This is the sixth and final (phew!) post in a series on vocation, marriage and work.
Just to re-cap where we left off in this story.
One of the four parts of Project Home & Healing was to Craft a Vision, and that piece has remained elusive for me.
Last year I didn't even bother thinking about it because I wanted to build this vision from a solid foundation, but first of all I had to work on that foundation. I knew it had to be a vision for me, not for Us, but of course it had to fit into Us. And I wanted it to be a vocation-related vision.
This year I felt it was time to step back into online work to see if I could figure that out. I didn't have a clear vision but maybe vision is overrated, and it was more important to just "do stuff", or maybe I would find one through bumbling around. Hey, anything's possible, right?
For years I have admired a specific handful of women working online. I am inspired by their quality of work, personal integrity, and success. Each of these women, and what they do, is different, but as I've watched them grow their businesses or grow their blogs over the past couple years, I've experienced two things. I've been inspired to think about how I might do something similar, and I've been discouraged and fearful that I'm washed up, already a has-been, haven't come near my potential and had no idea what my potential was to begin with. I missed the boat. These feelings of discouragement are not a helpful, or even true, mindset.
Then there is the matter of finances. To date, this is our most resource-intense season of raising kids. And it's only going to get "worse" before it gets better. Helping our kids with post-secondary education, perhaps starting businesses, weddings and establishing their own households; these are the investments and expenses that will help launch them into adulthood. Do we feel responsible to provide everything for these needs? Absolutely not, but we live in challenging economic times and where possible we want to help our emerging adults make a successful transition to the next stage of their lives.
So earlier this year I felt I had to "do something".
I needed to do something to "reach my potential". I needed to tackle an online project to help me get back in the game. I needed to help contribute to our finances. I had taken a year off from thinking along these lines, partly by choice, partly by necessity, but at the beginning of this year I decided to move forward, vision or no vision. So I started two projects: a writing project and the creation of an online soap course.
I felt compelled to do both for entirely different reasons. I knew the soap course could make money, the model is fairly clear and I know the market. I get how it works. I have no vision for how the writing project earns money, it's just something I need to write.
I worked at both endeavors through the winter and the spring. I worked some weekends. I worked while Damien took the kids to co-op on Mondays. But when late spring hit and all my energies were consumed by home and homeschooling (my first vocation) I started to get very frustrated and angsty about not moving forward on my projects. I felt like I had to prove to myself that I could do it, by golly, that I had it in me to produce and sell, and to help support our family this way. I needed to push harder.
And yet, I know through painful experience, the answer for me in these situations is not pushing, but pondering. Pushing takes strength and is often necessary in many areas of our lives to do the hard work of living. But stopping to ponder, and to listen, takes courage and is equally as necessary to find discernment into where we should invest our strength, where we should push.
I was very frustrated with my situation (these kids are taking so much of my time!) and with myself, and All. The. Things. I lacked internally and externally to move forward with my ideas.
I was paddling upstream, and I was unsure: was this a situation requiring strength to keep paddling or the courage to re-assess and change course? I do a lot of paddling upstream in my life in terms of society's expectations and values, sometimes it's hard to differentiate when I'm supposed to paddle and when I'm supposed to flow.
And then summer came, and our trip, and though initially I had hoped to find traction on my projects in the change of pace for the summer, I soon resolved myself to a different path. I set my intentions to embrace what was right in front of me. And I had a great summer.
I still hadn't resolved the issue of the stagnating projects and the deeper issue for me of my lack of vision, but I resolved for summer to just stop worrying about it. Our trip out west this summer felt once-in-a-lifetime, the kids hurtling as they are to independence. I didn't want to spend it over-analyzing and working away on a project with the mountains right outside our door.
I talked with friends and family about my frustrated efforts over spring. Conversations with Katie, Krista and my Mom were especially helpful. And then as we were driving home, somewhere in Illinois, I articulated the whole mess to Damien. I explained my frustrations with myself and the situation. Is there a problem with me that I can't progress on my goals? What is wrong with me?
I talked about my motivations to get back in the game and the desire to earn money to alleviate some of our financial strain. We discussed if it was maybe time for me to get a job, instead of trying to produce and sell a product online. And what kinds of income-earning jobs I might be suited for and enjoy doing (after years of being self-directed and independent). Perhaps more to the point, what kind of jobs could I possibly pick-up, without training and experience, that could come close to the remuneration that Damien's work can earn for our family.
We talked about our past experience of working together. We asked ourselves if that was an option we wanted to explore again, without all the emotional insecurities from the first time around.
