in slogan writing, by the way.)

The truth is, human beings are so much more valuable than that. Humans are fragile and strong. We are terrifying and beautiful. We fly high and sink low. We are perfect and flawed, and the work we create is the same. There is so much more to us than the selling of a product or service.

Maybe you insist that I’m misunderstanding this phrase. Maybe it doesn’t mean what I’m taking it to mean. But then I have to ask: why are we using words like “brand” to describe people? People, with minds and souls that are somehow, magically, blessedly able to transcend the physical and inject everyday life with resilience and beauty and hope. The term “brand” to describe personhood is not just inappropriate; it’s insulting. Perhaps by using such paltry words to describe something so inherently magnificent, we are unconsciously saying what we tend to believe. Perhaps we are falling into the universal human trap: to take something valuable and trash it.

I’ve tried, as a writer, to build my brand, to treat my craft like a business and my self like a product. I’ve tried to blog in a way that sells, with flashy catchphrases and trendy buzzwords. I’ve tried to use social media to optimize my followers, with perfectly-curated pictures and relatable captions. I’ve tried to make flimsy business connections that are no more than a click on a web platform.

And all due respect to those who’ve achieved great success this way, but it’s not for me. When I write, I want it to be what I was born to say. When I post photos and say things online, I want it to be sharing something beautiful and making someone laugh. When I meet people, I want it to be in person, and I want it to be a real relationship.

The build-your-brand mentality may seem innocuous, but the problem is that this mentality doesn’t stay in the business world; it seeps into our mental states and social lives and personal development. I see a generation just a little younger than me growing up thinking that it’s normal to always be building yourself as a marketable image, never getting the chance to close the blinds, loosen up, have fun, and just be a person. I see us unable to accept each other as complex, three-dimensional people, instead choosing to commodify each other, to buy each other and throw each other away. I see us compromising the purity of our passions, crafts, and trades in the name of what seems like an easy ticket to a career. The internet may allow us to pursue our vocations like never before, but it has the danger of making our vocations the only thing people see in us. And this is a tragic, tragic thing.

So please: don’t be a brand. Be a person. It’s awkward and painful and vulnerable, but it’s also wild and beautiful and unique. You can create and accomplish far more meaningful things, a far more meaningful life, by just being a person. Because you already have, and you already are.

Being Still

Lately I’ve had the sense that I’m supposed to be more still. There are several things in my life I’m trying to get started, to make happen, to hustle into being, and time and time again it seems the answer that comes back to me is this: Wait.

And I didn’t think this would be such a problem for me. I’m Miss Introvert Homebody (that’s Mrs. Introvert Homebody to you). Being still is my jam. Nothing makes me happier than knitting and watching Netflix (the above photo is Exhibit A). When my best friend and I plan a wild Friday night, it usually includes staying home and dancing like old ladies to rap and injuring a ligament and retiring before midnight. It’s a good system.

But apparently, I’m not as good at being still as I thought. while I crave a life of stillness, I often loathe myself for being still. It feels too lazy to be peaceful, to wait. It feels like a waste. And so when I sense stillness being imposed upon me, I get belligerent. “Do you have any idea how wasteful this is?” I grumble. Instead of enjoying the rest in waiting, I do busywork to feel more accomplished. Instead of having hope that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, I drown myself in guilt for not doing more.

And so I run around in circles, doing more, trying more, and when all I try to do falls through and the message comes back, louder, JUST WAIT! I get more frustrated and more exhausted, until I don’t have energy to even do what one is supposed to do when waiting: being faithful in the little things. I’ve bought into the culture-wide lie that the little things aren’t good enough, that if I want to be successful, I must hustle! werk it! believe it dream it do it! So let me work on all that while I’m waiting!

And still the answer comes back: Wait. Busywork does not count.

And there’s really nothing to say but, “Okay.”

So I’ve been trying to focus more on the little things, the daily tasks in front of me. And oddly enough, I see some of what I’ve strived so hard to hustle into being come together on its own, just a little bit. Almost as if it’s not really up to me at all.

Almost as if all I need to do, is wait.

 

 

 

Rising Above the Oooh

I’ve always considered myself someone who likes to travel. I mean, it makes you sound so accomplished.

“What do you like to do?”
“I’m a writer, and a big reader. I also love to travel.”
“Really! Where have you been?”
“I’ve been to Europe,” *shrug*.
“Oooh.”

I live for the Admiring Oooh.

