July 2, 2014

on choosing to be busy.

There's a lot written about the challenges of life in your 20s. There's a lot written about the uncertainty, the in-between feeling, the confusing combination of fear and hope that comes with all that future and possibility stretched out in front of you. It's a real thing, the struggle of your 20s. And in my experience, it's mostly an issue of prioritizing.

When I was younger, my priorities felt far more defined. I knew very clearly that I should work hard in school, make good friends, and maybe figure out a few things about myself along the way. Things shifted a bit in college — more of those "Where am I going with my life?" questions — but everything still seemed pretty obvious. Everyone my age was doing the same thing, working toward the same sorts of goals.

And then, you know, real life hits.

In the days after my 27th birthday, I wrote about the excitement of 27. It's young! It's old(er)! It's whatever you want it to be! It's whatever you want it to be. That last part means decisions, choices, priorities. It means late-night heart to hearts with friends who are in totally different places than you, both literally and figuratively. It means bucket lists written on the bus as you wonder what, exactly, matters. It means figuring out the hard way that you can't put every dream on your plate at once, and that you shouldn't want to, anyway, because in the crazy, complicated years of your 20s — that roller coaster of a decade that pulls you in every direction at once — there's something to be said for a simple focus. 

I'm busy. You're busy. Everyone's busy. That isn't the point. The point is what you're busy doing. What's filling all that time? The truth of the matter is that you're always going to be stretched a little thin, and that's just life. Yes, you'll be overwhelmed, but you get to choose what overwhelms you. Is it work? Relationships? Travel? Is it your everyday hobby? That long-term pipe dream? All of the above?

By default, I've always picked "all of the above" — mostly because that means I'm not actually choosing. I'm endlessly, impossibly indecisive, and if I'm forced to waver between one thing or another, I tend to err on the side of, well, everything. It's silly. And it's immature, really, because what's growing up if it's not learning how and when you need to choose? If you don't decide, you're selling yourself and all those pipe dreams short. Honestly, if you sit back and think about all the really, truly successful people you know, chances are they were fairly single-minded in their success. Because even if they ended up as a doctor/lawyer/writer/actress/world traveler, chances are that, at first, they only set out to be a doctor. Or a lawyer. Or whatever that one, first, single step may have been. In all likelihood, the rest of it followed later, staggered in the wake of that first dream like a trail of little victories.

Prioritizing means something different to everyone, but for me, as a writer, it mostly means prioritizing what I write. For somewhere between eight to ten hours a day, I write for work, which translates to lots of hours logged behind a computer. But the crazy thing is that I always want to write more — always. Whether it's here on the blog or for my latest fiction piece or in my rambling, randomness of a journal, I quit writing for work and then I'm ready to write more.

But there are also things like, oh, you know, relationships and friendships and exercise and fun. And as much as a long day filled with nothing but writing sounds good in theory, I'm not cut out for the solitary writer's life. In graduate school, a classmate joked, "You're too social to write a book." I laughed in the moment, but later, the comment came to haunt me. Was she right? Does a successful writing life mean it's your only life? Does writing a book mean you have to eat, sleep, and breathe your story, coffee dates and hikes and late nights out pushed to the wayside?

Yes and no, I think. But in any case, it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Life is only going to get more and more complicated, and in choosing what will overwhelm me, I've forced myself to prioritize — to narrow my focus and be, if not single-minded, then at least quadruple-minded. Baby steps, right? For weeks I've been thinking about what sort of busy I'd like to be, and this is what I came up with:

I want to be busy taking care of myself.
I want to be busy carving out time for the people I care about.
I want to be busy working hard in a career that I love.
And I want to be really, ridiculously busy writing a book.

It's that last one that's been nagging at me lately in the best of ways. For the past year I've been picking up and putting down a work in progress, waiting until I'm just a little less busy to "really dive in." And then I realized that you can't wait for busyness to go away — you have to welcome that busyness and make it your own. So I guess I choose to be damn busy writing a book.

And all this is to say that, yes, it's been a little bit quieter around these parts, and that's because as much as I appreciate the blogging world, I don't want to be busy blogging. I've been writing in this space for five years, and like anything else, blogging has grown into a habit, one I'll probably never be able to give up. But for now, anyway, I'd like to be overwhelmed by other things while the timing's right. So I'll keep returning to this space whenever I feel like it — every couple days, every couple weeks, whatever — as I let my focus settle elsewhere for a while.

In choosing what I'll allow to overwhelm me, it's been interesting, to say the least, and I really encourage you to do the same. What kind of busy do you want to be?

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Alli Lizer said... [Reply to comment]

I always feel like your blog speaks to me. It's like you know the things I wrestle with before I can put it into words.

Realizing this, I wish you luck with honing your focus on the areas of life that are important to you.

And I'm sure you can write a book. You have a strong voice present in your writing!

Niken said... [Reply to comment]

i choose 'all of the above' too. i feel like in your 20's you should be doing everything. i love that you write this. really speaks my mind.

Niken said... [Reply to comment]

i choose 'all of the above' too. i feel like in your 20's you should be doing everything. i love that you write this. really speaks my mind.

Paula said... [Reply to comment]

Can't wait to read that book! ;)

Katie -unwritten, untitled- said... [Reply to comment]

Keep writing!

I'm in the same kind of place right now. I actually have downtime (recently graduated and not yet employed...), but it's a bit wild how it fills up.

So three weeks after school let out (and with it, my sub jobs), I finally decided to choose to be busy with creativity, and I am so, so glad I did. I'm still working past blocks and uncertainty, but the words are finally coming a little bit more and that's one of the best things, isn't it?

Laura Marie Meyers said... [Reply to comment]

@Paula :) :) Thank you!!

Laura Marie Meyers said... [Reply to comment]

@Paula :) :) Thank you!!

look a little closer said... [Reply to comment]

Happy book writing. It's going to be fabulous.