When I moved from my full-time job in Dallas to being a nanny and freelancer in Nashville, I went through a sort of identity crisis. Same thing happened when I went from those jobs in Nashville to just freelancing and working on my own (currently wages-less) writing projects in Austin.
Stepping out of that societal norm of 9-to-5 work in a corporate setting felt unusual and unsettling, like I was doing something wrong. I personally liked my new schedule more, but I was self-conscious about what others might be thinking, whether or not they thought this journalism graduate from a private Texas university was another millennial who couldn’t figure out what she wanted.
I started to base my self-views around this perceived judgement that may not have even been accurate. And even if it was, even if people did think that, it didn’t matter. (Or, at least, it shouldn’t have.) After all, I felt better with my new schedule and not having to sit at a desk all day long, and I was making a better income, enough to live off of, and save and invest. I was pursuing career goals that I actually wanted, instead of wondering how many months I could make it before quitting.
Nannying and freelancing, this odd combination that somehow worked well together for me, was much better-suited for my lifestyle than my job before. But, still, I knew I didn’t want to be a nanny forever, and I adore the family I worked for in Nashville. The thought of working for another felt like a less dramatic version of cheating on them, and when John graduated and got his job offer in Austin, it posed a natural transition for me to go into full-time writing and editing.
My dream! Hallelujah! Finally, I could step into who I’ve been planning and waiting to be.
The only problem during my first official week of self-employment was that pesky, irrational self-consciousness about what others could be thinking about my current situation. I would sit at my desk every morning, write out my to-do list, and get to work. And, then, my dog would scratch the door behind me because she wanted to play, or I’d remember we have no groceries for dinner that night, or I’d remember I had to water the plants outside so the Texas heat wouldn’t scorch them to smithereens.
I’ve never had such workweek freedom in my adult life, and likewise, I’ve never had such a test of my time management. I found myself working for a few hours, then taking a break to workout or run errands, then getting mad at myself for that stuff taking too long and cutting into my work time, then forcing myself to sit back down at my desk, then beating myself for the time “lost” doing things that are also responsibilities and important to making my life and John’s functional.
This, my friends, is what we call spiraling. I’ve done a lot of it, and it’s a tough habit to snap out of.
I understand how privileged I am to have this newfound autonomy over my days, yet I get real down on myself if I feel I don’t do “enough.” What that threshold for “enough” is, I’m not even certain. Is it writing 1,000 words? Is it planning my next big project or snagging my next big freelance client?
I also get into that space where I begin to assume what other people might be thinking about me: my lack of success as a writer, my past failures, my ungratefulness for my current work circumstances.
I was venting/complaining to my mom about this one day, and she apologized to me. She said, “I’m so sorry. You’ve really taken after me. But please know this: There is something powerful about realizing your worth is not determined by what you produce or how much you produce.”
Your production does not control the fate of your value. MY production does not control the fate of MY value. And this came from Miss Do It All Herself and Be Successful at All the Things. She has always encouraged me to be the best, hardest working version of me, to not let excuses slow me down. But she was saying that it’s okay to not get everything done, to not crush every goal within the timeline you set, to not have a perfect day of work and personal life structure and performance.
Hey, want to know what is actually an automatic killer of producing quality work, whether you’re a writer or in any other field? Measuring your success by how much you get done on any day, week, or year. If authors who got dozens of manuscripts turned down before snagging their big break determined their value by those initial outcomes, they would never have gotten to that big break; it’s too much to deal with. If authors who wrote a number-one bestseller on their first shot determined their value by that initial outcome, they’d never write a quality piece of work again; it’s too much to live up to.
My mom, who is a serious go-getter herself, gave me permission to redefine my version of success with one simple sentence. There will certainly be days where I get my to-do list done, and then some. Same for you. There will also be days where I take it easy, procrastinate, or outside events slow me down. Same for you.
But, at the end of each day, it’s not about how many checkmarks line our lists or even how much stuff we accomplish. Our value comes from who we are.
I am a compassionate woman who wants the best for everyone around me. I work hard, but I also need breaks. I don’t have my career figured out, but I am so thoroughly overjoyed to have realized young and in a big way how important writing is to me. I like to make sure my house is clean, we have healthy food to eat, and my fiancé and dog feel loved by me. I also like to build my business as a freelancer, work on extracurricular creative projects, and grow personally and professionally wherever I can.
All of these things take time, and I am figuring out how to toe the line between passionate writer, loving family member and friend, and an, let’s be honest, average household runner. All three are important pieces that make up of my life, but none are worth beating myself up over if I’m not perfect in each arena on a daily basis.
Maybe you needed that reminder or, if you’re like me, brand new lesson that your worth isn’t based on production. Where in your career or personal life can you give yourself a little more grace? I’d love to hear how you deal with this inner battle in an email, or comment below!