I met with a client last week to go over past work and potential new projects. Her previous books had grown out of professional roles and involved heavy research.
“They were difficult to complete,” she told me. “Burdensome.” I could feel the weight in her voice.
She had an idea for a novel, and when she talked about the structure and the characters, her voice lifted an octave. But she had another project hanging over head. A few years ago, she wrote a piece about her father and since then had become the repository of the family archives–boxes of letters, old photographs, scraps of paper on which some distant relative had scribbled a few notes.
“My children want me to write a book,” she said. “But it feels heavy, like those old research projects.”
“I understand,” I told her. Holding onto work out of a sense of duty is almost a hobby for me. Until recently, I slaved away on a book I didn’t want to write. out of a sense of responsibility to people I rarely see (one of whom is dead).
“I hereby give you permission not to write a family history.” I said. “You have done good work on behalf of your community and on behalf of the planet. You have raised your children. In fact, if the kids want to take the boxes, let them write a book.”
I wanted her to write the novel. It sounded terrific. Plus I knew she wanted to write it.
It’s not our job to live up to someone else’s expectations about our work. It is our job to show up for what is calling us. But how do we clear the time and space?
Since I met with my client, I started reading Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. In the first chapter, he makes a distinction between options and choices. Options are all the things you could do, or feel like you should do–like writing a sequel to a book you never wanted to write in the first place. A choice is an action. You say no one to thing — the option — and yes to something else. And then you get going.
When you move in the direction of your creative calling, it creates energy and space to actually do the work.
Last week I noticed this post by my friend, Liz Belile, in my Facebook feed:
Friends, I am taking a sabbatical from teaching yoga. I have taught for 16 years and loved helping so many people all this time. But now I am answering the call to write and to fight. My bow is strung, and I am sad, but also excited to spend more time with my family, my professional screenwriting gigs, and my work saving lives, I hope. Feeling blessed.
It’s not easy to let go of work that serves others. But it is not your job to cling to someone’s else’s needs and desires. Your job is to listen to what’s calling you and to act, to choose. LIz has a six-year-old son and a sister living in a state living center that is being shut down (that’s the fight she speaks of). We only have so much fight, so many hours in a day, so many people we can be responsible to. And there is the work that calls.
It takes confidence and courage to let go, and you are bound to disappoint people. But if you spend your life trying not to disappoint others, you end up disappointing yourself.
What prior commitment can you let go of right now? How might that create energy and space for the great work of your life?