In all seriousness, I really do enjoy travel, not just for the Admiring Oooh. Visiting new places and seeing life done in different ways has always fascinated me. It’s wonderful to think that while you’re at home doing whatever you do, all these people are here, miles and miles away, doing what they do. It doesn’t stop and start when you arrive, it happens simultaneously with your own timeline. And for a moment, you get to step into a story not your own, and watch it, and sometimes even write some of it.

However, as I’ve gotten older (and this is really sad because I’m not even that old), I’ve found that I have to remind myself how much I love traveling, because more often than not it really stresses me out. New places are unfamiliar, full of a million unknowns, and I hate unknowns. Also I have a sensitive stomach that gets ill easily. Also I need to have enough sleep, and who knows if this will happen? Also I sunburn, literally, like hell. Also I am easily dehydrated. Where’s the closest water fountain? I pull away from my house, my place, with all my things in it, and see it looking so forlorn and abandoned, and I want to run back and cancel everything.

(And this is just going to visit my parents.)

I’ve learned that some things are worth hacking through a slew of fears for. I’ve done it before, and I regret it when I don’t. I want to cling to home, to peace, to the familiar, but not always for noble reasons. Often, very often, I cling to these things out of fear, thinking that without them I will no longer be myself. I forget that I am becoming evermore myself because of the times I travel, the times I encounter unknowns, the times I uproot myself now for better roots later. I would rather be that sort of person than to spare my house’s feelings.

I really do want to be the sort of person who travels, and not just for the Admiring Oooh.

Don’t forget to visit my Patreon Page for this week’s Workshop Wednesday! Answer my writing questions and I’ll answer yours!

A Big Announcement and A Little Help

 

I came to a realization a month or so ago. I realized that I want to be a writer.

This wasn’t really an epiphany; I mean, I have a degree in writing. Clearly I had some inkling. But in the post-graduate bonanza that is job hunting, I got distracted by the mad need to get a job now, which led me to some frustrating places and an all-around bad mental state.

And then I realized it: I just, really, want to be a writer. I want to be home most of the time, and sit at my desk, and light a candle, and write. Whenever I get frustrated with my career, when all seems futile and I think I’ve just been deceiving myself this whole time, I sit down, light a candle, and write. And everything just pops into place, like when a chiropractor gives you a good crack (also, BTW, never been crazy about that phrase. It sounds like a drug reference). I write, and I start to gain hope that, yes, this is exactly what I’m supposed to do.

So I’ve more consciously thrown myself into writing, because I realized that I need to commit to it. It’s a learning curve and a challenge, but it’s one I’m prepared to take on, because, like I told my best friend, I need the pressure of failure to make me commit. It’s freeing, and also terrifying. I like to focus on the freeing part.

Long story long, as part of my resolution to commit, I started a Patreon page to get my writing out there and to get ever closer to my goal of being supported by writing work. It would mean so much to me if you would check it out and consider supporting me. I’ll be sharing weekly installments of my newest novel, and, I’ll be integrating my followers’ thoughts and comments into my ongoing drafting, almost like a real-time writing workshop. I’m super excited to see how this improves my work.

Stay posted while I keep writing. Thanks for reading, and please never stop.

(And Happy Thanksgiving!)

What am I Doing?

shy

When I was a teenager, I was awkward. Really awkward. Painfully awkward. I had a hard time talking to people and making friends. I was shy. I was insecure. Being home schooled was not helpful for me in this department. (My taste in clothes at the time probably wasn’t helpful either.)

But then I became a woman and put childish ways behind me. Well, sort of. I became a woman around the time a bunch of other awkward people were becoming adults too, and by the time I arrived on the scene with a driver’s license and voter’s registration, being awkward was incredibly cool. Introversion was in. What a time to be alive.

This is a huge oversimplification, I realize, but it makes me laugh. I spent all my teen years wondering what was the matter with me, trying to push and prune myself into assertiveness, and then I got to college and realized that it was okay to not do all that.

This was a blessed relief to me. I didn’t have to bring myself up to some standard of social interaction. I could choose what was most important to me and not feel guilty for cutting out what wasn’t. I could celebrate the personality God gave me without regret.

But my newfound pride in introversion came with a dark side: when you’re an introvert, you don’t tend to do things unless you have to. So if millennial internet culture says being anti-social, loving naps and coffee and Netflix, and getting anxiety every time you go out is okay, introverts have a hard time coming up with the oomph to disagree. We’re terrible at disagreeing with a majority, we introverts. We also have very low stores of natural oomph. Besides, the land of naps and coffee and Netflix is our native country.

