“If you don’t understand the way right before you,
how will you know the path as you walk?
Progress is not a matter of far or near,
but if you are confused, mountains and rivers block your way.
I respectfully urge you who study the mystery,
don’t waste time.”
~ Shitou Xiqian, “Harmony of Difference and Equality”
I started this blog nearly three years ago with the express purpose of chronicling, and seeking guidance for, a quest of mine: to prove that one can simultaneously pursue one’s passions and sustain a modestly comfortable lifestyle. Well, the time has whizzed by, and I’m not sure I’m any closer to my goal, but this seems as good a moment as any for a progress (or lack thereof) report.
In the past three years I moved from Denver to Austin and back in something of a sub-quest for my magic mantra of Money, Mission, Mate, and Home. I’ve managed to earn enough from various school and freelancing jobs not to burn all the way through the savings I took from the world of regular, full-time work. When I’ve been able to maintain enough focus, I’ve brainstormed various schemes and ideas for how to find/create work I love that also pays the bills.
And yet, as I said above, I don’t seem to have progressed terribly far toward my goal of passion-driven, life-sustaining work, despite having learned a good bit and enjoyed some adventures. Were I to issue myself a performance evaluation using the criteria of that four-part mantra, I’d have to say I’m one for four at best (Mission), with bits and pieces of the other three.
How could I have let the years slip through my fingers just like that? How can it be so easy to get lost in the day-to-day trees as to completely lose sight of the life’s-purpose forest? I’ve been just getting by for years, telling myself, “Well, this isn’t so bad. Let’s give it one more year and see what happens.”
Well, no longer. I am no longer willing to “one more year” myself.
But what does that mean? First off, I think it means I have to stop wasting time; I have to stop indulging myself in any pursuit that doesn’t further this quest. It means I have to be ever more focused and disciplined in identifying and going after what I want.
Okay, fine: so what do I want, then? Again returning to the mantra, I want:
- enough money that I don’t have to worry about what I’ll do if something happens to my health, my car, my job, my cat, etc.; so that I can actually participate in life
- to spend my working life making a real difference in the world, reducing suffering and spreading joy, compassion, and empowerment
- a partner-in-crime for all this, the sort of loving, lasting relationship that broadens one’s world
- to feel at home where I live (wherever that might be), to put down deep roots and feel as though I belong to a geographic community
More concretely, I need to figure out how to apply my passions in ways that aren’t just personally rewarding, but financially as well. Put more simply, I need to find work: work I love that also pays.
It’s not as if I’m lacking ideas. Sudbury schooling remains as much a passion of mine as ever. The issue here, for me, is two-fold: staffing at these schools is quite limited in terms of available positions, pay, and job security; I’ve also struggled to find ways to fund my support nonprofit, Friends of Sudbury Schooling (FOSS, formerly the Center for Advancing Sudbury Education).
I’m not bent on putting all my crusading eggs in the Sudbury basket, however: I could see myself promoting Sudbury part-time and devoting some of my time and energy to other worthy causes. For example, I’ve dreamed for some time of applying my nonprofit management experience in working for the Austin Zen Center. I’ve also dreamed of building a freelance writing/editing business that would specialize in supporting nonprofits.
But I’ve got to stop dreaming so much and start making this happen in the real world! The only problem is…I don’t know how. In the world where I grew up, the life for which I was conditioned, jobs were things you applied for and then kept for an extended period. People had things called careers, and once you got started in one of these things, the path ahead was more or less clear. Leaping from job to job or stitching together an ever-evolving patchwork of, well, work was much more the exception than the norm.
So I find myself rather lost, having a vague idea where I want to go yet absolutely lacking a map. How much time do I devote to FOSS and/or taking real steps toward establishing my own freelancing business? (For the record, I have dabbled in freelance writing from time to time, but it’s proven very difficult thus far to find work that’s reasonably consistent, remunerative, and appealing.) Should I just suck it up and take some kind of office job until such time that I can afford to pursue this quest of decently paying work I love? Am I asking too much in holding out for this?
In case you’re wondering, these are not rhetorical questions. I very much want and need your input. In the absence of a map and a guide, even suggestions on how to “choose my own adventure” are most welcome indeed.