I hope the end of your summer is winding down nicely and that you’re out of the path of Hurricane Irma, as well as Jose and Katia. As I’m sure most of you know, my home state of Texas was recently hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. It’s been amazing to see the nation coming together to help those who have lost so much and are struggling to put the pieces of their lives back together again. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a post on social media that tugs at my heartstrings, highlighting average people like you and me going out of their way to lend a helping hand.
No matter what people are fighting over, be it politics, religion, racism, you name it, tragedies have a way of bringing us together, moving us to put our debates on pause and our hatred on hold while we reach out to those who have problems much bigger than ourselves and our opinions.
While the camaraderie doesn’t last long, it’s a beautiful thing to watch and be a part of when we can. It reminds us that deep down, the human spirit gravitates toward love, both receiving it and giving it.
“The common touch of humanity that gives the world true kinship is not joy, but sorrow – gold is partial to only a few, but iron is universal.” – Streams in the Desert
Catastrophes like Harvey also serve to remind us of what really matters in life, and how extremely fragile it is. When I was on vacation with my mom, step-dad, and husband in West Texas last weekend, I thanked God every day for the time He’s given me with them. We don’t know when our last breath will be, which is a truth it’s all too easy to forget as we go about our day-to-day lives, taking our hugs, kisses, and warm conversations for granted.
Seeing the devastation wreaked by Harvey, so much of it happening just a few hours away, opened my eyes to my personal need to be present with my family when I’m with them. Yes, writing is my passion. Yes, I love gobbling up writing-related podcasts, books, and articles and learning all I can about my craft. Yes, I love connecting with readers and fellow authors online. But family comes first, and the time spent with them is the most precious of all.
We live in a day and age that glorifies words like “hustle” and “grind” and hashtags like “#sleepisfortheweak” and “#nodaysoff” (seriously, there are nearly 5 million posts with that hashtag). It’s hammered into our heads that the meaning of life is to do whatever it takes to make our dreams come true, including working seven days a week, minimizing (or nixing altogether) recreational activities, and depriving ourselves of sleep when necessary.
Entrepreneurial writers like myself (and you, too, I would imagine) are often tempted to go along with this enticing, albeit dangerous, workaholic mentality.
If we just work a little harder…
If we just write a little more…
If we just get a few more followers, beta readers, and advanced reviewers…
If we could just get an agent…
We tell ourselves life will slow down and that we can relax a little and have some fun as soon as we do this and this and this…
Before we know it, we’ve become slaves to an abstract, ineffable force, one that often feels like an august emperor of noble ambition, tenacity, and commendable self-discipline, but sometimes rears its ugly head as a ruthless tyrant of obsession, dissatisfaction, and fear.
What does this tyrant make us obsess over? Reaching our goals, be it selling X number of books, making X amount of money, publishing with X publishing company, you name it. Every day, the tyrant cracks his whip, spurring us onward at our laptops, ceaselessly barking his message that we’ll never be fulfilled until the goal is achieved.
This obsession leads to dissatisfaction. Because until we meet our goal, we won’t be satisfied, at least not in the way that would appease the tyrant. We lie awake at night worrying about why the agent said no, why that reviewer didn’t love our book, why we only sold one copy this week, why other writers are seemingly having more success… And on and on the futile questioning goes.
Dissatisfaction gives way to fear. Fear that we’ll never stack up, and that the tyrant will never shut up. We long to be free of the need to produce, perfect, and promote in order to feel content and externally validated. But that possibility, one once bright as Sirius, now looks like a speck of dust shrinking on the horizon.
What if I never reach my goal? we think. What if I die a failure?
Dear friend, life is too short to let the tyrant rule your life. Writing, the profession of writing, more specifically, is indeed a noble and honorable calling, one which the aformentioned ambition, tenacity, and self-discipline are unquestionably required. But the moment we let our happiness hinge on whether or not we succeed as a writer (in the ways each individual writer has defined as “success”) is the moment those positive attributes which forge success become smashed beneath the iron heel of the unappeasable tyrant.
We know it’s true that we shouldn’t let any one person, be it a spouse, boyfriend, or best friend, dictate our happiness. In the same way, we shouldn’t let a vocation, no matter how passionate we are about it, dictate it either.
What matters most in life is not the physical products we create (unless they’re kids, because kids are pretty important…), but the physical people we impact. Sure we can impact people through our stories, but those closest to us – our family members and circle of friends – are the people who know us and love us more than anyone else. Let us embrace them as characters in our own story. Let’s let them shape us into wiser, stronger, more compassionate and appreciative protagonists.
Let’s not allow a single day with them to go to waste.
If you haven’t seen or talked to your loved ones in a while, why not give them a call right now and tell them you’re thinking about them? I bet it would make their day, and I bet it would knock the tyrant right off his throne.
It’s all about quality of life and finding a happy balance between work and friends and family.
– Philip Green