Belated Birthday Thoughts

I turned 28 on the first of this month. You might think that the realization that the “big” 3 – 0 is just 2 years away might make me freak out in my current situation: totally single, living with strangers bereft of most of my stuff and still hunting for a full-time job. But it didn’t. Instead, I have entered this new year with more confidence and satisfaction than the last 4. I think 28 is going to be a great age because I am finally okay with me again.

Joseph Campbell said, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” As many of you know, I’ve struggled a lot to mentally let go of the plan that I had for my life and fully embrace the life that has been waiting for me.

When my birthday rolled around, I decided to do something different than usual. Instead of comparing my life to what I expected it to look like at this age, or who I thought I would be, I took a step back to just look at what I have accomplished and who I have become.

These are a few things I realized:

I pack A LOT into every year. In just the last 10 years since graduating from high school, I’ve earned 2 degrees. I’ve lived in 4 states, and 10 different towns/cities for varying lengths of time. I’ve spent a summer abroad in Oxford, England and I have made multiple trips down to Florida, Alabama and Ohio. I’ve executed or assisted with the execution of at least 50 events—ranging from concerts to large scale sampling events that involved hours of food prep all with hundreds of attendees—at more than 20 locations. I have won sales contests from 2 different companies. I have led dozens of workshops and training sessions. And I have managed multiple teams of people. No matter how diverse or surly my staff has been, I have always been able to earn their respect and successfully lead them even when I have been their junior by many years…And that’s just the highlights reel.   

I can’t help but dance to the beat of my own drum. I’ve never set out to be different but I can’t really resist following unexpected paths from pursuing a degree in Philosophy (instead of the English degree I had planned to get) to leaving academia to pursue an unconventional career as a jane of many trades (event management, training, promotional marketing, copywriting/digital marketing, and blogging-being the most prominent).

I am equal parts extrovert and introvert (also known as an ambivert). I grew up thinking I was an introvert because I can be incredibly reclusive and task oriented. Most people who meet me assume that I am extroverted because I obviously thrive on social interaction. I have learned that I need an equal balance of both social interaction and alone time to stay energized. Too much of either drains me.

I value having challenging, varied and meaningful work over a stable or lucrative career. Even though I sometimes envy my friends and family who have more defined careers or are more driven by money, I have to accept that I am who I am. What makes me leap at a job isn’t money or stability, it is the challenge of wearing many hats, or sharpening my communication or interpersonal skills in new ways, or helping someone else succeed.

I will never date that much. Though the comic quality of so many people’s dating stories appeals to me, I don’t have the patience to go on random dates with lots of duds. Nor can I convince myself that it would be a reasonable investment of my time to bother trying. I’ve dated more in the last 4 years than I did during 6 years of college and grad school. That’s still not saying much but I’m okay with that. I am not at all ashamed of the fact that some of my weekends look a lot like this. When quality men enter my life, I give them a chance and that’s good enough for me.

When I meet a man that I want, there is no reason not to pursue him. Last year, a lot of my friends pointed out to me how strange it was that I wasn’t more aggressive in my romantic life since I’m so bold in most areas of my life. I realized that I was a little gun shy. I gave myself permission to pursue a guy I was kind of interested in. Though ultimately it didn’t work out romantically, it was a great experience. I learned that a) I enjoy being the pursuer as long as my interest in reciprocated  b) I’m freaking adorable and quite winsome when I pursue.

I will never be without great relationships. I never guessed that one day I would have more good friends than I can count on one hand but I do. I’ve maintained friendships from high school and college and grad school while also gaining new friendships through my work. My friends aren’t all always actively involved in my life, and vice versa, but we know that the other is just a phone call or text message or Facebook message away. Part of what defines a good friendship to me is its ability to endure distance and time and being in different stages of life. I love how, even after years of silence, I can reconnect with a friend with renewed caring and understanding. It is amazing to me, with the wealth of friends that I already have, that I never seem to stop making new ones.

All in all, I am very happy with the life I am living and I am finally ready to say, “This is who I am and I’m okay with that.” I wouldn’t trade the complexity and challenges of my life for someone else’s or give it up to have the life I had planned.

Do you evaluate your life whenever your birthday rolls around? Have you ever felt like you needed to let go of the life you had planned?

 

HenryEllisQuote.png

My Happiness Project: Striving for Balance & Pursuing my Passions

There are times when you stumble upon just the right book at the moment you’re in desperate need of it. That is what recently happened to me.

Near the end of August, as I was stocking up on healthcare items to fight the sinus infection I was on the verge of, I decided to treat myself to a new book as well. The book selection in that grocery store wasn’t very impressive but it was convenient. I walked down the aisle hoping that a title or cover would stand out to me. That’s when I noticed The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The sky blue cover with a row of townhouses at the bottom and happy yellow lettering attracted me—I’m a sucker for good cover art—I had to pick it up.

