I hope you’re not tired of my reflections on Brené Brown’s wonderful book, The Gifts of Imperfection, because I’m still gleaning treasures from it. Last week’s post was “Creating a Clearing.” Today it’s from Guidepost #9: “Cultivating Meaning Work.”
When my husband was in medical school and residency (1970-1977) I worked full time outside the home. Because I didn’t finish college, most of the work I found to do (secretarial, administrative) wasn’t really “meaningful” to me. It’s not that it wasn’t legitimate work. I was actually pretty good at it, but I always felt that I was only helping other people fulfill their dreams.
So when he finished residency and began his medical career in earnest, I pursued a variety of part time and work-from-home situations over the next few decades. Wanting to be a stay-at-home mom, I found work—some volunteer and some for pay—that allowed me to be a soccer mom, chauffeur, study group hostess and all those things that mattered to me as a mother. But editing and publishing newsletters and regional trade magazines only gave me a taste for the meaningful work I was hungering after. I wanted to be a writer.
After my youngest child left for college (2001) I began to pursue my dreams more seriously, although I took a detour for a few years to paint icons before settling back into my real love—writing. I had ample opportunity to return to college over the years, but there was no degree that beckoned strongly enough, so I just started writing those essays and sending them out. And eventually I began working on book-length projects. It is in this work that I find meaning and satisfaction. But I often feel judged when people ask me what I do. I think they are wondering why I didn’t finish college. Why I don’t have a legitimate career. Or why I’m not spending my time in volunteer pursuits, since I don’t have to earn a living.
I hate calling myself a writer because it doesn’t feel legitimate to me. I’m not writer enough. Overcoming self-doubt is all about believing we’re enough and letting go of what the world says we’re supposed to be and supposed to call ourselves…. No one can define what’s meaningful for us. Culture doesn’t get to dictate if it’s working outside the home, raising children, lawyering, teaching, or painting. Like our gifts and talents, meaning is unique to each one of us.
She confirms what some of my readers have been telling me for years—that offering my gift (writing) is what the world “needs.” That others who don’t have this gift can do the volunteer work I feel so guilty for neglecting. But it’s still difficult to ignore those negative voices. Brown shared a quote from theologian Howard Thurman that’s another one of those I’m going to print off and tape by my computer to remind me of this truth: