Career

How to Stop Feeling Guilty about not Working Hard Enough

Copyright Creationswap, image by Bogdan Kulyk.

Copyright Creationswap, image by Bogdan Kulyk.

If anyone wrote a book about my life, it would probably have the above title.

I have struggled with guilt my whole life, and a lot of it comes from the following mental gymnastics:

I imagine if I was an angel, looking at humans from heaven, I’d be like, “They have so much opportunity! Why don’t those comfortable people help those suffering people more? I would be a much better human then them.” (A friend pointed out to me the other day that this is a very judgmental angel. 🙂 )

I feel like a big part of the world’s problem is that the fortunate don’t help the unfortunate, and I don’t want to be like that. But then I’m always afraid that I’m not doing enough.

I mirrored this problem in my novel, Hating Jeremy Walters, where my main character, Natalie, always feels like she’s not working hard enough. The only difference is that she feels she must work hard to please God; I feel I must do lots of good stuff to prove I’m not selfish. But we’re pretty similar.

But I keep having a problem with Natalie. I know her thought patterns are wrong, but when I write out both sides of the argument she can always argue her wrong side better than my ‘good’ character can argue his right side.

I know my guilty way of thinking isn’t right, but to me, it just seems so logical.

This week God gave me an insight that probably seems totally obvious to everyone else—but for me it had to come from an imaginary conversation between two book characters.

This is a rough scene from the first draft of my book, where Natalie’s boyfriend, Jeremy, is asking her to cut back on her insane workload for the sake of children in her care. (Please don’t judge me on my dialogue; this is the roughest of the rough drafts!)

“Can’t you see that there’s different ways of pleasing God? Working like a crazy person is not one of them.” Jeremy ran his fingers through his hair and pulled, like he literally wanted to tear his hair out.

“You’re just saying that because you want me home more. I can’t give it up. That would be giving up on pleasing God. I couldn’t live with the guilt.”

“Why do you talk about all this guilt? You’re forgiven. Have you forgotten what that word means?”

“It doesn’t mean that I just live a selfish life for myself after I’m saved.”

Every time I thought about a different version of this conversation, this is where it ended. The “But I can’t be selfish/lazy!” line was the trump card. Jeremy’s comebacks never seemed convincing enough.

One day I ran the conversation through my head again, and when it got to this point, Jeremy got so frustrated that he stood up and yelled,

“But you refuse to admit there is a middle ground!”

And I stopped and thought, What? Then I projected myself into Natalie again.

“What?”

“You say that you can’t be lazy or selfish. But ‘not overworking’ doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It’s not one extreme or the other.”

“But I—”

“You also refuse to see that a striving spirit doesn’t bring God any glory. Actually, I think that de-prioritising relationships and justifying yourself through work is just as bad—or worse—than laziness.”

Natalie paused. Worse than laziness? Apart from the obvious things like murder, nothing was worse than laziness. But a comeback for Jem eluded her.

Yes! I finally shut her up!

Natalie still has some tough lessons to learn through the book, but at least I can finally figure out the ‘good’ side of the argument.

Yes, God doesn’t want us to be lazy. But neither does he want us to be striving, burned-out, duty-bound people who have no fun. That brings him zero glory, and we get really tempted to feel like our work justifies us instead of his grace.

I find it hard to walk the middle ground, and even when I strike the right balance I feel like it’s not enough. But I guess that’s why God gave us his Holy Spirit, to help point me the right way again.

It just makes me laugh when he uses imaginary characters to do it.

Can anyone else relate? What’s been an unusual light bulb moment for you? How do you deal with workaholism or guilt?

Join the conversation below!

 

 

A Real Author Is Looking At My Writing!

dfg

Did some serious writing this week.

Hey all—no official post this week, because I’ve been doing exciting things!

On Sunday I won an auction to have Christian author Cara Putman critique the first chapter and synopsis of my book, Hating Jeremy Walters! Needless to say, I was SUPER excited.

But…I didn’t actually have the chapter or synopsis written yet. (Well, I’d done first drafts 10 months ago, but I hadn’t re-written a good version.)

So I have done nothing this week except write, work, write, eat, sleep, write, write, write. And this morning, I finally hit SEND!

Big shout out to my amazing critique group, who answered my SOS call and critiqued about three times the usual word limit in a very short period of time.

I can’t wait to work with Cara and hear what advice she has to give me.

See you all next week!

 

What to Do with ‘What If’

Copyright Creationswap, photo by Brad Castaneda.

