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Family on the deck

 

Whatever made me think I’d be immune…? I’d read the blog posts about pressure sapping creativity and the danger of writing for your audience instead of yourself and shrugged it off with nonchalant naïvety, “That’s not me, I write because I love it – because I get sucked into a vortex where time, hunger, and household responsibility become eclipsed by the sheer joy of creative expression. ” It was already creeping up on me…

I was covering my research study participation for CAMH, writing my monthly column for Expat Focus, and penning magazine articles and blog posts. My Klout score was great and my ranking for this, that and the other were climbing steadily. I was an itch the online community was starting to scratch! I’d found a supportive network of virtual friends and colleagues and I felt part of something vibrant and inspiring – part of the larger picture.

Then, over the summer, something changed. I had plenty of things I SHOULD be writing but I wasn’t getting that buzz anymore; something was missing. I couldn’t get my joy.

My first thought was, “burnout!” Expatlog was a year old and I’d been posting between two and four times a week, as well as managing the needs of a young family and building a new career as a freelancer. It had been pretty intense; my poor husband spent many a solitary evening on the sofa while I toiled over words at the kitchen table once the kids were asleep. As he headed despondently to bed I’d reassure him, “I’ll be up in a minute” then the next time I looked at the clock it was one or two in the morning. I couldn’t remember how I looked without circles under my eyes.

So I eased off a bit – I stopped reading and commenting on other blogs so religiously, tweeted a little less and tried to get back to my happy place. But it wasn’t working. I had fallen into the trap of letting my writing become something that defined my value. It’s natural to want to improve at something but in striving for that I’d lost the ability to accept it for what it was. I was consumed with ambition, the lust for validation. Instead of a source of joy, writing had become a way of measuring my worth. And it was never good enough.

Some serious self-examination was needed. Why was I doing this? Where did I want it to take me? What did I hope to achieve?

It’s taken me a couple of months to see my problem for what it is – I so wanted to be good, to be successful, I wanted to be talked about, to stand out from the crowd. I wanted all the things my common sense told me were trivial – popularity, admiration, all the shiny, empty stuff.

In my twenties, I had a recurring dream where I tried to speak but no-one could hear me. I struggled with my lack of voice, forcing the muscles in my throat to produce something audible, straining to shout, but never being heard. Now I had a voice, but was in danger of loving the sound of it too much! I’d become one of those people who believe their own hype. It was taking me days just to write one blog post! I was taking myself too seriously.

I needed to find a balance between self-improvement and self-acceptance and reading a post from a very wise friend reminded me how to do it. Gratitude. I’m so lucky to have a husband who supports me and who works so I can be at home for the children. I’m fortunate to have three healthy beautiful kids who inject joy into the most resigned of hearts. We have a comfortable life – there may be things we want but nothing we need and don’t have. I have friends who take time to help me and answer my questions despite their own pressing commitments. I’m so busy trying, I’m forgetting to enjoy. What an idiot!

An appreciation of what we have is the best antidote to the relentless demands of our hectic, achievement-driven lives. There aren’t answers to all problems, but there is joy in every day, if we can only see it. Many thanks to Linda at Adventures in Expatland for the reminder, it came just when I needed it.

Have you struggled to find a balance between self-confidence and humility? How has being a writer tested you? Share your experiences and what you’ve learned in the comments below – I could really use the help…