‘It’s not really about money, it’s more about having a project of some kind’,
I overheard one morning, a few Saturday’s ago, on my way back down to ‘civilisation’, having just summited Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District.
Quickly unzipping my pocket to retrieve my phone, I wrote it down as a quote on my ‘to be written’ notes page.
A sentiment that I echo in my own writing, I often talk (well, write) about the importance of having a focus/a ‘sense of purpose’ in life, whilst being mindful of the fact that, money? It’s not the ‘be all and end all.’ In fact, the reality is that money is actually nothing more than a social construct…
In acknowledging this ^, we come to realise that, at the end of the day, what really matters is that we feel as though we have a sense of purpose, a ‘reason to get up in the morning’, something that makes us feel good for reasons other than just offering us a substantial paycheck in return for our labour…
It’s about finding something that, even if its potential to earn you money was taken away, you’d still be doing it. This is important because, what is money, if not just a social construct? It doesn’t actually hold any value, we just assign value to it as a society. But, if we decided one day to get rid of money, the world would still continue to turn, society would still continue to exist (and, I’d argue, society would be so much better because of its diminish)…
Some people are lucky enough to have a job that they really love, that gives them this sense of purpose that I reference as well as a lofty paycheck, however, I’d assume that this is the case only for the minority of people. For most people, they will likely work in a low paid job, just to get by, not really caring about the wider mission of the company they’re spending most of their lives working for, in some cases, not even knowing what that mission is, in fact.*
*Now, I just want to stress that I am in no way discrediting people who are in this situation, the state of society right now, in many ways, feels like it’s every (wo)man for themselves.*
In the UK, where I’m writing from, we’re in a major cost of living crisis. Prices for basic essentials that we need to survive- food and shelter- are at an all-time high and only seem to be rising. These are not ‘luxuries’ that we can forgo, the basic fact of the matter is that; we need food and we need shelter in order to survive. It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that, without food, we will die. So yes, people are working in jobs that they probably didn’t imagine themselves working in when they were younger ‘just to get by.’
For some people though, this won’t be a problem. The discrepancy between what they imagined themselves doing when they were younger/their ‘dream’ job, vs. the reality of what they’re doing now/their actual job, will be something that they just don’t really think about, having the attitude that ‘a job is a job’/that it doesn’t really matter what it is, so long as it pays enough for them to survive. However, for other people, myself very much included in this, they struggle when what they really want to do with their lives, and what they’re actually doing with their lives, don’t align. And, it really should come as no surprise that some people struggle with this when, what we do for work undoubtedly forms a massive part of our identity. Just cast your mind back to the narrative you were fed as a child. Were you ever asked ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I know that I was asked this all the time- from teachers, from family members, from friends, a go to conversation starter. But, just think about how this question is phrased- what do you want to BE, implying that what we do for work informs who we are as people.
In some situations, our profession and who we are do align. Using myself as an example here, as someone who has always been extremely passionate about writing, I have no qualms about referring to myself as ‘a writer.’ All the ‘stereotypes’ of a writer, I feel, are quite accurate in describing me- I’m an introvert, I enjoy my own company, but I am also fascinated by people. I love to catch a glimpse into worlds in which I have no insight. I love everything about writing. If I wasn’t a writer, though, if writing was just something I did as a hobby, and my day job was something else, again, using myself as an example, I used to sell vintage things online, I wouldn’t feel quite so good using my profession to define ‘who I am.’ Maybe it’s because of the stereotypes associated with certain professions, but, when people used to ask me, ‘what do you do?’, to say I was a ‘reseller’, it never felt great. The reason being, I now realise, because my values didn’t align to that of the job I was doing…
You see, I am very much ‘anti-capitalist’/’anti-consumerist’ and, buying and selling things is as consumerist as you can get. And so, without sounding too melodramatic here, my mental health began to suffer as a result, because, even though I was busy every day, either scouring my local charity shops for new stock, listing things for sale, packaging things up, or doing post office runs, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything of purpose. It paid well- healthy profits were guaranteed because I knew what I was looking for, and, in working for myself I got to keep all the money I made, but, I just felt like there was something missing- an absence of any real sense of purpose.