Copyright Creationswap, photo by Brad Castaneda.

Am I where I’m meant to be?

I wonder sometimes if I should take a crazy chance and do something ‘amazing’. Have I missed opportunities? And is God happy with the way I’m tracking? Is my life accomplishing anything?

These questions popped up for me again this week. It’s mostly just because I’m thinking about a trip to America for a writer’s conference next year. Of course, to see everything I’d want to see, I couldn’t do it in a two or three week holiday. I’d have to live there. Which raises the question … should I live there?

After years of watching New York on TV and in movies, it seems like an amazing place. How can I live my life without experiencing this? How can I experience it unless I live there?

I also spent last weekend researching TV writing, which is a job that looks really awesome. But I’m 23; if I want to act on any of this, it needs to happen in the next few years.

Usually questioning like this would lead to turmoil and a great inner debate. I have a great job—is it crazy to toss that and go overseas to try new things? But if I don’t take a chance, am I a scaredy-cat?

It’s a testament to how God’s been changing me, that I cruised through this week with barely a stressful thought, despite the questions. He’s burned Philippians 4:6-7 in my brain;

 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I prayed about my questions, then happily lived my life while I pondered them in the back of my mind.

After a week, I have a few conclusions:

  1. I am open to God’s leading. If he really wants me in the US, he’ll tell me. I acknowledge that a desire to go can be God’s leading. Right now this is more of a ‘what-if’ exercise. If that turns into a real desire to go, I’ll consult God and decide.
  2. I watch too much TV. A big part of why I’d like to go is because of the glamour. Everyone talks about how awesome New York is, etc. Take the glamour away, and I’m suddenly not so committed. I found a great website this week called ‘Life After College’ which shows the lives of college graduates and is searchable by job and location. They write about what their daily life is really like—no glamour—and even post pictures of their apartments. The ones I saw work really long hours and their apartments look nothing like the one on Friends. Nuff said.
  3.   I actually love my life here. As cool as NYC and America are, the older I get, the more I fall in love with Australia. Plus I have the best housemates and family ever.
  4.  Books are my passion. As cool as writing for TV would be, I don’t care about camera angles or any of that stuff. I care about the story.
  5.   I have kinda lived life, half-expecting some ‘happily ever after’ movie ending to happen to me. You know, I’ll marry a prince or make it big with my writing or wind up living someone interesting (like NYC). I find that the not knowing, the potential for something great to happen, is exciting. I would sometimes look at people whose lives had ‘peaked’ (in my view, anyway) and think, ‘Wow, it would really depress me if that potential for something awesome to happen wasn’t there anymore.’ But let’s face facts; less than 1% of people would have those ‘ideal lives’ that I picture, and once you achieve that status, it’s not as fulfilling as you thought. The masses of humanity are just normal. I like to write about things we all experience, so why would I get annoyed that I’m just normal too?
  6.  I feel like a chicken because I haven’t taken a crazy chance, and instead I’m ‘settling’ for a normal life. But I know that’s not right. It’s not like I want to be an actor or anything. I don’t have any crazy dream to take a chance on, except for my writing, and I’m already doing that!
  7.  My contentment and purpose is found in God. If I’m where He wants me, I’m not ‘missing out’ on anything, because the action is happening right here! I wouldn’t matter more to God if I was a Hollywood writer or a stay-at-home mum trying to write novels while wrangling her kids. The world’s idea of ‘important’ is a lie. It’s God’s opinion that matters.

So there we go; I questioned something and found my answer, all minus the usual stress! Thanks God!

Now I just  have to organize this trip…

 

 

Why We Put Pressure On Ourselves

focused

Copyright Creationswap, photo by Dave Elledge.

In a world measured by statistics, how can I not judge my own worth and efforts in the same way?

This week I’ve been learning more about how to market my writing. Marketing has always been a problem for me, because:

  1. It’s hard;
  2. I get frustrated that it’s not happening quickly;
  3. I get frustrated that I cannot use brute force to make it happen faster, and;
  4. I fear that my work and efforts are not good enough, and therefore I am not good enough.

I’m particularly vulnerable when it comes to marketing, because it is totally a numbers game; statistics are the only way to measure if what I’m doing is effective.

Where I come unstuck, is when I equate ‘effective marketing technique’ to ‘being talented,’ and ‘being talented’ to ‘having significance’.

And it all starts with this voice in the back of my head, playing like a song on repeat.

phone

Copyright Creationswap, photo by Aaron Burden.

