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On Pushing Boundaries and Remembering Your ‘Why’

I am not an academic.

I am not about facts and figures and backing up when I say with appropriate sources. Perhaps I should be, in such politically fraught times, but I’m afraid my writing style is more about making people feel things than it is about winning an argument. That has always been my way, and that will probably always be my way. That’s my job.

I am struggling to finish this dissertation. I have two weeks, and whilst I used to be quite good at (and quite proud of) my ability to compartmentalise, this dissertation is pushing all my buttons. Why am I STILL studying? Why has it taken me longer than it should? Why aren’t I married with kids? Why can’t I afford a house? Why is everyone else moving on with their lives? Why am I crap with money? Why aren’t my books bestsellers? Will they ever be? Can I do anything about that? What’s the point?

Those are WHYs focused on comparison and expectation. And the answer to most of them is ‘because I wanted to/didn’t want to/didn’t want it enough to prioritise it.’

These are the WHYs I should have been asking:

  • Why am I doing this research?
  • If I don’t think they’re selling well, why am I writing these books?

Because, of course, the answer is that I wanted to. It’s hard to remember that when something becomes hard, but I CHOSE to do this. I wanted to do research that might become a useful tool for people in recovery from eating disorders. I wanted to write books because they make me happy, and occasionally they make other people happy too, which in turn makes me happy again.

comparison

In thinking about this, I had to admit, I’ve come from a place of privilege. I was raised with the very lovely idea that if I just worked hard enough, I could achieve anything I wanted. Isn’t that lovely? Isn’t that the greatest gift a child can be given? Complete faith in their abilities and the fairness of the world?

And it’s been a shock to realise that might not be the case. I may just not be able to do this. Which is terrifying. I have worked multiple jobs at the same time, I’ve written books on no sleep, I’ve met ridiculous deadlines and I’ve moaned A LOT, but I’ve always managed it. But that’s just been a case of energy and dedication, which I used to have a lot of. I’ve been ridiculously lucky – I’ve always found writing to be easy. I’ve found it a joy. I haven’t had to sit there writing and rewriting one line at a time. Sure, edits are messy and writing is work, but it’s never been particularly difficult or unpleasant. This academic writing, to me, is unpleasant. It makes me feel unsure of myself, like the readers are  a bunch of facebook commentators,  waiting to cite sources that prove me wrong.

know-your-why

But, those things we find difficult build character, right? I think the frustrating thing is that no one made me do this. I chose the difficult, exhausting, overwhelming path because that’s who I am. I make things difficult for myself because I have something to prove. Apparently.

So this is a reminder to think about your WHY – why are you doing what you’re doing? Why do you love it? Is your WHY enough to sustain you? And on pushing boundaries, well, it’s good for you, right? I’d rather have a nap and stay in my comfort zone, writing zippy one liners and describing aubergine parmigiana, but if one person reads this work, and feels enabled, or nourished, or touched, then I can say I conquered the hardest thing I’ve come up against, and provided something for someone else.

And, just because I think we need to hear it, no one else has their life together either.

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