I knew it was the book I needed to get when I read the first paragraph in her “Note to a Reader”:

A “happiness project” is an approach to changing your life. First is the preparation stage, when you identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement, and also what brings you guilt, anger, boredom, and remorse. Second is the making of resolutions, when you identify the concrete actions that will boost your happiness. Then comes the interesting part: keeping your resolutions (xvii).

I’m longing to change my life. I feel like I’ve been in the preparation stage of a happiness project for the last few months without knowing that was the purpose.

IMG_20130911_115604_665

In February, when I stepped into a leadership role within the promotions company I work for, I began seriously experimenting with the idea that I could be satisfied with a life outside of higher education. I used all my powers of persuasion to convince myself—and everyone else by extension—that I’m happy with this life. I am not. It isn’t that things aren’t going well. I have a lot to be grateful for: a beautiful home that offers me a lot of space, a good group of friends and coworkers who I love spending time with, and a job where I am well liked and well respected. I am comfortable but not satisfied.

Not too long ago, I asked someone who studied Anthropology in college and then went on to run an IT business for a decade how he made that transition. I realized afterward that what I really wanted to know was how he coped with leaving academia behind. What I wanted was for his story to give me hope that I could find fulfillment in a normal life where intellectual conversations are a rare joy instead of the norm. What I wanted from him betrayed me.

No matter how compellingly I can argue that I don’t belong in academia, I have known in my gut for years that teaching philosophy in a collegiate setting is my vocation. It is what makes my heart sing and what I will excel at far more than any aspect of the promotions industry.  While coordinating events and training employees may not frustrate me like academia can, it doesn’t fulfill me like academia does either (which is a statement about me not that industry).

I am dissatisfied because I am not pursuing my passions. I am restless because it is time to move on. I have known—even when I wouldn’t admit it—that this time outside of higher education has been meant to be a sabbatical not a new start.

Another part of my restlessness has had to do with writing. I want to do more than freelance copywriting and blogging. I got a great idea for a new website back in May. The more I worked on it, the more I realized that I want the project to be a book, not a blog.

I enjoy blogging but my ambition has always been to write books. After I graduated, I wanted to start working on a book proposal. I had too many ideas at that time, I couldn’t settle on one. Plus, I needed to be practical and focus more on finding work that would pay me now instead of later. It typically takes a few months to hear back after submitting a book proposal to a publishing company and, usually, you receive many rejections before you’re accepted.  I couldn’t afford to invest that much of my time and energy on a long shot. Now the timing is right. I am on steadier feet financially, I have acclimated to my new position (as well as gotten through all of our big back to college events) and I know exactly what project I want to invest in. Knowing it is time to begin isn’t enough.

The primary reason I haven’t ardently pursued either ambition (and have tried to pursue others) has been the knowledge that I need to do more than apply to a PhD program and write a book proposal. If I am going to be happy (and sane) pursuing both a career in higher education and creative nonfiction writing, I need to develop better habits and improve my ability to balance having a multifaceted life. The poor job I did juggling work, school and a social life/leisure time, along with the bad study habits that I carried with me from my undergrad, left me with a lot of regret when I graduated from Fordham. I have no desire to repeat the past. Plus, as Gretchen says in her book, “arriving at one goal usually reveals another, yet more challenging goal. Publishing the first book means it’s time to start the second.” I haven’t felt like I’d be ready for my next challenges.

As I’ve been journeying with Gretchen through her happiness project, as she’s worked on improving different aspects of her life from vitality to spirituality, I decided that I should strive toward my goals in the context of my own happiness project. Instead of just focusing on getting published and back into grad school, I am going to work towards these goals while developing healthier habits and learning how to better balance living a full life that is relationally, spiritually, intellectually and professionally fulfilling. The great draw to this approach is that it both makes my goals seem less daunting and will equip me for the challenges that will lie ahead of me once they are achieved. 

I began my happiness project on September 1st. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

What’s Wrong With Being a Shipwrecked Tentmaker?

Every once in a while I stop by Jon Acuff’s blog Stuff Christians Like. It’s a little too Christian-y to follow religiously but he’s witty enough to bring me back every once in a while. On Valentine’s Day he posted this shot of a page from his daily calendar. I knew the moment I saw it that I’d eventually have to write on it. Just because of that last line. Lucky for you, that day is today.

If you don’t feel like reading the picture, I’ll save you the effort. The entry is about how married Christians feel a need to pressure the singles in their midst. The best part is at the bottom, where he commissions married couples to get their single friends married “and never let them play the ‘Paul was single’ card. Paul was also shipwrecked and made tents. Is that what they want? To be shipwrecked tentmakers?”

