What are you willing to sacrifice?

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Photo Credit: Flickr user CelestineChua

As a newly-minted 30-year-old, I spend a good portion of my time grappling with impossible questions: what am I doing with my life? What should I do with my life? Should I have a family? Should I be doing more for my career? Should I fake my death to get out of paying my student loans? (Kidding… sort of.)

One issue I’ve been working through lately is the pursuit of my writing: On the one hand, I am pulled to be a successful writer who makes money with my words. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I’m willing to do all that being a successful, paid writer entails.

This dichotomy is illustrated perfectly in this brilliant article by Mark Manson, “The most important question of your life.” Manson (I think rightfully) claims that asking ourselves what we theoretically want in life isn’t as important as asking ourselves what dreams we’re willing to sacrifice for:

“Because if you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs. If you want the beach body, you have to want the sweat, the soreness, the early mornings, and the hunger pangs. If you want the yacht, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business moves, and the possibility of pissing off a person or ten thousand. 

If you find yourself wanting something month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to it, then maybe what you actually want is a fantasy, an idealization, an image and a false promise. Maybe what you want isn’t what you want, you just enjoy wanting. Maybe you don’t actually want it at all.”

Manson’s words are so spot on it hurts. I love writing, and I think I’ve always imagined myself as a writer. Writing is one of the only clear goals I have ever had in my rather directionless life. Yet, when it comes to the sacrifice — the long hours spent keeping up on Twitter, posting to Facebook, reading and commenting on other blogs to build WordPress relationships, promoting myself across social media, pitching myself out to media outlets, writing every single day, never being able to unplug — it all feels like too much.

It’s no longer enough to hole yourself up in a beach cottage somewhere, write the next great American novel, and ship it off to publishers. These days, to be a successful writer, it feels like you have to have absurdly high follower counts, a “strong social media presence,” the body measurements of an E! host, professional photography skills, an intermediate understanding of HTML, and oh yeah — you have to be “on” at all times.

It seems endless and it all totally overwhelms me. I’m going to keep it real here: by the time I’ve spilled my heart onto the page and pressed publish, I’m kind of exhausted. I’ve barely got the energy to halfheartedly post my article to social media, much less follow up on comments, cross-post, or even submit my essays to media outlets who have outright asked to publish my work.

The truth is, if I don’t bother to sacrifice myself at the alter of social media and shameless plugging, someone else will. Let’s face it, thousands will. There are millions of wannabe writers out there, many of whom are willing to do what I am not. I could have all the talent in the world, but without the hard work, I am a waste.

I love to write. I love to blog. I long for more. But at what cost? The idea of being chained to social media day in and day out fills me with dread. I do not like the thought of giving up the balance in my life and tirelessly throwing myself into the dream.

Perhaps I really am just in love with a powerful illusion; a vision of me sitting in that little cottage composing my life’s work. It’s a beautiful chimera, that’s for sure.

But maybe there is more inside me. Maybe that little voice that says what I’m doing now isn’t enough is pushing me out of my comfort zone for a reason. Maybe, after nearly three years of deep, all-encompassing grief over my mother’s death, I am coming back to life, and ready to try again.

In 2015, I promised to publish more. I did that. I posted essays rather consistently, built a moderate following, got syndicated by Thought Catalog, and overcame my incessant and damaging need to be liked. 2016 could very well be the year I go further, and really sacrifice for my art.

I think I’m ready to throw myself in.

What are you willing to sacrifice to accomplish what you want in life?

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When passion alone isn’t enough

“So what’s your plan for your writing?”

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Plan?! I’m supposed to have a PLAN?! And what’s with the red dots on this picture? QUESTIONS.

Rarely does more than a month pass before one of my well-meaning friends or acquaintances asks me this, and frankly it might be my least favorite question of all time. I’m not sure why, but it fills me with the kind of anxiety and dread that usually only come to me during freak storms (you should see how I prepare for hurricanes — the hilarity of my fear-guided neuroticism never ceases).

I’m not sure why, but the idea that my writing should do something has always pervaded my consciousness. It took me a year of hemming and hawing to even start this blog, because I was freaking out over finding some kind of purpose or path and wasting time asking myself bullshit like “well, what’s my personal brand going to be?” Long gone are the beautiful, sad days when I wrote just to write, sitting up in my room scribbling in journal after journal with no intention of ever showing anyone my work. That was simple. This feels like anything but.

I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. A few days ago, my brother and I were chatting about his foray into standup comedy. I told him I was proud of him for how much he’s killing it — he only started about a year ago and he’s already come so far in both his confidence and performing skills.

His response? “Thanks! It’s weird cause I have no idea what I’m doing. Is this a hobby or what?”

I said some offhanded things about how passion projects don’t necessarily need a definition — they provide all kinds of benefits to us without necessarily needing to go anywhere in particular. But I would be lying if I said I never feel that way about my writing. What AM I doing? Who am I doing it for? Why isn’t writing up in my room enough for me anymore? What pushes me to face my fears and share my deepest longings and secrets with everyone I’ve ever known (including their mothers) not to mention any stranger or potential employer that happens upon my work?!

The ultimate question is: why isn’t it enough?

Why isn’t it enough to write a decent personal blog with a handful of followers who look forward to reading my essays? Why isn’t it enough for my brother to stand up on stage a couple of times a month and make some people laugh? Why are we so driven to do more, push harder, define it, perfect it, monetize it?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Today, I’m just asking. I’m asking because that feeling of dread that comes every time someone asks me if I have a plan perplexes me. Why can’t I say, “I don’t have one — writing words and pressing publish is the extend of my plan”?!

If I’m being honest, I’ve been disenchanted with all of it lately, in a way that’s been really hard to pinpoint. I can’t tell if I’m sick of my own voice, or if I’m just experiencing some fatigue. Perhaps I’m just ready to reach out for something bigger — or maybe just different. Maybe, I just really need a plan to push me forward, and not having one in place is sabotaging me.

All I know is that none of it feels like enough. A passion project like this blog probably can’t stay suspended forever. It has to move forward; to grow. Otherwise, I risk losing the drive to just keep writing. I risk giving the whole thing up in lieu of something more practical; something easier. Something that doesn’t push me quite so far out of my comfort zone or require me to give myself so brazenly.

The crux is that right now, I’m a bit directionless. Yet I still feel the desire buzzing just beneath the surface, telling me to keep moving forward. I have no idea what I’m moving towards or what my end game is. I just know that I can’t stop now.

I guess I’ll just have to figure it out when I get there.