Then we came back to the reality of the present, which is that I already have a full-time job! Which is why I was finding it so hard to move forward on other projects. This is a time-intense season of homeschooling for our family. It's a time-intense season of raising kids, period. More time-intense than I had anticipated years ago when I envisioned this stage of family life.
And we concluded we'd rather have the stress of home-educating our kids on a single self-employed, middle class income, allowing us to spend our days together and for me to have the time to invest in a community that supports this endeavor, than the stress of me working for an enterprise or a mission outside of family, pulling my energies away from these final years of homeschooling, pulling my energies away from the work I am clearly called to do, and love to do.
What this meant practically, is that I shelved the soap course. Even though I'd already worked many hours on it. I felt the sting of not-good-enough, especially since this is the second time I've shelved that course. I still want to do it, my material is still here but it's not the right timing for family life.
The writing project however, those words I just have to write, it stays. And that block of writing time has been back on the schedule since late summer. I don't know how and when I will publish what I'm writing. It might be my first book, or maybe a course. I'm not hung-up on what it will become. I'm doing the work of getting that Idea into the physical world.
The freedom to make this decision, to say, it's not the right season to pursue income-earning work, is a privilege, I realize. But it's also the result of a long string of choices we've made over the years about how we prioritize our values.
This is what we set out to do, twenty years ago: to make a home together, have a family, support our kids and each other, stay married, build community and relationships, homeschool our kids through high school.
The Big Vision, the Big Goal. I'm doing it, right now. It's hard work. I often feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task (what were we thinking?)
But this is one of the most clear callings in my life. The calling of creating and raising a family, providing a home and an education for our children.
What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been! How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity - the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.
~ Parker Palmer
In a way, we've arrived. Of course once you arrive at one destination, you're aiming for the next. And that is what I have been trying to craft a vision for, but I'm still so invested in the present work, I don't have a lot of imagination for the time after this. And I'm coming to understand that that's ok.
I've been comparing myself to other women (oh this is such a weak area for me, comparing myself) who build online-based careers and homeschool, and I figured I should be able to do that also. There is still potential for that but I'm not interested in juggling a bunch of jobs, or working evenings and weekends to build a career, a blog, a business. As it is, those hours are already full with the work (& leisure) of homemaking, mothering, marriage, community building, and taking care of myself (which by the way, is not last on the list in terms of priority).
Do I want to earn money? Yes. To be paid for what you do brings a unique satisfaction. Do I want to relieve some of Damien's burden to provide for our family? Definitely yes. But he has a responsibility to fulfill, as do I, and both Damien and I agree that income-earning is not my responsibility at this point of marriage and family life. I don't want that stress, on top of the existing stresses of my life. And Damien doesn't want a stressed-out wife on top of his existing stresses. Because let's be real, it's not like me working a very part-time job, which is all I'd barely have time to do, while sacrificing other things that bring me joy, is going to significantly alleviate financial burdens.
Acknowledging that my full-time work right now is home and family almost feels like a betrayal of previous goals and dreams of mine: to partner with my husband in earning an income, to be a professional blogger (I still want this but I'm not sure the right path for me), to join the ranks of creative entrepreurial moms working online. But it's not a betrayal of course, it's an deepening awareness of self and the evolution of family life.
Looking for a vision and trying to earn money when it's not what I feel called to do for our family right now, divides and diverts my energies from the work I clearly feel called, and equipped, to do.
And so it's back to Let Your Life Speak and asking myself, "Renee, what is your life telling you that you are called to do?"
I am called to build a garden. I am called to contribute to the village of our homeschool co-op. I am called to be a friend and life-partner to Damien. I am called to write. I am called to take care of our home in the way that I do; with good management, attention to order, beauty, and details. I am called to be a mom. I am called to study and learn. I am called to build community and make connections. I am called to do the work of Christ (which is to love), with the body of Christ, in the city of Montreal. I am called to appreciate beauty. I am called to get to know and care for our neighbors. I am called to be still in the presence of the Spirit. I am called to have relationship-building, beauty-questing, and health-supporting adventures with my husband. I am called to speak freedom and courage into people's lives because these are the most hard-won and difficult things for me to live. I am called to read good books and ponder what they say. I am called to share my space, share my life.
Vocation at its deepest level is, "This is something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don't fully comprehend myself but that are nonetheless compelling."
~ Parker Palmer
Some of these callings are vocations and others are just such ordinary things I feel they are hardly worth being described as a calling. And yet, I'm coming to see that those things I can't not do, because they are part of my Essence, an expression of true self, which is to say: the Holy Spirit moving through me, working in harmony with how God knit me together, are in fact my callings.