Back in high school and early college, when I was still convinced that my life story was going to be an epic romance, I found the Apostle Paul kind of annoying. In particular, I was irked by how hugely he promoted singleness: “I wish everyone were single, just as I am…So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried” (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). He advocated for it so much because of the freedom it gives, of course for him, that meant one was free to devote oneself completely and entirely to doing God’s work. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little bit whenever he dissed on marriage.

Though I hate to concede, and would still eventually like to be married myself, I have to admit that Paul isn’t entirely wrong about the benefits of single life. But this post isn’t actually meant to be about singleness. What I’m finding, is that the older I get, the more I can relate to him. I’m wondering, “What’s wrong with being a shipwrecked tentmaker?” Cause, I have to say, I feel a little bit like one myself.

There are many ways in which I’ve been shipwrecked here at my parents’. Due to the present wreckage of my finances, I’m pretty much stranded here. If you go back in my archives and read my posts before I moved back to the Midwest you can tell that in many ways I was being compelled by a force I didn’t entirely understand. Even though I came up with a list of rational reasons for my move, the real reason wasn’t rational. The clever north wind had simply spoken. Over the last year, like John in Cat’s Cradle, like Jonah, I have been compelled by “conveyances and motives, both conventional and bizarre” to be at “certain places at certain times, without fail.”

Though I’m not exactly making tents, I imagine that tentmakers in Paul’s time were like freelancers and that’s what I am now. After I decided not to pursue that ministry job, I also decided to quit looking for any type of conventional job altogether. I’ve known for a pretty long time now that working a 9-5 just doesn’t suit me. Still, I kept searching for one that might have made me happy (honestly, I spent much more time searching than applying). But I realized I was just wasting my time.

It’s been about a month since I devoted myself entirely to getting established as a freelance writer, speaker and promotional marketer/marketing assistant. Surprisingly, this career is coming together nicely. Last week I was hired by a marketing firm to promote vendors at Meijer on the weekends. I’ll start this job after speaking at Cornerstone’s Conference this weekend (fingers -crossed this leads to an actual paying gig one day). I’ve already begun working from home doing data entry and writing website content for different companies. And I’m waiting with baited breath to hear back from journals and magazines I’ve sent submissions into.

Though life as a shipwrecked tentmaker isn’t what I imagined for myself when I was younger, I’m discovering that it suits me better than anything else I’ve tried over the last year. Finally, both the extrovert and the introvert, the thinker and the talker, in me are satisfied. As I’ve been walking down this less than conventional career path, I keep thinking about something Steve Jobs’ said in a graduation speech he gave at Standford (that my dad made me listen to last summer because he loves stuff like that).

Jobs’ had told a shortened version of the history of Apple. How he was a college dropout who hung around auditing classes that interested him, including a calligraphy class, that ended up having a huge impact on how he developed Apple. He said, “You can only connect the dots in your life looking backwards.” My dad loves that line, he repeats it over and over. I feel like I’m beginning to be able to connect a lot more dots looking backward.

Without knowing my present job description, my resume looks chaotic. First of all, I’m way too impractically educated. Then I have these work experiences that seem to be all over the place. I’ve worked in offices doing everything from filing and data entry to creating website content. I’ve gotten a lot of experience staffing and planning events from poetry readings to dance parties. I have a wide range of experience doing marketing, from print marketing to face-to-face promotion. Though I forgot about it for a while, I did quite a bit of freelance writing for my college newspaper. I even did some for the alumni department of a nearby seminary.

The only thing I committed to for over a year was the student organization I began my freshman year of college, the English Society. I did everything for that organization for about three years. I was the president, secretary, online and face-to-face marketer, treasurer, public face, event planner, and I led the creative writing group. Though very few people realized it, it was a one woman show with pawn officers in the charter so it could exist (the group did have members, just no acting officers for most of the time). It’s worried me that I haven’t been able to commit to anything like I committed to that. Recently, I’ve realized that all of the jobs I’ve had since then have tied into that experience and sharpened the skills I first developed leading that organization.

As I connect the dots backward, I can see that this career path I’m now walking down is in many ways an extension of my English Society presidency. It may be a little less cohesive but has a lot healthier balance of demands and responsibility. Recognizing this gives me hope that finally I’m on a path that I won’t veer from anytime soon. All in all, I’m pretty happy being a shipwrecked tentmaker, though hopefully I’ll get to leave Malta* soon.

*Malta is the island Paul was shipwrecked on.

If you have a Twitter, I’d love for you to follow me @LindseyReneeGc.