Since quitting reselling to write full time, that sense of purpose I was craving, I now have. I don’t get any money at all from my website, it’s entirely non-profit, but what I get in terms of finally feeling like my life has some sort of purpose to it, that is worth so much more than money. Spending my days researching topics that fascinate me, getting to interview people who have inspired me and who I hope will inspire others, trying and testing words out as I experiment with crafting out poems, testing the limits and pushing the boundaries of what is ‘acceptable literary material’, I love it, so much, and I genuinely wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Writing has given me so much, and continues to give me so much, not least that sense of purpose I’ve seemingly been in search of my whole life…
If you are currently working in a job that you feel doesn’t really align with your values, or that doesn’t give you a sense of purpose outside of being a place you go to earn money, then it’s important to find some other source of purpose in your life. The most obvious solution would be to quit your job and do a job that does match your values in life and that does give you a sense of purpose, but, that’s not always doable. If you have rent to pay, mouths to feed, then as much as I hate to say this (it goes against my anarchist utopian ideology), you can’t just go ‘cold turkey’ on work, you need a steady stream of income to live. You can browse job vacancies though, even if you don’t feel in a position to apply for a new job just yet, you can take a look at the options that are out there, do a bit of ‘window shopping.’
It’s really helpful to have some idea of what job would meet your ‘criteria’, in terms of aligning with your values. If you go on the likes of Indeed you will see that there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of jobs listed, so to scroll aimlessly with no idea of what you’re looking for would take absolutely ages, and, the whole point is that you want to feel like your life has greater purpose which, believe me, spending your days scrolling through page after page of job ads is NOT it. Try to narrow it down a bit. You don’t need to know exactly what job role you want, but try to have some idea of what industry you’d like to work in, for example. Do you want a customer facing role? Manual labour? You might also want to consider things like working hours. Do you want a traditional 9-5 job, or would you prefer to work shift patterns? Do you want an office job, or would you prefer to work remotely, from home? Remember, the whole point of this exercise is to find a job that aligns with your values, so determine your ‘non negotiable’s’ to make the process of doing so a bit easier. You can then filter the results that show up so, if you want a traditional 9-5 office job, you’re not going to be shown hundreds of remote positions.
Also, think longer term. If you’ve always dreamed of being a nurse, for example, but you went to university to study English, then there is quite obviously a barrier there. Certain job roles require certain qualifications, so if you do have quite a firm idea of your ‘dream’ job, then do some research into what, if any, qualifications you need. In doing this, you can create a ‘plan of action’- going back to university, perhaps. Be proactive in determining how you can get to where you really want to be so that you don’t get to the end of your life looking back thinking, ‘I really wish I’d have done more to live the life I really wanted to live…’
Lately, I have been trying to ‘practice what I preach’ and do this myself, thinking more long-term and reflecting on the future with regards to where I want to go with my writing. Because, as much as I believe in the power of manifestation, as I write in this post, ‘Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.’
Awareness + Action= Success. Nothing is going to just happen to me, I need to constantly work to make things happen. Reaching out to people I want to interview, sending pitches off to publications, posting more of my work on social media, I’m trying to build exposure. I have some exciting guests lined up for interviews, none of whom I would ever have got to feature on my website if I hadn’t taken the action and reached out to people.
Have anxiety around ‘taking the first step’? Then just ask yourself; ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ In my situation, if I reach out to people and they don’t respond, or they say that they’re not interested, that’s the worst that can happen and, honestly? That’s fine. I know that not everyone is going to respond, but, the people who do respond, and the people who do agree to be featured, prove that it’s all worth the grind…
To end with a few (more) practical tips on getting to where you want to be in life…
Create a list of things you need to do to get to where you want to be, and prioritise! If you have a hundred and one things on your list of things to do, it’s going to be too overwhelming and, chances, are you won’t end up doing any of them. The best way forward is to write a list in order of the things which need to be done first, down to the things which have no time limit. You only have 24 hours in a day, at least 8 of them you should be sleeping away, so, make sure that what you do with those limited hours is productive towards achieving your goals. If you don’t NEED to do it now, then do it later. Assign yourself only the things that NEED doing today. The rest can wait.