And right now, I have three very clear vocational callings: homemaking, homeschooling, and writing.
I made the mistake of thinking I ought not to write because I wasn’t making money, and therefore in the eyes of many people around me I had not business to spend hours every day at the typewriter… I was looking in the wrong mirrors.
~ Madeline L'Engle
I can't say I've made that mistake, but I have scratched my head raw sometimes thinking about how to earn money from writing. Perhaps I was seeking a validation or justification for something which needs no external reward to begin with. I simply want to write, and continually get better at it.
These days, Damien and I are actively discussing, after a year and a half hiatus on the subject, our vision for the next stage of life. We are listening to each other's hearts and asking ourselves, how do I support my spouse to be everything she/he feels called to be? What was once a wound and a broken place is slowly healing. And I'm finally starting to understand the vision he's had for that last five years (the one I tried to support) is not about a specific product, website, or project, but is about becoming the best of what we can be, together and individually, to build a solid future together. A future we are both excited to walk into. It's about the next Big Thing.
We have a mutual understanding of each other at this point that we did not have before. We don't have all the answers, or even most of the answers, for how we will achieve our desires, but we have self-awareness and an awareness of the other that has been hard-won.
We’ve each disentangled ourselves, bit by bit, from the thicket of couplehood, and have emerged scarred after plucking out thorns of need, resentment, jealousy, and feel equal, and distinct, and secure in ourselves. Still, increasingly, we realize that it’s our love for one another that feeds our separate strengths.
~ Beth Powning
What am I aiming for in a career, a vocation, in my work? What is my vision?
Quite simply to do the work before me, and live the things I'm called to do. And I'm trusting that the work in front of me will evolve into the next stage. I don't need to be frustrated or feel forced. Perhaps instead of paddling upstream I can find a movement in which to flow.
Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice "out there" calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice "in here" calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given to me at birth by God.
~ Parker Palmer
Oddly, what I've learned is that the making of self is more a matter of yielding than forcing, it is like a gradual clarifying, and the slow, surprising emergence of an unexpected shape.
~ Beth Powning
Within the next couple years, as our kids start graduating, I want to start income-earning work. I want to be able to financially help launch our kids into adulthood and to help fund more travel and adventures with my husband. I want to contribute financially to our goals for the future. At least I say that now, maybe our path will take me in another direction, but that's where I'm currently aiming. Maybe it will be a job that builds on my previous career as a homeschooler, maybe it will be something brand new. Maybe I will work with my husband again, joining forces in projects or a business venture. Maybe I will earn income as a writer. Maybe I will tap into my organization, management and administrative skills and join a team of some kind.
I have a lot of competencies, skills, and experience that would make me an asset to many different types of organizations and structures. I see a lot of options in the future. And I see writing, homemaking (I started before the kids came along and I'll continue when they are gone), travel and adventure, beauty seeking, community and relationship-building as integral parts of who I am, regardless of a career path.
Right now, I'm not trying to figure out that future career, instead, I'm putting my efforts into what I'm clearly called to do and I'm playing with the Ideas that spark my curiosity. My chief aim is not to produce a product, find a job, or grow an email subscriber list. My goal right now is to nurture a sense of inner confidence, in all my callings, from a place of deep security and well-being. This is a spiritual path, not an employment one.
High-functioning Sixes are self-confident and self-affirming because they have learned to recognize and trust their own inner guidance. Their faith in themselves often manifests as outstanding courage and leadership. They lead from a deep understanding of people's insecurities and frailties, and others respond to them, seeing their sincerity and willingness to be honest about their own weaknesses. They nurture an egalitarian spirit, a sense that there really are not leaders and followers, just different people with different talents finding ways to combine them for a common good. This desire to engage, to find common ground, and to work for everyone's mutual safety and benefit is a gift that our species needs for survival.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
A working relationship with Damien, or anyone else for that matter, can't provide what God alone can give. Following, leading, "being good", "doing the right thing", managing well, having success in marriage, mothering, homeschooling, blogging, vocation, career, etc., none of that can secure what can only come from within.
These have been Big Lessons for me. Hard lessons. To be broken, to be in unhealthy places emotionally and mentally and to re-build from those is not how I wanted to find security or freedom.
I thought I had to Craft a Vision to help me find my footing. But the path for me, the way I can step strong and sure, is to walk in the confidence of who I am and whose I am even though I don't have a Big Vision for my post-homeschooling vocation.
Someday, maybe, I'll have a clear income-earning vocation vision. Or maybe, someday, I might just look around and see I'm already doing it.