I’m Not Saving The World (And I Feel Fine)Posted: August 17, 2014
An introvert to the core, I imagine talking about myself or what I’m doing to be like offering a refreshment to a friend. I pour a bit of myself out and hand it to them with a heart full of best thoughts. Lately though, I’ve noticed the following phenomenon:
“So, Rev. Kellie, what are you doing now?”
It’s an easy, innocent question. In the last twenty years I’ve been a computer technician, chaplain, minister, and HIV/AIDS counselor. Two years ago, that changed. I open myself up and fill the glass cheerfully.
“I’m working as a commissioned freelance writer.”
I thought I was handing them a glass of bubbly champagne about the job I really love. Turns out, it was a cup of lukewarm milk.
“You’re doing spiritual writing?”
“I write fiction novels that are paid for by a broker who sells them to publishers. I just finished writing a novel of my own I’m shopping to agents as well.”
“I see.” The milk swirls in their cup. They close their eyes and take a drink, just to be polite. “What kind of novels? Christian Fiction? Inspiring stories?”
“Mysteries, thrillers and romance.”
The milk is sour.
“Sooooo – How’s Cathy???”
Standing on the shoulders of writers, artists and creative people before me, I see the disparity of respect the general public seems to have about a career in the arts. The problem isn’t that they don’t value the written word – most my friends are readers, theater goers, and people who invest in art. Hell, I even hang out with deviants who like opera. And still, it’s always the downcast eyes of disappointment (or the open comments of derision) I encounter. For some reason, if a person isn’t involved in a “saving” profession his or her job is meaningless at best and a waste at worst. Why is that?
If my life had a FAQ page, it would read like this:
“Don’t you miss the ministry? I’m sure it was more rewarding.”
I made a choice to change vocations. Ministry didn’t leave me at a bus stop and promise to come back later. Oddly enough, ministry isn’t just a job I had. It is the life I live, the gifts of listening, wisdom and love I offer, and a part of me at the cellular level. I miss the pulpit sometimes, and it was rewarding. But so is living every day with gratitude, open to what’s in store.
“HIV/AIDS work burns so many people out. Are you doing this to refill the well?”
I didn’t burn out on HIV/AIDS work. I’m still very passionate about prevention, treatment and counseling. My agency closed. When that happened I had an opportunity to try something I loved and wanted to do. Not every career change is the result of desperation, depression or lack of personal spirit. Sometimes, a new door just opens.
By the way – working in the field of HIV/AIDS isn’t what burns people out. Working with a lack of resources due to poor community support and resistance to sexual education until you are banging your head against a wall with a brick you had to pay for yourself is what burns people out. If you think HIV/AIDS work is so rewarding and wonderful (it is!) FUND IT!
“I thought you enjoyed helping people.”
I hate people. No, wait. That’s just at parties. YES – I enjoy helping people. You know what helps people? Having an hour a day to turn off their brain, shut out the world and read a good story. That helps people. And, when I’m not giving them a break with a tale of corporate espionage or star-crossed lovers – I help them by continuing to pray, care, teach and talk to them.
“You probably love setting your own schedule. That way you can kayak whenever you want. It’s cool to take time to play while you’re still young enough to enjoy it.”
Here’s the thing: I work longer hours, with less time off, and less flexibility now than I ever did working in the church or non-profit sector. I have deadlines. I have word count requirements. I have to research, proofread, write, proofread, re-write, proofread, edit, proofread… (i.e. – writing is WORK). I balance my life with friends, family, exercise and daily meditation all of which is required to keep me on an even keel because I work so darn much.
“Wow. You’re a writer? That’s surprising. I never thought you’d be interested in a job like that.”
Really? REALLY?! You know that sermon you said taught you so much? I wrote it. The romantic wedding homily that made your mom cry and your dad hide the fact he was crying by claiming his allergies were bad? I wrote it. The soft, kind words I sent in cards and said in visits as a hospice chaplain – yep, I wrote that stuff. The curriculum for Sunday schools, church camps, and retreats? I wrote it. The speeches on behalf of people with HIV/AIDS –I wrote them. HIV prevention programs modified from CDC Evidence-based Interventions so they fit my HIV population – I wrote the modification, budget, work plan, evaluation AND epidemiology report. I’ve been writing my whole life.
That’s the point – writing (and the other arts) are all around you. They are part of your everyday life in ways you never see or imagine. I don’t have to be pulling someone out of a fire, sticking needles into cardiac patients or teaching children about sets and subsets to be making a difference, or to be satisfied in my career choice. I don’t need my job to validate my worth. Humanity – and the Humanities – is work enough.
It’s a good thing to appreciate and honor people who risk their life, their sanity, their bank account, or their being to save, help, or reach someone. It’s a better thing to appreciate and honor people just because they are people, worthy of love, respect and celebration in their own right.
The ways we invest in humanity vary from person to person. Some do it through work, some do it through play, and some doing it just by being. Find your path and follow it. Allow others to do the same.