A post from my collaborator, friend and writer Rebecca Megson-Smith.
What advice were you given as a teenager about the jobs you could do when you were older?
Were you told you should do what makes you happy? Something you loved? Something you found fun?
I’d hazard a guess that, like me, ‘happiness, love and fun’ were not words applied to your choices either by career counsellors, well-meaning teachers or family.
Completing my 21/22 tax return recently, I had an unexpected heart-exploding moment of joy. Looking at my total income for the year I realised, for the first time in my working life, I was staring at a sum of money I had earned solely and wholly from doing work I believe in. Work I love, work that makes me happy.
It was a huge moment for me.
Inevitably this hasn’t been an overnight journey. I don’t believe it is for anybody and for women I believe the road is often rockier.
Giving your time away
Until about 2 years ago I was the queen of giving my time away to support, build and maintain the dreams of others. I was on heaps of committees and groups, doing the ‘right’ thing by some external metric of what I ‘should’ be spending my time on.
It felt simultaneously like I wasn’t doing enough and I wasn’t getting anywhere fast. Then I would burnout and, with the clarity that burnout brings, I’d quit most of my extra commitments. As I started to feel better, often as I started to work more on my stuff, the extra asks would crowd in again. Feeling healthy and capable once more, I’d sling on my superwoman-cape-and-pants and dig in. A really unhealthy state of affairs.
Then COVID happened and most of the work I did for free simply stopped. Initially, like many of us, I was consumed by the insanity of 24/7 parenthood and juggling working the day job – until I was furloughed. Furlough brought intense relief. Suddenly, in the slivers of time that were mine, I got to focus on my stuff, on writing my novel, on building my business and being of service to other writers.
Post-COVID there have been fresh challenges. I quit the day job and took the risk of going out on my own. The groups I was once part of began re-forming. New ones sprung up all around me. It would have been all too easy to relapse into giving my time away, again.
But increasingly I am holding myself back. The first tactic I employ is to say I’ll get back to them on their request. This buys me space and time for my second tactic which is to ask myself, ‘Does the request light me up? Does it fill me with joy?’ If it doesn’t then I say no, or my next best, which is to side-line it till I’m strong enough to say no.
Name what makes you happy
That’s only half of what’s needed to make the space for doing what we love though. The other part is naming the thing that make us happy. Naming my priorities firstly to myself, then to those immediately around me and increasingly (if quietly at first) to a wider circle, has been life-changing. My boundaries are becoming clearer for me and in turn clearer to other people.
Doing what makes you happy is a huge shift. Getting paid for doing what makes you happy an even bigger one. There’s so much to unpack in figuring out how you get there but here are my top tips to help kick start the process:
- Figure out what makes you happy
- Do it (even if it’s just for 15 minutes every day)
- Say no to anything that doesn’t pass the, ‘does this fill me with joy?’ test
- Ask for what you need – time and support from your immediate family and friends, reduced hours or different working patterns from the day job, something else. What small thing could create the crack in the fabric of your existence to allow new possibilities in?
- Figure out your finances. Money is usually the big one holding most of us back. I think for many of us that’s because we’re ‘all-or-nothing’ in our approach. The reality is a sliding scale transition. Trust me, start now and in ten years’ time you’ll be in a completely different place work-wise
- Embrace opportunities and take little risks. Like valuing your time more seriously; identifying what makes you happiest; identifying how and when you could do more of that. Baby steps is where it all begins
- Find your tribe. We’re always stronger together and I don’t know a woman out there who isn’t at some level working to achieve greater balance in her life and being able to live her purpose. We figure things out faster together and we hold each other up.
What we can achieve when we work from a place of passion is so much healthier, stronger and more powerful than when we operate from anywhere else. And honestly, given how much of our day, our week, our lives, we spend working, couldn’t we, shouldn’t we, be prioritising work that makes us happy?
You can also listen to me take about doing what you makes you happy with Mr money Jar on this podcast from 2021.