How an aspiring author worked up the courage to go ALL IN on her dream.
I’m that girl. You know, the first girl chosen by a team captain at recess after the best boys had already been picked. The girl who could play ball, run fast, and take charge. I could talk sass, cop an attitude, and talk like I am an expert on practically any topic. I would speak loudly with my whole body in motion, and I absolutely loved to be creative. I would draw, write, and move. As a girl, I had a strong, inner confidence in my small world. I was full of imagination and wonder. In fact, my overactive imagination often got me in trouble, as I was notorious for telling a tale better than anyone. Some called it “over exaggeration.” But after years of life experience as a girl-turned-woman, who is still finding her way in a big world, I finally see my active imagination for what it really is: a gift. It would take me falling on my face to realize that I am strong enough to both confront and transform the modern concept of time in order to truly develop this gift.
The power of time lies in how its best use is interpreted – and by whom. Catherine Pulsifer said, “Time is the one thing we all have in common, but it is also the one thing that we all use differently.” The concept of “time” that I absorbed in my youth was to do as much as I could with the time that I had. I was taught to value family and community, demonstrate a strong work ethic, and to embrace hardship as part of the learning process. I believed what I heard growing up – that I could have it all, if I was dedicated and worked hard enough: career, family, travel, and a healthy lifestyle. I started my first wage jobs at age twelve, working in a kitchen and picking apples at a local orchard with my family. In high school, I competed in three sports and worked at a hotel front desk on the weekends. I became the third woman in my family to enroll in college and first woman to compete in collegiate sports. One sport was not enough. In college, I competed in two NCAA sports: volleyball and track-and-field, all while working several jobs to earn money for books and school supplies.
After graduating with my Master’s Degree in Higher Education, I spent the next twenty-two years building my career, getting married, and raising a family. The weight of my never-ending to-do lists and emails grew heavier by the day. The “convenience” of email and texting often carried work into the evenings and weekends. The stretches of time when I felt truly “off the clock” shrunk despite my best efforts to go “off the grid” with my family on weekends or over holidays. I never used up all of my vacation, and I rarely took a sick day. When I did take some time away, the tidal wave of emails and urgent messages upon my return to the office was so overwhelming that I began to regularly limit the vacation days I took off in a row, so I could better manage the organizational trauma of returning to work. Then COVID-19 hit, adding a new level of change fatigue to my already demanding workload, until my heart literally swelled in response to the chronic stress.
For the last year, I have battled insomnia and fatigue, while rigorously advocating for an administrative assistant position with my employer to provide much-needed office support. I knew that chronic stress freezes both kids and adults’ ability to apply executive functions. I also knew that companies regularly place the burden of coping with work stress on the employee. Ever the over-achiever, I read dozens of “how to manage your work stress” articles and made lists of the recommendations. I regularly saw a therapist, developed a new morning running routine, attended yoga classes, and re-organized my work calendar and to-do lists. The formal approval of my proposal for a new administrative assistant position provided a much-needed light at the end of my tunnel. I eagerly limped towards it, working the equivalence of three positions and counting the days until help would arrive. Then a sudden reorganization and change of leadership denied the proposal, offering me a small raise instead. With my researched and data-backed proposal now denied, I found myself forced to choose between my health and my career. We have twins heading to college in four years. Bills to pay. My delay in making a decision came with a cost, as I found myself in the emergency room strapped to various machines looking for damage to my heart caused by chronic work stress. In the end, I found the courage to turn down the raise and quit my job. I chose my health.
While I no longer have the comfort of a monthly paycheck or the job I moved my family to a new city for, I am not without hope. During the long nights, when I couldn’t sleep, I reached for the dusty pages of an old dream – a novel I began years ago. For the first time in my life, my fingers flew across the keys. In the dark, I discovered that my time was my own, and that simple act ignited a creative fire I wanted to explore. A year ago, I began to set aside at least one day each weekend just to write. My spouse would spend the day with the kids, so I could work in peace. By July, I had hit my first draft timeline target. My confidence was growing. I could do this. I could write. Six months later, I quit my job. Three weeks after my last day, I published my new author’s website and signed on to work for a new boss – me.
In retrospect, I recognize that the skills I have developed over the years will also benefit me in writing not just one novel, but an entire series. I have forced time to slow just enough to pause and take stock of my strengths. I have a major in International Studies and a double minor in History and Religion, topics I draw on in my research and world-building. I am surrounded by talented middle-schoolers, who are eager to share their thoughts and input on my characters. I have a centered background in gender equity, an essential foundation on which to develop strong, memorable non-gender dominant protagonists, while also balancing the co-development of healthy, gender dominant characters in the story. My background in education and counseling will benefit me in creating relatable character arcs. Finally, my varied experiences in the outdoors will add that key adventure element to the mix.
