When we're young and first starting out in the world, we're told we can be anything, but we still have a lot of expectations and standards to consider, whether they're spoken or unspoken. We must get A Good Job, make Decent Money to Support Yourself, and have certain other criteria to meet, as well, depending. We try to do these things because they're supposed to let us be able to do what we want. So, I got A Good Job to make Decent Money and Have A Career so I could Support Myself, and the moment I started there, they said, "Hi, Ang. Nice to have you here. We're all really happy to see you, and we like the work you do, so ... we're going to give you a gift."
I was so excited about being appreciated and wanted as an Official Working Adult that I didn't care what the gift might have been: they liked me enough to give me it! How cool was that? "A gift? Oh, THANK YOU, that's so awesome, what is it?"
"It's a carrot!" They said, smiling. "See, we know you said you like to do all these different aspects of your job, and we decided that if you can catch the carrot, you'll be able to do them ALL. Your dream job. We want you to have what you want. Just ... get the carrot."
It's a pretty thin allegory, I know. I'm sure you're all familiar with the metaphor of the carrot and the stick. But the tricky bit is this: for the first few years, I thought that carrot was the best thing ever. I wanted it. I needed it. And even more? The people around me reinforced that. "Wait, they're going to give you a carrot?? That's amazing! I'm so excited for you! When do you get it? ... Oh. You don't know? That's okay! Be patient! It's totally going to be the best carrot ever."
But after four years with not even a peel of carrot skin, I realized I was feeling pretty unfulfilled. So I went back to writing. And when I wrote, I found the sort of satisfaction I'd been chasing after every time I reached for the carrot. I felt like I was doing the work that resonated with me, that mattered. The more I wrote, the less I wanted the carrot.
But after six years, the string the carrot was on wasn't any shorter. And I decided it was time to say something. "Hey," I said, "you told me that I'd get this carrot soon if I worked hard enough and did these things, and if I was patient."
"But things have changed," they said, "so we couldn't quite give you the same carrot. We've got another carrot for you, though, and it's pretty awesome, if you'll just hang in there and wait for it."
I thought, why not? I still had my writing, and at that point, two books under my belt. I could wait a little while for Carrot 2.0. And then it arrived, and it looked something like this:
They said, "We know you do - so we're hiring help."
They hired another manager - all ego, buzzwords, and bluster who was no actual assistance to those of us still doing just as much work as before. And then they gave us MORE work. To make matters worse? One day, they called me in and said, "So, we were able to get the carrot you originally wanted ... sort of. With some modifications. In fact, it's not really the carrot you want, it's more ... the carrot WE want you to want, with just enough in common with yours to make you think it'd be pretty good."
I said, "Okay, but I'd better get it, or I'm leaving the farm."
Long story short? I didn't get it. I'm leaving the farm. In two weeks, I'll have a new job, and I made sure before I even took it that I'd have what I wanted: enough to Support Myself, and enough time to do what makes me happy, to do the Real Work: to write.
So ... next time you sit down to your Real Work, whether you write, paint, fix machinery, tie lures ... look for carrots. See if there's anything that you think is helping you do the Real Work, but is honestly just getting in your way and dragging you down.
Cut the string. Throw the carrot back in their face. And go find a piece of cake instead.
Until next week, try everything!