When I start to worry about the numbers, this voice says:

 “Doing my best and accepting God’s plan is not enough. I have to be as good as, or better than, everybody else.

“I have to be the best. Anything less is failure. Failure is unacceptable.

“Not only do I have to be the best; I have to be special. I have to be recognized.

“God’s approval on my life is not enough; I crave the approval of others.

“It doesn’t matter that this season of ‘rookie-ness’ is drawing my soul closer to God. I have to ‘make it’ by the standards I see in others, the media, and those I set myself.”

This voice is both quiet and loud. It’s quiet enough that I don’t recognize it for what it is. It’s quiet enough that I almost never question it. It’s quiet enough that I’m used to it being there.

But it’s loud enough to make me discontent and anxious. It’s loud enough that I believe my current efforts are not good enough. It’s loud enough that it sucks my joy and peace and energy.

But I have to recognize that measuring the effectiveness of my marketing strategy is very different to measuring my value as a writer, or as a person who lives to please God. In fact, the statistics are completely irrelevant as to whether I’m living a life that pleases God. Gaining my self-worth from statistics, instead of God, is actually displeasing to Him. And since the purpose of my life is pleasing God, this little numbers-obsessed voice has got to go.

The only way I can think to do that is to replace it with God’s voice, and focus on the truth.

“Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.

Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.”

Isaiah 55:2-3 NIV

“… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV

God, please help me recognize this voice when it starts to whisper lies to my mind. Please alert me to other negative messages just like it. And please help me to draw my self-worth, and my entire being, from You and You alone.

What about you? Is there an area in your life where you’re similarly vulnerable? Share in the conversation below!

When the Point is Not the Point

Copyright Creationswap, image by Matt Cole.

Copyright Creationswap, image by Matt Cole.

What if an issue I’m having, is actually not the real issue at hand?

For instance, I’m planning to attend a writer’s conference in America next year. I am SUPER excited to head back to the States and meet real authors who can help me improve my craft. But there’s a few hurdles to overcome first.

When’s the right time to go? When will I be ready? Which conference should I attend?

And, the one that’s concerning me the most; who will I travel with?

So far I haven’t found a travel buddy. While doing the conference alone doesn’t bother me, travelling as a tourist after the conference does. I get lost in Australia; how will I find my way around the gigantic cities of the USA? And if I never find someone to come with me, will I get to go at all?

But the other day, something occurred to me.  I’ll bet that God’s not worried about which conference I choose or who I go with.

Copyright Creationswap, photo by Joe Davis.

Copyright Creationswap, photo by Joe Davis.

Sure , if He particularly wants me at one event  He’ll direct me toward it. If if a travel buddy is necessary, He will provide one. But I think the detail He is way more interested in is whether or not I trust Him.

It’s tempting to stress. It’s tempting to set a deadline and say, ‘God, you’d better give me an answer before this date, otherwise I can’t go and my world has crashed around me’.

But I’ve learned that God usually breaks those deadlines. I think it’s on purpose to stretch me.

Far more important than the fun of the trip, the networking I do and the skills I learn, is how my relationship with God fares during the process.

As the time draws nearer, will I wonder if He has lost control? Or will I pray about my concerns, do the best I can, and then trust it to Him?

Maybe the point of the conference, isn’t actually the point of the conference at all.

I faced the same situation months ago with my job. I didn’t know if I should find a new job, which one I should pursue, or if I should work two part-time jobs. I stressed and stressed and stressed.

At the end of the day, God probably wasn’t as concerned about the job as He was about my attitude.

I wasn’t really freaked out that God wouldn’t provide; I was more worried that I’d make the wrong choice. I didn’t trust that God would come through on His promise to guide me.

It was a painful lesson, but God’s helping me to not fall in the same trap this time.

Do you have any such issues in your own life?

 

 

 

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What Can Service Look Like?

Is my God-given passion worth investing in?

Copyright CreationSwap, photo by Sandara Lee, used with permission.

Last week I learned that service is not all about me … so where does that leave my writing?

Last Friday’s blog showed how Project X has taught me that obedience is not about the perks I get; it’s about pleasing the God I love.

Around the same time as this was happening, I was pondering another question: does my writing count as service toward God?

And further to that; is it worth investing in, or should it stay as a small hobby?

The main reason this issue came up is because I’m hoping to go to an American writer’s conference next year. I am SO EXCITED, but the downside is that it’s going to cost a lot of money.

