A Purposeful Life is a Brave Life.
Four years ago, at 57, I quit my plum corporate job to have more time for writing. Everybody said it took a lot of courage, but I knew I still harbored many fears. The fear that I now HAD to write, no more excuses. The fear that my writing wouldn’t be any good.
The fear to submit stories and be rejected. The fear to be criticized for past mistakes, so plainly revealed in my memoir. And the fear of financial insecurity.
Little by little, I overcame some of my worst anxieties. I built a steady writing practice and finished the manuscript of my memoir (I’m currently querying literary agents). I decided to write truthfully, no matter the consequences. I developed a thick skin and learned not to take rejection personally. I dared to blog and experiment with many topics and platforms. I attended MEA in 2018 which solidified my purpose. But the fear of financial insecurity persisted.
This fear made me accept work projects I didn’t enjoy just to keep some income rolling in. It led me to apply for jobs I didn’t want, instead of focusing on developing the business I had launched as an editor and writing coach. A full-time job, I reasoned, would bring steady income, and now that I had strengthened my creative mojo I could surely keep writing on the weekends. (Never mind that I had never been able to write consistently over the previous twenty years of holding full-time jobs.)
Having no money is rightfully scary, but the crux of the matter is that I wasn’t penniless. When I quit my executive position, I had some stock options that needed to be sold in the next three years, and that complemented my business earnings. My family’s standard of living took a steep dip, but we weren’t indigent.
Even with this advantage, anxiety corroded me. It was partly a learned behavior. I grew up seeing my dad’s constant anguish over finances. He walked around and around the table in our foyer, his hands on his back, his eyes trained on the floor, worrying about worst case scenarios. You wondered how he hadn’t dug a trench as deep as the burrows on his forehead. Although he was a lawyer, he had to support ten kids and his wife, and money got tight. He couldn’t put any aside for retirement, so as he grew older, his anxiety increased. It was, however, disproportionate to his situation. Just like mine.
In my case, I suspect that fear of financial insecurity is related to the resistance to achieve my dreams, a fear many creatives share. This fear tries to push me towards work that will eat up ALL my time and energy, so I will have a good excuse to stop committing to writing.
The current situation with the coronavirus is likely to heighten the fear of financial insecurity for all of us. With the economy tumbling, we have even more reasons to accept any project that comes our way to make a little money. But those detours can take us too far down the wrong path to make it safely back home again. That’s why it’s more important than ever to listen to your intuition and pursue work you know is right for you: the work that best aligns with your skills, and your deeper mission. The projects that help you feel fulfilled while serving others. And if you have no other option but taking a job you dislike, aim to learn something from it.
As for me, during confinement I have reinforced a decision I took a few months back. I will not take work or clients I don’t enjoy. I will double down on writing. I will choose courage again. Because if you want to fulfill your purpose, you have to choose courage every single day.
What helps you choose courage every day?
Isidra Mencos had a PhD on Spanish Literature from UC Berkeley, where she taught for 12 years. She has published two books and several essays. Her essay “My Books and I” was listed as a Notable Essay in the Best American Essays Anthology (October 2019). Find her at www.isidramencos.com.