Category Archives: My Quest

Callings, Careers, and Concrete Realities

My previous post was yet another in a series of periodic rants on holding out for a job that’s deeply meaningful and passion-driven. It occurred to me not long after I posted it that it could be off-putting in the sense of suggesting that any job that doesn’t reflect a soulful calling is somehow unworthy. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that no one should settle for less than a job that involves changing or saving the world. I think as long as you’re learning things and enjoying yourself, as long as your work supports a satisfying life, isn’t harming anyone, and helps you draw closer to your goals, that’s wonderful.

Anyway, it isn’t my business what anyone else does: really, no one can define for another what constitutes a meaningful, fulfilling, worthwhile existence. I do believe, though, that to the extent possible, pursuing our passions and supporting each other is the way to go. For me, this means seeking work as aligned as possible with my calling to spread joy and reduce suffering, to help people wake up to their nature as unique, sentient beings in this great big, interconnected web of existence. And this is rapidly becoming more than an academic exercise for me, as big changes are on my horizon, approaching swiftly.

In a nutshell, it looks unlikely that there’ll be money for more than a substitute contract for me at school next fall. I’ve known this was likely for some time, but seeing the actual, preliminary numbers gives it a reality it previously lacked; now there’s no escaping or denying the big decisions ahead of me. Where will I live after this school year? What will I do to make money? Should I use this opportunity to seek out a mostly or entirely new path? And how do I even go about addressing these questions?

While I’m not conventionally religious, I do find meaning in the concept of vocation, of being called to live, act, and work in ways that are faithful to a still, deep, inner voice. And I do feel as strongly called as ever; I’m just not entirely sure where that voice is coming from, what it’s trying to tell me. this reminds me of something I’ve thought for a while, that one good way to track down your calling or passion is to catch yourself doing something when you aren’t thinking about what you “ought” to be doing. Consider for yourself: What are you most frequently drawn to? What do you do when you don’t have to do anything in particular?

For me, these things include Continue reading

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Purpose Driven Mad

 

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Writer/educator seeks viable life of creativity and mindfulness. ~ the tag line for Write Learning (a.k.a. THIS BLOG!)

It figures: I ramble on for years about my quest for meaningful work that pays a living wage, and then suddenly one file, randomly encountered online, captures all those hundreds (or thousands) of words in a single image.

Well, that’s all right, really. I’m as big a fan as any of a good Venn diagram, and this one sets my geeky heart aflutter. Seriously, I could spend hours debating and tweaking and otherwise applying this chart to my own situation, reading it like tea leaves or entrails for signs of what I ought to do.

But the larger question remains: why, after three years of blogging, have I not progressed beyond sight of the proverbial Square One?

I really don’t get it: I’m intelligent and well-educated; I have passion, skills, and experience. (For example, however it might appear on this blog, I know I can wordsmith with the best of them.) I’ve blogged any number of times about various schemes and dreams I’ve concocted, brainstorms and half-baked plans to strike it rich…well, rich enough.

But where to find the time and/or chutzpah to take one or more of those ideas and run with it/them?

I’ve tried my hand at freelance writing and editing, but that’s yet to prove sustainable, much less lucrative. And I still harbor dreams of turning my passion for promoting Sudbury schools into viable work, but that dream’s been around much longer than three years, and here I am.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Is it naive, adolescent idealism on my part to hold out for work that’s worthwhile and passion-driven, to avoid what smacks of settling or selling out? Is my conditioning or reticence or inconsistent self-confidence holding me back?

I do think that if I were more extroverted, or if I hadn’t grown up in a world where you picked a career and were able to stay with it, I might be more inclined to strike out on a more entrepreneurial path. Instead, one of the talents I’ve developed over the years involves donating my services or selling them at bargain-basement prices, because my desire to serve tends to trump my desire for material security.

So, how does one find decent work? I mean it: what combination of networking and conventional job applications do I throw into the pot to make this stew palatable? What magical websites can give me the Sorting Hat treatment and send me in a fruitful direction?

Fortunately, I still have the time and savings to find my way to sustainability, though I am growing a bit weary of living monkishly. At an intuitive level, I believe that delving deeper into my Zen practice would help, as mindfulness, clarity, and service are already things I cherish. I’ve also begun toying with the idea of pursuing a graduate degree in counseling as something that might lead me to the purple dot at the center of that Venn diagram.

But my cushion of savings and minimalist lifestyle won’t sustain me too much longer. I need not merely plans, but a plan of action, and I need it now.

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Quest Questions

“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: Continue reading

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An Open Letter to Wendell Berry (et al.)

Dear Mr. Berry,

Immersed in my third book of yours, having just watched your recent interview with Bill Moyers, I feel it is time you and I talked. Or at least that I should talk, then search for a way these words might reach your eyes.Berry

Before going further, I should clarify that yours are not the only eyes I hope this will find. Obviously, since I’m posting it to my blog, my intent is to broadcast these thoughts to a reasonably wide audience. More particularly, I hold out some hope that this post will also find its way to your friends Wes Jackson and Bill McKibben, as well as the moral philosopher Peter Singer.

