A few days ago I got a Direct Message on Instagram from someone asking me an interesting question which is relevant to so many of us, so I thought I’d share my response here in case it is of interest to you, too. The DM said, “I feel like I have wondered into another chapter of my life that I didn’t know was waiting for me. I am trying to make space for myself but all of the space I create by necessity, takes me away from the family I decided to have, the job I wanted etc, so it gives me a huge amount of guilt. A large part of what you do also has to be on your own or in quiet places or with contemplative people. Do you struggle with time being split between your family and partner and the things you perhaps need and enjoy or allow you space? And if so how do you balance that?”
This question is essentially, “Don’t you feel guilty about doing what you love, and if you do, how do you cope with it?” I have a lot of thoughts about this – here are a few of them:
(1) A lot of my quiet time is not separate from my job, it’s necessary for my job – both in terms of my writing and the businesses I run. For me ‘doing what you love’ is a lot about how you spend each day, both in work and outside of work, and the work I choose requires quiet time which I love, hence my choice to do it. In theory I should no more feel guilty for it than anyone should feel guilty for going to work in a more conventional job. No-one ever asks a plumber if they feel guilty going to work, but our societal conditioning somehow makes us think that if we love it, and it’s creative, it can’t be real work which is sad and ridiculous, but also the state of things. Having said that, because it often doesn’t feel like ‘work’ in the way we are conditioned to think about work, the truth is I do feel guilty sometimes, so this is a fantastic question.
(2) I have worked on this parental guilt a lot, and talk about it in my new book The Way of the Fearless Writer because it can be a huge obstacle for getting to the page, and doing anything creative. Here’s the thing: I have come to understand that I am a better everything (mum, wife, friend etc) for having written or spent time with the ideas calling to me. By better I mean more present, patient, and awake to my life. My family knows this and we talk about it. Me doing my thing is good for all of us in many ways, and it might be the same for you. Recognising this can be a game changer in terms of getting the support you need to make time and space, and not feel bad about it.
(3) I make sacrifices. I often choose to spend time with my ideas instead of with friends in real life. Not always, but often. The truth is that these past few years I have put more effort into writing new books than making new friendships. I rarely meet up with people for coffee in the middle of the day because I’d rather be on a long walk in the hills or by the sea figuring out the idea for my next book. This doesn’t mean I think less of friends, I just don’t hang out with them all the time. I am sure this means I miss out on things, but a book (like art, or a new business) is the result of hundreds of tiny decisions to work on it, rather than something else. That’s a personal choice. It has not always been this way, and it might not always be this way, but it’s how I feel at this point in my life, so I’m going with it.
(4) I get up really early most days. Mr K gets up early too. We do our own thing for a couple of hours – me writing, yoga, walking etc and him pilates or running – and our children don’t even notice because they are sleeping. It’s bliss.
(5) Outside of ‘work’ I make room for creative time with a few choices – I don’t iron clothes (sorry Mum). I almost never watch TV (except for Grey’s Anatomy, currently still on season 13, no spoilers please). I batch cook food in winter and eat a lot of salad in summer. I don’t spend much time consuming social media (even when I am active on my own accounts). These simple things free up a lot of time.
(6) I encourage my husband to do stuff he loves too, away from me and the girls. He loves to go on long runs, sometimes to the pub, sometimes paddleboarding etc. He teaches pilates and doesn’t feel guilty about the time spent doing that, which reminds me not to feel guilty about the time I spend doing things I love.
(7) I think I am sending our girls an important message doing what I love, and turning formless ideas into food on the table, not to mention teaching them that quiet time and space matters for our well-being.
(8) There is a season for everything. I often write my books in winter which requires big chunks of time away from others. At other times I am much more available to everyone and it helps us all to know that.
(9) Sometimes it helps to work backwards. What’s your ideal day and how can you reconfigure your life to make that support your work and family as well as your own health and creativity? It’s just possible that in the end everyone will be grateful that you did.
(10) Life is short. You might as well do what you love, not just in the big scheme of things but inside every day. Just sayin’
If you have questions like this about doing what you love I’m always open to them. I love pondering them and might share in a future post so feel free to drop me a DM on Instagram @bethkempton.
PS This post was originally sent as a newsletter to my community. If you’d like to get love letters and inspiration like this direct into your inbox just hop on the list for free here.
PPS It has been a big week for my Book Proposal Masterclass graduates over here – one graduate is deciding between multiple agents wanting to represent her, Emma S just landed an agent for a book idea I adore, and Ann Garcia’s How to Pay for College was published. We have just opened registration for the next class (February 2023) with an early bird discount of 30% off and an instalment plan, because I know some of you wanted to spread payments over several months. If you want to join me to get your non-fiction book proposal done in February, you can book your spot here.