I have finally learned how to turn my biggest adversary – time – into my greatest ally. To do it, I had to let go of a career that I had woven my identity into so I could free up time to heal and write. My first step involved initiating an inner journey to strengthen my belief that I was capable of using my assets to pursue a new career. You know, one with no guaranteed monthly paycheck or benefits. One that could catalyst a whole waterfall of new changes in my life. I realized that no one was going to push me off the “career” cliff. Trust me, I looked around. I was going to have to push myself, and I’ll admit, the view down from the top of that cliff was pretty intimidating. I took a deep breath before triple checking my “parachute” list of resources and support systems. Then, I took the leap.
This path has not been easy. But it has been rewarding in ways I never imagined. During my journey (so far), I have learned some important lessons. I share them with you now in the hope that they could be useful again.
- Your time should be working for YOU. There is a popular saying in the writing world that I love: The Muse Works for You. This is also true of TIME. Take stock of your relationship with time. I struggled with letting go of a career that my identity was wrapped up in, even when it was hurting me. Time can be a set of hurdles lined up ahead of you, or it can become your wings.
- Invest in yourself. It takes money to make money. It may take a big sacrifice to get started. After spending years attempting to write my story around the rigorous schedule of a full-time job and full-time parenting, I knew what I needed to do to truly make progress on my goal – I needed frequent, bigger chunks of writing time. I invested in bi-weekly sessions with an invaluable life coach. I sought out literary groups and professional development opportunities including writing conferences. I considered asking for three months off, then six months, but I knew I really needed a year. Correction: I wanted a year and all the new things I’d learn during it. After some initial faltering, I stood my ground. My spouse and I worked on a financial plan for one year. Could we do this? I needed space to write. My spouse built me a small writing cabin next to the garden. I call it the “Story Shack.” We tightened our monthly line items and prioritized our spending needs. My next request was to advocate for a small budget for my new business. My list included a trip overseas to conduct research with the family, a laptop, a website, and funds to pay a developmental editor, if needed. After some back and forth, we came up with a small budget.
- Know what YOU want. My life coach was steadfast at always bringing me back to my list of goals. Is that what YOU want? she would clarify. I knew the answer to that question. I wanted to write this story. I needed to write it. Now. Something deep inside is driving me to put my story into words. My life coach would smile and shake her head. “Well, if you have books in you….” The people around us benefit, when we ourselves are grounded, solid in who we are and what we value. My kids benefit from this. So does my spouse. I’m much happier today. They all internalize my energy, which is starting to radiate positivity and gratitude again. Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist whose works were inspired by nature and artifacts of Mexico, once said, “I am my own muse. I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to know better.”
- Take the time to reassess your career and life goals. During one of my sessions, my life coach told me that the stronger I become, the stronger the characters I will write. This included taking some time to consider what I want at this stage of my life. I do recommend seeking out trusted opinions. Just remember that even the people closest to you have their own biases and agendas. I knew what I needed, but often found myself wavering on the decision, seeking external validation. Looking back, what I really wanted was help forming a support system, because I knew my decision would affect my whole family. But when the time finally came, I realized that I would have to be the one to decide.
- Leave some time ‘unscheduled’. Advice from another female entrepreneur who quit her job to start her own business: it will take more time than you think to get everything up and running. Enjoy the transition. Keep some time “unscheduled,” so you can be available for surprise opportunities or spur of the moment” networking outings. In Work Smarter, Play Longer, Tara Ross argues, “the goal of being more productive in daily tasks is to have MORE time to be NON-PRODUCTIVE.”
The Great Resignation is full of people like me who have realized that the fruits of our hard-earned life experiences also provide us with the resources, confidence, and skills needed to make this next stage of our lives our own. My journey started with one supportive voice. Once I began believing in myself, that voice multiplied. I believe Lalah Deliah says it best in her quote, “She remembered who she was, and the game changed.” After a year of scrolling through the rule book, I finally threw it away. I know who I am. I am a storyteller. I’m still that girl with a big imagination, and do I ever have a story to write.
To all of my readers and fellow writers, what lessons have you found valuable in making your time work for you? Please reply in the contact link at the top right of the blog page and I’ll share your tips in my next post.
– KJ Martin