I’ve saved up, so I can afford it. But is it wise, or even right, to spend so much money on something if it’s just a hobby? I thought about this as I walked to work one morning, and I wasn’t sure. If it counted as some type of ‘ministry’, then I could justify the investment. But it felt too presumptuous to call my scribblings a ‘ministry’.

The same goes for time. I spend a lot of time on my various forms of creative writing, whether it’s writing this blog, working on my novel, researching, networking or critiquing other people’s books. Would some of that time be better spent in something church-related?

Some guidance came from an unexpected area; the main character of my book! Well, actually it was my Dad, but we were talking about my book.

We were discussing Natalie’s (my character’s) issues with God, and what verses could be applicable. During the discussion 1 Peter 4 came up.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.  Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever!

                                                                                      1 Peter 4:10-11 NLT

Natalie’s issues used the verse in a different context, but it immediately jumped out at me for my situation.

God wants me to use my gift for Him.

I think I tend to see only things with the ‘church’ label on them as ministry. But this verse seems to indicate our individual talents count too.

This makes me think of my old Uncle Noel. He loved to make wooden toys. His entire garage was full of them; hanging from the ceiling, stacked along the walls, sitting on the floor. I remember Mum telling us one day when we went to visit that he gave lots of the toys away to disadvantaged kids.

Most people would look at toy-making and just see a hobby, or maybe a job. But God saw a ministry.

It sparks the thought about other hobbies that can be ministries. I have friends who love cars, speed, and sliding around corners sideways. One of them likes to talk to his rev-head mates about God. Do I recommend drifting? Um, not really. But I like to see another hobby—a passion for cars—that God can use.

Dad’s been preaching a lot lately about how God wants to use us in our everyday lives. I guess for me, that includes my writing. And I think that means it’s okay—even wise—to invest in it.

And it doesn’t stop at writing. God wants to use all of my everyday life for Him. I’m keeping my eyes open for other ways to do so.

What’s one of those ways for you?

How God Strengthened my Identity

God's been strengthening my identity

©CreationSwap/Dawn Lamper

 

I’ll admit it; I like to be the best.

Whether it’s beating my friends in a game, coming up with the top idea at a work meeting or winning an award, being the best at something—no matter how small—feeds a deep-seated belief in me.

It says, I am not Most People. 

Throughout my life I’ve striven to be better than Most People. Most People aren’t careful with their money. Most People aren’t diligent about spending regular time with God. Most People don’t bother to turn their ideas into a book. A lot of advice I hear sounds like, ‘most people do this, but you should do that’. And I do. I’ve become proud of it.

But that attitude has crippled my identity. Especially as a wannabe author.

For a long time I’ve equated being like Most People, to failure.  I shouldn’t be like Most People; I should be better than that. I know better, I try harder, I work smarter.

But keeping that (very arrogant) mindset while trying to become an author is … well, it’s soul-crushing. This industry is so hard to succeed in. Even if I become part of the tiny minority that scrapes some profit from a book, the percentage of authors who have a long-standing career is even tinier. Looking at this big, scary industry, I’m overwhelmed with the fear that I will turn out to be Most People after all.

That fear has driven me to write more, learn faster and stress repeatedly. Failure is not an option, but if you judge a writing career by my (ridiculously high) standards, it’s not only possible, but probable. And if my identity as a successful person, a person who’s better than Most People, is tied to my writing career, then my own dream is a massive threat to my identity.

This is something God’s been working on in my heart ever since I decided to start seriously working on my first book, at the start of 2013. I’ve blogged about it throughout the year. Every time I investigated what it takes to get published or ways to promote my work, I’d feel panicked. Every time I tried an idea and it didn’t pan out, the pressure increased.

God repeatedly told me that success is not measured by numbers, but by obedience. And I could acknowledge those truths in my head, but my heart usually just muttered something under its breath and sulked off.

But lately, I’m starting to notice change in myself. The more I consider the idea of self-publishing (not that I’ve decided anything yet), the more I’m okay with not having my name plastered across every Christian bookstore. If God doesn’t plan for me to make money from my writing, that’s alright. If my career is short-lived, that sucks, but it’s okay as long as it’s part of His plan.

Now the pressure to crack the secret of book marketing is decreasing all the time. And thank goodness for that, because it was getting heavy. I want to simply try my best, be obedient, work hard, and then watch my career go in the direction God wants it to go … whatever direction that is. If He plans for me to reach 50,000 people, that’s what will happen. If it’s 500 people, that’s also what will happen. Neither option makes me a better or worse person.

All that matters is my obedience.