It’s true. I’ve lost my goal. Actually, I don’t know who I am, what I should be doing in life, or whether I should even have a goal.
See, I’ve always been a “big picture” kind of person. There was always a noble ideal, and my sense of purpose was to try to work towards it. This is why I studied astrophysics. What’s a higher ideal than trying to understand the universe, after all?
Well, there was a small caveat, which took me about twenty years and the authoring of an erotic novel to understand: I couldn’t care less.
Let me repeat that: I honestly, truly, don’t care about my research work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting. Sometimes it’s fun. It would be a lot of fun if it weren’t for the academic system which fills you with existential stress and sucks the metaphorical lifeblood right out of you. But, to return to my point: I do not give a flying fuck about my research career.
This goes against everything I’ve been taught, all the brainwashing you go through when you decide for a science career. We are the chosen ones! The smart ones! We are better than anyone else because we employ our minds to understand the physical processes of the natural world. This gives many people a purpose in life. They are driven, passionate about it, they pursue it with a persistence that goes beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. At some point – all too recently – I realised I didn’t have that drive. I’ll never have that drive. Not for science, at least.
I’ve observed these people for the past two decades, and I’ve always wanted to be like them. I searched for my self-discipline, the will to sit at home and read scientific papers, the innate desire some people have to work weekends and nights just to be sure they’re up-to-date with developments. I couldn’t do it. I wondered – why can’t I churn out scientific papers like they do? What’s wrong with me? Am I not smart enough?
Well, the answer, as you might expect, was not that I wasn’t smart enough. It was that I didn’t care. You might wonder why it took me twenty years to understand it, but I’d have no answer to that. Some things take time. I’m glad I finally came to the realisation. Some people never do.
My husband, Urban, says you can work at a job which is “just a job,” not an overarching purpose that permeates everything in your life. I always thought that I was the “big purpose” kind of person, but maybe I am not. Last time I attempted to work at a “normal job” (I tried my hand at web development), the lack of that purpose weighed heavily upon me. I couldn’t quite accept my situation.
Of course, I wasn’t writing back then.
Now, I start questioning the whole point of the “purpose in life” idea. To be absolutely honest, I don’t think I should even care anymore. I shouldn’t care about the bigger picture. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be joining the battle against climate change, I’ll still care about humanity. But Urban says I should also live my life, work, raise our kids, have fun with the things I love. I am starting to believe him. My failed attempt at a non-academic job was not a sign that I won’t be happy in any industry job. It just meant I didn’t like that position.
And, let’s not forget, I didn’t have writing then.
I’ve often said that I never wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t a thing I aspired to, I didn’t choose this. I still don’t want to be a writer. It’s a horrible mental torture trying to gain recognition in that oversaturated field, where mediocrity is the norm and conformity is praised. I’d rather not have to upend my whole life and try to find a new career as I approach forty, full steam ahead. It’d be so nice if I liked my job, if I was dedicated to it, it’d even be nice if I could start in a new field, outside of academia, without compulsively thinking about prepositions and spending all my time over my laptop.
As I was busy deciding all this, something else happened, which I didn’t expect or want: I got caught up in the am-I-selling trap. I started measuring my worth not by the literary merit of my text, but by the recognition. And I’m not a marketing person. I’m not good at this. I have no idea how to go about selling a book, and, frankly, I don’t want to do all that work. I only want to write.
So, I’ve lost my goal once again. Is publishing, marketing, trying to “make it as a writer” the big picture I was looking for? Do I need the big picture? Or is Urban right?
The only thing I know is that I have to go back to writing because it’s what gives me joy and keeps me sane. I am sorry for ever allowing myself to slip into that your-worth-is-the-number-of-copies-you-sell mentality. Nope. That’s not it. I know my literary worth, and I write for me.
Don’t get me wrong: if I sell some books, that will be absolutely fantastic! I’ll be overjoyed and forever grateful to those people who deem my words worth reading. “A Natural” is the achievement I’m most proud of in my life, and that includes my PhD. It has probably been read by more people than all my scientific papers combined.
But selling will not be the sole measure of my happiness.
So, I’ll go back to writing and supporting good indie authors. Maybe that’s not a great ideal, but it’s what I want to do right now. Maybe Urban is right, maybe it’s enough to constantly live in a state of “happy for now.”
“That, my friends, is a great book.” –Rebecca Hefner, author