Is this bad? Should we force ourselves to get off our pajama-clad butts and be more Type A go-getters? I wonder. While I’m naturally drawn to a quieter, slower-paced life, I also know myself enough to realize that if I don’t push myself, I’m going to miss out on accomplishments, relationships, and opportunities because I fall back on the introvert excuse.

I’m totally fine with missing out on some of those things; I have no desire to be some amazing networking socialite. But I know I’ll hate myself forever if I miss out on everything because I couldn’t learn to keep it together in the face of awkwardness.

Oddly enough, all the jobs I’ve had have been pretty extroverted. It’s not until recently that freelancing has given me some freedom to hide behind a computer. I’ve done food service, retail, and office work. One time I was telling my friend about my various experiences working in malls and she shook her head.

“How did you get into that business?” she asked.

“I honestly have no idea,” I said.

I forgot to tell her about the year I worked selling jewelry at house parties. I went to strangers’ houses and sold jewelry to them and their friends. Even looking back makes me cringe. What the hell was I doing? I loved that job in theory, but in practice I was a bundle of nerves. And I know I’ll never do anything like that again. But for a year I did it, and I survived. Because I pushed myself. (Also, money.)

So I think the problem is not with being an introvert, but in forgetting that while introversion has its strengths, it also comes with inherent weaknesses, just as any personality has. Introversion’s weaknesses are sneaky, though, because they wrap you in a blanket of comfort and say, “There there, just slow down. Sit this one out. You’re delicate. It’s okay.”

Yes, introverts often need more downtime than others. But giving self-care doesn’t mean we should self-coddle. The world misses out on all the thoughtfulness and sensitivity that introverts can offer because introverts are just too damn scared to speak up about it, so no one has any reason to listen.

Personally, I’m still trying to figure out the balance between self-care and self-coddling. It’ll probably take me a while to find that balance. And that’s okay. It starts with being aware of my strengths and weaknesses as an introvert. It starts with learning when to push myself and when to relax.

This week, I’m presenting some of my writing in public. I’m terrified. There are moments when I ask myself what the hell I’m doing. There are moments when I wonder what the cancellation policy is on public readings. But ultimately I know this is a time where pushing myself into assertiveness will positively impact my writing and well-being.

What the am I doing? I’m learning to do what I love and live with the pain of awkwardness.

 

Curating Empty Museums

My best friend and I are fond of “curating.”

It started when she was decorating her room and wanted to arrange her framed photos like those artsy gallery walls you see on Pinterest. It felt as if the description of every pin we found had some derivative of the word “curate” in it. So “curated” became our term for good decorating skills.

“Those succulents are so curated.”

“I love those curated quotes.”

“Look at my vase of flowers! I’m curating!”

Eventually, our definition of the word got a little out of hand. Like all overly-beloved words and phrases, “curating” and its various forms has become a general term for anything nominally attractive.

“This coffee is so curated.”

“I love your curated outfit.”

“Look at our beautiful breakfast! We’re curating!”

curating
A still life-style food spread, coffee, quotes on a napkin, and all the Starbucks advertising I can muster. A classic example of millennial “curating.”

Hopelessly millennial as it seems, I think our throwing around of the word “curating” is rather harmless. For my part at least, I find it helps me find beauty in ordinary things (how’s that for hopelessly millennial). Also, it’s a fun inside joke.

But it’s interesting, because the traditional sense of the verb “to curate” creates connotations of being selective and intentional, of prize and value. We picture stuffy professor types showing grubby kids around a museum.

These days, we’re all encouraged to be curators of our own lives. There’s so much mental noise we come across day to day, from the myriad voices on social media platforms, to email, to texts, to phone calls, to ignored phone calls, to voice messages we keep putting off listening to. We are encouraged to manage all this noise, to intentionally choose what we see and do not see.

You hate the political tirades your one Facebook friend keeps posting? Unfollow him. Spotify is playing a song you dislike? Skip it. You keep seeing ads for ___ and you hate ___? Tell the internet you hate ___ and the internet will show you ads for stuff you don’t hate.

We only hear from the Facebook friends we agree with. We only listen to the songs we like. We only see (and most likely buy from) the ads we’re interested in. Slowly, our lives are becoming curated to our own interests.

curating

I realized this most jarringly when driving home from work this week. The radio was playing one of my favorite songs, and so of course I sang along and bobbed my head and generally looked dumb while driving home. Then as the end of the song approached, I found myself reaching for the radio’s nonexistent “skip” button.

Usually, when I play the song on my phone, I skip the end, because I know what the end sounds like and I want to go on to the high of a new song. Skip skip skip. Curate curate curate.

