When I read Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow, by Marsha Sinetar, I was a frustrated mid-level manager, a plant biologist behind a desk instead of out in the field, a scientist tasked with parsing the relationships that make people tick (or not) instead of those that weave the community of nature.
I was doing useful work and earning a decent living. I was not doing what I loved. Thus the appeal of the book’s subtitle, “Discovering Your Right Livelihood.”
Sinetar suggests that if you tap into what you love and what really motivates you, if you clear away the inner barriers and look for new opportunities, you’ll find ways to earn a living that are satisfying and financially rewarding.
What I loved then–and still do–is writing.
Specifically, summoning the power of words well-chosen and stories well-told to change our view of the world and ourselves, to cause us to open hearts and minds and spirits to new ideas and perspectives. To make us laugh, cry, nod our heads in agreement, or shake our heads in frustration or wonder. To move us. To give us hope when all seems bleak. To make the world a little better—or perhaps a lot better.
With Richard’s support, I quit the work that produced a comfortable paycheck but made body and spirit sick, and set out to find right livelihood as a writer.
Which turned out to be not so easy. It wasn’t so much the figuring out what to write about—my background as a plant biologist gave me stories galore about the characters whose relationships weave life on this planet.
It was the figuring out how to earn a living that was challenging. I needed to find my writing voice, that combination of language, story, subject and perspective that makes a writer’s work pop. And find my niche, markets that appreciated my work enough to buy it.
At first, I wrote a lot and didn’t sell much. But I kept at it. Eventually I learned how to tell a good story, and figured out my unique angle.
I sold my first book. It didn’t become a best-seller. Nor was it discovered by the New York Times. (It is still in print as an eBook twenty-three years later.) It did open doors and begin teaching me what mattered to readers.
I wrote from a scientist’s expert voice at first, and gradually learned to be more personal and fallible. I found my “beat” in writing about nature nearby, and in illuminating what we can learn from our turn on the cycle of life.
Twelve books and hundreds of newspaper columns, radio scripts and magazine articles later, Richard saw the birds that presaged his brain cancer.
For the first year of that journey, I kept up with income-producing assignments as best I could. By the second year, my creative effort was going into living well as my love’s time wound down. I wrote for my sanity, not for money.
In the two-plus years after his death, I’ve worked very hard—if I’m honest, way too hard to be sustainable—to deal with the immediate crises.
Now, I’m thinking about right livelihood again.
Writing is still the work that sustains my mind and spirit, and keeps my challenged body healthy. The issue is how to earn a living in an environment that changed enormously while I was “away” walking with Richard through the end of his life and then sorting through the afters to make a life for myself.
So as the cycle of the year turns toward spring and new growth, as I busy myself with good work that pays, but is not the work my heart craves, I have set myself a goal to figure out how to make writing my focus again.
Because in a life so wrenchingly altered, I know this to be true: Writing is not only right livelihood for me; it’s a calling I’m determined to heed.