Don’t Overlook Your Hobbies
You might not feel the need for your job role and your values to align, or for your job to provide you with a sense of purpose if you get that from elsewhere, through hobbies, for example. But, for a lot of people who work full time, 40 hour weeks, getting home from work they are exhausted. Without sounding ‘preachy’, it’s really important that you still find time to engage in a hobby/hobbies, as they can help you to de-stress… It’s just all about getting that work-life balance right, something which I’m trying to get better at myself…
When what you do for work is your hobby, your passion, what you believe to be your ‘life’s purpose’, it can be extremely hard to get the work-life balance right. I struggle to switch off from writing because it doesn’t feel like work to me. Unlike most jobs which have set shift patterns- 9AM-5PM, for example, I have no set hours. I start writing at around 9am, have a 10 minute break for lunch, keep going until 5pm, take my dogs for a walk and have dinner. Then after getting a quick bath, it’s back to it again until 10pm when I finally stop to go to bed (and, there have been a few times when I’ve been so engrossed in my writing that I’ve gone to bed with my laptop and kept writing until the next day). So evidently in doing this, in spending pretty much every waking hour writing, I run the risk of writing becoming something that I feel like I’ve GOT to do, as opposed to it being something that I love to do… But, its not healthy to be constantly doing one thing, even if you do love it. It will just lead to burn out and you will probably end up falling out of love with it. So, just try to make sure that you’re still engaging in your hobbies.
I love reading, so I’m trying to make sure that I go to bed an hour earlier every night so I can read. I’m into photography, so I’m going to start taking my camera out with me more. And, I love hiking, so even though some weeks the temptation to stay at home and write is very strong, I head to the peak district anyway. The psychological relief of walking is immeasurable. I always feel so much better after going and, it’s a win-win because, when I am walking in the middle of nowhere, amid nature, I get inspired a lot, so I come away with lots of ideas of things to write about (stock sourcing: writers edition).
Hold Onto The Perspective
At the end of the day, what you do with your life is your choice. Realising this has, at times, been both a source of great empowerment and great anxiety for me. ‘Empowerment’ because it means that, ultimately, ‘the buck stops with me’, i.e., I get to decide how I spend my time, but, conversely, this is also what sometimes provokes anxiety in me. For the very same reason that I feel empowered sometimes because, ‘I get to decide what I’m doing with my life’, I also feel anxious sometimes, the thought of getting to the end of my life, my days narrowing in and realising that ‘I haven’t lived it to the full’/that ‘I haven’t achieved everything I hoped to achieve’, slightly terrifying me, I can’t lie.
Whatever you do with your time, make sure that you do it with purpose. From personal experience, I know that when I’m feeling ‘unproductive’/when I feel as though I’m lacking a sense of purpose in life, my mental health noticeably suffers. I became more anxious, more depressed, my eating disorder urges become much stronger, I get the awful thoughts cropping up that see me asking myself; ‘is there actually any point?’ Life just becomes a very intolerable place to be. When I am living my life with purpose though, in alignment with my values, when I feel as though I am progressing and moving closer towards the goals I have set for myself, I could not feel any better. My self esteem and whole sense of self shifts to a much more positive place, my eating disorder urges move firmly back to the inactive part of my brain, I feel less anxious and depressed, and, everything just feels lighter, brighter, better. We can all get to this place, I truly believe that. It’s just about finding your ‘thing’, a ‘thing’ that’s more meaningful than money/that’s bigger than, and goes beyond, the ego, and that makes this whole messy place we’ve found ourselves in, worthwhile <3
To make an impact,
to leave a legacy-