(In addition to your The Unsettling of America, The Way of Ignorance, and Citizenship Papers, Jackson’s Becoming Native To This Place, McKibben’s Eaarth and Deep Economy, and Singer’s The Life You Can Save have informed my thoughts and contributed to my quandary—though I shouldn’t blame books for stirring me up. Indeed, isn’t that rather the point of stringing words together and releasing them into the wild, that they should find and affect people?)

I am also at least partially aware of the hubris of not only writing to such a prominent figure as yourself (and these other gentlemen), but dreaming of any sort of reply. However, I don’t know what else to do, and besides, modestly bold leaps such as this have, to some extent, characterized my career (if such a grand term might apply to my meanderings). Years ago I learned that if I let my ignorance prevent me from acting, or if I limited myself to so-called sensible undertakings, life would be far less interesting and meaningful.

All right then. My problem, in a word, is that I am stuck. Continue reading

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Evolution of a Blog

Last week I had the good fortune of meeting one-on-one with some friends in various stages of building their own businesses, rearranging their lives and learning to translate dreams into viable reality. As a result of these conversations—not to mention the incessant conversation in my head—I believe I am ready to introduce a new wrinkle into my own quest.

I’ve known from the beginning that a key challenge of blogging is maintaining a focus that’s both relatively narrow and has reasonably broad appeal. When I began Write Learning nearly 17 months (and 140 posts) ago, I saw its purpose as chronicling my quest for a passion-driven life supported by a sustainable income, to live creatively and mindfully while enjoying a comfortable existence.

On a more concrete level, I started this blog with two of my main interests, Sudbury schooling and Zen, as topics, supplementing these with writing samples and accounts of my efforts to develop CASE, my Sudbury support nonprofit, as well as find paid writing/editing work. Sheesh—just surveying all that makes me realize how ambitious and scattered I set myself up to be.

That said, these are all things I remain passionate to explore in writing. And so what I have in mind now is not a narrowing, but rather a branching out. Continue reading

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The Goldilocks Rule for Idealists

Throughout my life, I’ve consistently shown a tendency to bite off more than I can chew.

This was certainly evident in college, when I regularly chose broad topics for short papers (and when I discovered the Robert Browning line “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a Heaven for?”). And it seems fairly obvious in my current life, as I work to build CASE into an active force for promoting the Sudbury model‘s visibility and viability, even as I supplement this project with part-time work at Alpine Valley School and enough freelance writing/editing work to support myself.

Interestingly, my Sudbury and freelancing pursuits are simultaneously insisting that I must refine my focus before I can move forward. This is both frustrating and exciting, as I hone in on a scope for these projects that will maximize their feasibility and impact. I’ve started thinking of this as “The Goldilocks Rule for Idealists”—not too narrow an approach, nor too broad, but just right. Common sense, yes; but in my experience, being both idealistic and pragmatic is no mean feat.

On the Sudbury side, this dilemma plays out on a few different levels. First, there’s the fact that I’m currently dividing my time between Alpine Valley and CASE—which I want to continue, both because it’s fantastic fun to be part of a Sudbury community and because it informs and supports my work for CASE. Similarly, the sheer range of potential projects CASE might undertake makes prioritizing and strategizing rather daunting. (Fortunately, a Google group I recently created is already helping on that score, by giving me a variety of perspectives and feedback.)

I also wonder Continue reading

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Counting the Hours

Once again, it’s a non-school day for me; once again I’ve spent much of the day wondering what I should be doing.

Not that there aren’t an abundance of options. I’ve already run some personal errands, and I’ve critiqued a draft flyer for Alpine Valley School‘s annual fundraising push. I could now move on to social commenting for AVS (browsing local media sites and leaving comments directing people to the school); writing messages for my new Google groups, CASE Collaborations and Sudbury School Families; researching funding sites like IndiGoGo and IncitED; and/or proofreading a concert program for my choir, the Ars Nova Singers. I could scout out some freelance writing/editing work, or work on figuring out how to establish a freelancing business of my own.

Instead, I’m blogging. Why? Because writing is just something I do whether or not I know what I’m doing. Because I still harbor this hope that hurling words into the blogosphere will somehow lead to a sense of direction, whether through new-found connections within my own mind, feedback from readers like you, or some combination of the above.

On the one hand, my inclination is to trust my passion and intuition, go with what feels right in the moment and summon the faith too see it through. I can’t know for certain what I should be doing at any given moment, so it’s better to be doing something, anything, as long as it holds some promise of forwarding my overall quest for sustainable income from work I love…right? After all, passion and intuition are cornerstone features of Sudbury schooling, two key strengths our alumni and long-term students apply to their daily lives. So I ought to be able to rely on them myself, yes?

On the other hand, it seems equally sensible to supplement following my instincts with some sort of arbitrary guide or schedule. If there’s no way to know how much time I should spend working on this or that, then it might very well be useful to declare some parameters or benchmarks. Continue reading

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