I wrote a list of pros and cons for two choices last night. The first choice is to stay at my current job; the second is to leave and focus more directly on activism and writing.
In the pros column for staying in my job there were a couple truly positive things. I enjoy my academic colleagues and when we do start and implement sustainability projects they are very rewarding. However, the rest of the items under “pros” for staying were all monetary, ego, and security focused. I have a leadership title at a prestigious academic institution that comes with respect but also a salary that provides me with the luxury not to have to think about money very often. Having grown up in a poor family with neither money nor prestige this does have value.
Included in the cons column for staying is a rising level of stress and anxiety, and a measurable impact on my health. A lot of this is due not just to work load, and politics in a bureaucratic institution that changes at a similar pace to the movement of continents, it is also, and more fundamentally, about the fracturing that has taken place as I have moved ever higher in management and am now rarely able to voice my true opinions and perspectives on important matters. I have transitioned from activist to administrator and although this is usually the course of social change, the shift of social issues from periphery to policy and practice, I find myself far less making change these days and far more enabling an institution to drag its heels. As the need for “diplomacy” (read kowtowing) has increased and the ability to speak authentically and honestly has decreased I have felt my “self” being torn in two.
I long for more meaningful work. For work that allows me to be whole and true to my beliefs and convictions from 5am-10pm. There are too many important and gravely urgent issues to attend to (such as climate change) that require a great number of courageous people to give up some level of financial security and material comforts in order to have the space and the place to speak up and act out in a way that is congruent with the urgency of these current issues. I’ve come to a point of my life where I have done enough work on “the inside” and it feels time to unleash the change maker again.
On the “pros” list for writing and activism I found I had put the words “freedom”, “authenticity”, and “creativity.” I have always loved reading and language. I love the way a well written piece can make us rethink whole paradigms and in some cases (like the Bible) shift human culture for thousands of years. This is why in many countries where there is far less or no freedom that speech is limited and controlled and the press are not free. Those that want to control the mass public need control of individual brains and public thought. Ideas have power. Knowledge has a certain power. Information and transparency can be empowering. This is what I put in the “pros” column for writing as a new focus for my creative and professional energy.
The “cons” of leaving a secure and stable job for the obscure path of writing and doing communication work for social change are pretty predictable. The first is the look a incredulity and ridicule I have already experienced from well meaning friends and family. The assumption of failure in an “art” is essentially seen as the more rational view of things. One friend put it as “moving from making lots of money to making none.” Fair enough there are few millionaire writers.
But, as I push back, because I know that eventually I will be successful, I know in the short-term they are right. In my “cons” column is “lack of security,” “no perks and paid fors,” “no health benefits,” “no safety net.” For a 38 year old woman with a family and a mortgage these are pretty convincing cons.
But, as the eccentric and famously successful chef Francis Mallman says “You do not grow on a secure path. All of us should conquer something in life. It needs a lot of work, it needs a lot of risk. To grow and improve you need to be there at the edge of uncertainty.” So, while staying in a safe secure job would be the safe and secure option. It will not be a place for further growth because I know I need to go and if I stay out of fear I will always carry that cowardice with me like a heavy bag I can’t put down.
The last thing in my “pros” category for going back to my passion for writing and storytelling for social change is being in control of the rhythm of my life. As the title of this blog suggests this will allow me and my family to really inventory what is important (particularly in the material but also in the health categories) to us and to slow right down to a more natural pace. Focusing on working from home and working less will allow me to dedicate more time to my other major creative role in my life — motherhood.
I had a great conversation last night with a friend who is considering making the shift to full-time professional photography. We were talking about the risks, the need for safety nets, and our husband’s fears of the results of our potential failures. She made an excellent point though. She said that “the need for safety also stems from our desires of what we feel we want and need…we need way less than we realize to make life work” A lot of what we feel we want and need in life (housing, clothing, vacations, toys) is manufactured by comparison. We compare with others and we compare with what we have become accustomed to. It seems worth it to be brave and do with less in order to get so much more from taking a courageous leap and giving this one life everything I’ve got.