You’re worth the fight

(from 2005)

A question from a reader:

“This is the sort of question you can answer on your blog, if I can figure out how to ask it anyway. I’m trying to figure out how and when a writer makes their writing time a priority. You write for a living. If you stop writing you stop having an income to put food on your family’s table. I am a housewife and the needs of my children and home are endless. There is never a sense that I am off the clock and free to do as I please now. So when I write I always feel a bit like I’m playing hooky from the important stuff. If I were getting paid for it I think that might make it feel more legitimate, but how am I going to get paid for it if I don’t do it? And how much do I have to get paid for it to feel like it matters?

“Yesterday I was so proud of myself for telling a story in only 100 words and today I was feeling like a selfish child for the exact same thing. How does one get from writing as an indulgence to writing as a responsibility?”

There are a snake-ball of issues here. Let’s start with the hard-core business issues. From a professional perspective, you start looking at writing as business, or a “responsibility” when you are ready to try being a pro. This means that you should have published several short stories, and probably at least one novel. Ideally, you have earned enough money that your editors have asked for more. Or… you have saved enough money to quit your job for a year, and try writing full time. At that point, your daily output is critical: you have to learn to turn off the “this ain’t good enough” voice in your head, and nothing will do that like volume.

But there is a second issue here: why can’t you just write for fun? And self-expression? And feel that that is legitimate? The fact is that the voice that says a man or woman has to give everything to his/her family (and I know just as many men as women who are killing themselves for their jobs and family–this stuff is cruelly intertwined) is just lying. You have no right to take time for recreation? Do you grasp the derivation of the word? Re-Create. To remake yourself. Heal yourself. Prepare yourself for another day of work. There is a damned good reason it makes sense to take a day a week off, and to have vacations, and down time every day. If you don’t, you will kill yourself. Then where’s your precious family?

The problem is that there are IMPORTANT things, and IMPERATIVE things. The imperative will always yammer at you to go, go, go. The important things are quieter, but essential to high, or sustained, performance. People do the “I don’t have time to write/exercise/meditate/etc.” at the same time that we have plenty of time to watch “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.”

Here’s the truth: anything that relates to your personal growth will end up killing your ego. Said ego will use ANYTHING to slow you down/stop you–especially guilt over family and work. I’ve heard horrible stories of what people have done to themselves: morbid obesity, crippling ignorance, emotional dysfunction, complete lack of personal growth–all supposedly for “the children” or “my family” or “my wife/husband.”

It’s all crap. This is the reason I created the 5MM. I wanted to find something that would contribute to personal growth that took so little time that NO ONE could claim they didn’t have enough. If you say you don’t have five minutes, you are lying. If your car goes 300 miles on a tank of gas, and you have to drive 500 miles, REGARDLESS of the rush, it is insanity to say “I don’t have time to stop and get gas.” But that is what people do.

So what must be done, continuously, is an evaluation of the beliefs we hold dear. In this case, the belief is “I owe 100% of my conscious time to my family.” This will lead to fatigue, disease, emotional break-down, and dysfunction… while enabling the ol’ Martyr Complex: (sniff: “I gave everything…”) No. You didn’t. You USED your family as an excuse not to clean out your own basement. It is infinitely easier to TELL someone to do 100 pushups than it is to do them yourself. “Giving” everything to your family… everything except your true essence… is theft, pure and simple.

You have passed the damage you inherited on to your children without processing. You have decided to let them carry your burden: believe me, one day you’ll end up blaming them for your misery, and damaging your relationships with them as you try to guilt-trip them to keep them under your thumb. You will dump acid hate on your mate: “you kept me from living my life…” Bull. You were terrified to look at the stuff in the basement, to go for your dreams, to discover your real limits.

And you used your family. Don’t do this. Give your children and family the greatest gift imaginable: the gift of freedom, and honestly. Show them an example of a mother and father who both loves them and loves THEMSELVES. Do you know how hard it is for some children to love themselves? Unless you handle that damage and SHOW them a happy, successful, artistic and loving life… unless you SHOW them that you can love your family without giving yourself completely away… where in the hell are they supposed to learn it?

No. The entire underlying emotional complex is venomous. You’ll never “logic” your way out of it. But you can process the fear and guilt on a daily basis, just roll up your sleeves and get to work on it.

I promise you’re worth the fight.

-Steve Barnes,


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