Unfortunately, the sheer amount of mental noise makes some amount of curating absolutely necessary. I’ve personally found it very easy to become emotionally over-invested in all the stuff out there that I have to mute or block or unfollow certain people so I can maintain my sanity.

Perhaps the danger is not in curating, but in being so used to curating that we forget we’re even curating in the first place. Instead of being intentional about what we allow into our sphere, we become used to a life that is user-friendly. And then, when life doesn’t meet our expectations, we become frustrated.

But the reality is, you can’t unlisten to a friend who’s talking about politics right in front of you. You can’t skip a song on the radio. You can’t tear down billboards on the side of the highway just because you don’t like seeing ads for funeral homes. In real life, you deal with these little foils to your curating. You learn from them. You learn how to get over them. You might even learn that you like them.

Sometimes listening to a friend you disagree with makes you smarter. Sometimes listening to an entire song makes you enjoy it more. Sometimes an advertisement… okay, advertisements are trash. But sometimes you have to deal with trash.

If we’re so used to curating our life experiences we can’t function without that high level of control, I’m afraid of where it might lead us. I wonder if in the end we’ll each find ourselves alone, curators of our own empty, sterilized museums.

Learning to Paddle

 

postit-scrabble-to-do

I often feel like I’m playing against myself at life, trying to beat myself and emerge the winner.

I’ve always had these grand aspirations of being a good writer. I’ve always taken it for granted that I’ll be able to do it. When I used to tell people I was going to college for writing, I could never understand their quizzical looks.

“What kind of job can you get with that?” they’d ask.

“Um, lots of stuff,” I’d say.

“Are you going to teach?”

“Heck no. I’m going to publish books.”

“So you’re going to write the Great American Novel.”

Um, duh? I’d think, rather uncharitably.

(My hubris knows no bounds.)

So now I’ve graduated, and I’ve started grad school, and I’m entering the part of my life where those grand aspirations won’t come true unless I start doing something. I haven’t necessarily been a slouch these past few years, but neither have I written the Great American Novel (it’s currently under construction).

And while I’m breaking into the freelancing world little by little (for which I’m immensely grateful), I’m learning that my own worst enemy isn’t time or writer’s block or other people.

It’s myself.

But not in the way you think. While poor time management is a very common method of self-sabotage, time management is not how I’m my worst enemy.

I’m my own worst enemy when I assume I will fail.

I’ve been agitated since graduating, upset with myself for not going farther in the three months since I received my degree. I should be putting myself out there! Writing dawn til dusk! Publishing left and right! Getting a real job! But when life takes me a different, more quiet and unassuming direction, I get frustrated, because something in me fears that if I don’t paddle frantically, I’ll drown.

Trouble is, I’ve never been very good at paddling frantically. I’m just not the Type A, go-getter type. I’m naturally more deliberate and more thoughtful. I think this makes me a better writer in many ways (I notice the little things) and a worse one in others (okay, yes, time management).

But something I’ve learned is that writing is an organic thing. It lives and it grows in the way I least expect it. Sometimes I have to wait for life to happen before my writing gets better, because life marinates my writing and then writing marinates my life and they both need time to mature correctly. And I have to trust that God made me me, and He also made me a writer, and I have to work with who He made me and the life He gave me in order for anything I do to be worth a thing.

Also, I’ve learned that Comparison is a bitch. (Sorry, Comparison.) Comparison muscles preconceived notions of grandeur into places they don’t belong. Comparison is what makes me sure I’ll fail before I even try.

Comparison makes me lament the unique person, the unique writer, God made me to be. It makes me chase after some other person’s life until I feel God pulling me back to the more deliberate and thoughtful path He wants me on. I often sense Him bemusedly berating me. No, you idiot. Back here. Get back here!

(God and I have a very sassy relationship.)

I have to remember that the life I have is a good one. The life I have is the one that belongs to me. And if I live it well, if I live it gratefully, I won’t fail. Maybe it won’t look like my grand aspirations. Maybe I won’t write the Great American Novel. Maybe I’ll write the Great American Flop instead (but hey, I’d still be famous).

Goals are important. Hard work is important. But writing is also organic, just as life is organic. Sometimes relaxing my expectations is as important as making expectations in the first place.

I find peace in 1 Corinthians 7:17, which says, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” If this is my goal, I don’t have to fear mediocrity or failure. If this is my goal, failure is impossible.

(And seriously, Hannah. It’s only been three months. Give yourself a break.)