It’s one of Husband’s ‘I’m an academic’ jokes:
I’m sorry, Nigel, but while you were out, there was a paradigm shift, and (insert surreal Pythonesque situation or ironic or satirical statement here, e.g. … and now people are actually being paid for all the extra work they do.)
A paradigm, in case you aren’t an academic, which I’m not, is a theoretical structure that helps scholars understand a particular set of data. A paradigm shift is when that structure changes.
I’m sorry, Nigel, but while you were out, there was a paradigm shift, and now the planet revolves around the Sun, and not you.
Yeah, its not really that funny if you aren’t an academic.
But there has been a paradigm shift, at least in this house.
I was originally going to call this post ‘Why I’ve Shelved Writing For A While’.
As I’ve been saying (probably ad nauseam) my word for 2015 is EASE. Part of EASE is caring for myself. Not putting pressure on myself. Letting go of all those SHOULDs and OUGHTs that I use to beat myself up because I’m so convinced I’m not enough. Not good enough. Not successful enough. Not ambitious enough. Not a good enough writer. Not a good enough housekeeper. Not a good enough person.
Over the holidays, I got to thinking about all the goals I’d set myself in the last few years. You know, all those deadlines that went whooshing by unheeded (Thank you, Douglas Adams, for that wonderful quote.)
They were all career goals.
Now let me add something important here. I reached puberty at a time when the women’s movement had reached its most rabid. Girls my age were expected to be able to ‘have it all’. We were given that expectation. We were reared to have dazzling careers. We still had the societal expectation that we must have a family too. We were on the rocket-ship to the top (no one had told us there would be a glass ceiling when we got there at this point, of course.) That is quite a lot of expectation to put on a kid when she’s 14 and doesn’t know what she wants to be today, let alone when she grows up. Plus I’d been told I would go to University from the age of 7. That’s even more weight to carry.
But because I’m a good girl, I set about fulfilling other people’s expectations.
I went to University and got a degree and then a Masters. I got a good job in academia. I talked about doing a PhD and had ambitions of being a professor one day. I met a lovely man and got married. I left my job and planned to go free-lance. When that didn’t happen, I took a job in the Not-For Profit sector, and decided that was going to be my big career: managing charities.
Then ME/CFS happened.
All around me, my peers were excelling, joining the professions, marrying gorgeous successful men, having families, building their own businesses and shining careers, earning lots of money and having lots of success.
Okay, I thought, I’ll be a writer. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do anyway, so I’ll be a success at that. Because I had to keep up. Because I’m a good girl. Because everyone expects me to excel.
Seventeen years later, the seven novels I have written have not been published by a conventional publisher, which means that by most of the population’s standards, I am not a real writer. I’ve published 54 stories online, many thousands of words, which have been well-received. But those don’t seem to count because they are fanfics, not proper fiction.
The paradigm of ‘have it all’ success is not working for me.
So I have decided to bin it, along with all those goal-setting handbooks that proliferate on the interweb at this time of year.
What would happen if I just concentrated on doing what made me feel happy?
(That sentence will put a lot of people’s backs up because for some reason we think you have to suffer to be happy/good/successful – thank you, organised religion.)
What would happen if I just concentrated on doing what made me feel well?
What would happen if I viewed myself as good enough?
So I am rethinking my writing. The way I write. What I write. I am trying to subtract what I perceive as other people’s expectations. I am asking myself:
What would I write if it was just for me and no one else?
Throwing out the expectations of others when they are the sole motivators for how you have lived your life and measured your ‘success’ for the last 47 years is not an easy or quick task. I have no idea of its even possible. But I certainly mean to try.
I’m in a time of deep contemplation. Exploration. Working out how I want to feel. What I want to be. What I want to do. What I want to stand up for. What I believe. What I love. What makes me happy. What I want to say. How I want to say it.
(Hang on, is this the adolescence/puberty thing I missed the first time around because I was being a good girl?)
Once I know, really know, I’m going to concentrate on those things. The things that make me happy. And if success by society’s definition happens, then so be it. If it doesn’t I’ll still be happy. Which sounds like success to me.
So watch this space. It will be interesting to see what new words and stories come out of it.