3 Ways to Avoid Despair as You Pursue Your Hoped-For Work

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This post right here? It’s a timely one. I’ve just come off a couple of weeks of working full-time hours for my part-time job. Even though it was expected and planned for, when I’m working overtime + making sure people get fed and clothed and picked up and cheered on from the bleachers and consoled, you can count on some ugly aftermath.

You can count on a house that looks like a Category 20 hurricane swept through it. You can count on a wife and mom who is tired and cranky. You can count on this same exhausted woman to do something completely irrational like paint the living room that has knotty pine walls and has thus far required three coats of primer and can she just pretend she never started this job?

And you can count on her wanting to abandon her hoped-for work because she hasn’t written in ten days and therefore no longer feels like a writer. She knows starting is the hardest part but ohmygosh, the starting doesn’t ever get easier.

I have cleaned the kitchen, scrubbed the toilets and walked the dog this morning. It’s called “productive procrastination.” It shows up every time I have lost the will to write and also before I need to pack for a trip.

I’m oddly thankful for these adverse circumstances. They remind me that pursuing our hoped-for work isn’t all writers’ conferences and art shows and a thousand likes on social media. It’s not all perfectly steamed lattes at the coffee shop and thoughtful contemplation and art that flows off fingertips.

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Presently I’m writing on my porch while also spraying poison on a patch of ants that showed up out of nowhere. And I have a child with a fever on the sofa in the living room with half-primed walls.

Sometimes pursuing my hoped-for work looks like duct taping my pajama-clad self to the chair and writing already, even though I don’t feel like a writer and I want need to finish painting the living room and my kids have been sick and out of school a lot this year.

The most epic battles are often fought on everyday soil. Fighting for our hoped-for work in the midst of our messy right-now lives is no different.

Today I give you three ways to keep your perspective and fight despair when you’re barely hanging on to your hoped-for work:

 

1. Don’t envy another’s work life.
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I struggle with this one in embarrassing ways, believing the lie that if only I had her circumstances or his capital, I could meet my goals and do my thing. I’ve believed this just today actually. And every time I find myself sliding into the pit of envy, I have a choice to make: surrender to resentment or receive my own life.

Ironically, the challenges of the everyday usually become my inspiration. Frustration is often the fuel that gets me writing in the first place. This entire series on work — it’s been born out of my own wrestling. I thought I needed a spacious writing life to be the writer I wanted to be. God is showing me otherwise. It’s messy. But the mess is my medium and God makes art out of it anyway.

There is freedom that comes in receiving your own life instead of envying someone else’s.

And don’t be fooled by the seemingly grand and spacious lives of others. There are unique struggles that come with each stage of success. Keep working at your own pace, on the canvas of your own life.

I will never stop needing this reminder from Henri Matisse:

Much of the beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium.

 

2. Accept abrupt transitions.

ortho shoe

When I was in college, I ran the 10,000 meter race in track. That’s 25 laps around a 400-meter track. Please don’t be impressed. I literally needed half of those laps to get warmed up. I was never a sprinter. It was true of my running life and it’s true of my writing life. Sure, I can hustle when I need to. I can crank out a product when I’m called on. But hurry comes at a cost because I’m a contemplative at heart. I’m a long-distance, slow-paced runner living in a world that spins a bit too fast for my liking.

I don’t have the personality where I can easily switch from task to task and embrace interruptions. I have the personality that might glare at you with violent eyes if you interrupt me while I’m in the middle of deep, thoughtful work or when more than one person is audibly asking for something at the same time.

This is why I live in a perpetual state of whiplash. My right-now life doesn’t accommodate my slow-paced taste and my need for long runways.

I try to get up early because, again, it takes me a long time to adjust to wakefulness. Plus it gives me time to align my spirit with the heart of God and embrace the day’s work before the rest of the house wakes up. Because when that happens, I’m jolted into the world of squabbling siblings and “Mom! Are you making oatmeal?” Then we stumble out the door and rush three kids to three different schools. By 8:15 in the a.m., I need a nap.

Each day is a mashup of paid work, housework, writing work, family work, kitchen work, and unexpected work. Stop times and start times are not always under my control. I may be deep in the writing zone and then pow! My littlest guy gets off the bus and I am quickly zapped into the world of Pokemon trades and after-school snacks.

Changing hats so abruptly throughout the day is not my jam. But it is my right-now life. And change hats I must.

Sometimes we can use abrupt transitions as an excuse. “Well I only have an hour so it’s not worth sitting down to write.” That hour is still an hour of hoped-for work. And while it may not be enough time to finish anything, it reminds you that this is what you do. It’s the daily discipline of reclaiming your identity and relaunching your hope. It keeps you in the game and serves as a deposit on deeper work that may show up later.

 

3. Tell someone.

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The land of hoped-for work can be a lonely place. Too often, we dream our dreams in solitude and do our work in isolation. We languish and lose momentum and tell ourselves we’re crazy. It’s the rare person who doesn’t need some sort of accountability to stay the course.

Community, whether it’s two people or twelve, helps keep me going. I’ve dared to speak my hopes out loud and I’ve had the privilege of cradling the dreams of others. Part of the reason I sat down this morning is because I told my “someones” I would keep writing — my writing friend in New Jersey who I vox and e-mail with, a small community of creatives across different time zones that I talk to regularly {thank you technology}, my husband who gives me Saturdays to work on a writing project. And you.

Yes, you. You take time out of your busy life and meet me here. And sometimes you tell me that what I wrote made you feel normal instead of crazy. You allow me show up in your life and serve you. You remind me that this hoped-for work is my offering.You guys are my “someones.”


 

My next post will have a few more tips to keep you going. And then I’ll have a wrap-up post with my favorite resources to share!

Thanks for staying with me. Y’all sure know how to keep a sister going.

What are your greatest obstacles to pursuing your hoped-for work in the midst of your right-now life? 

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If you’re new around here, we’ve been winding our way through a series on work. Here are the other posts in the series:

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How to Embrace Your Right-Now Work Even if it’s Not Your Hoped-For Work

One Gift Your Right-Now Work Is Giving You, Even If You Smell Like Marinara Sauce

4 Simple Ways to Create Time When You Don’t Have Any to Spare

4 Reasons Why Your Right-Now Work Matters to Jesus {even if it doesn’t matter to you}

2 Ways to Give Your Hoped-For Work a Voice. Right Now.

3 Ways to Avoid Despair as You Pursue Your Hoped-For Work

My favorite resources on right-now work and hoped-for work and stuff

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Subscribe in the box below and you’ll receive each new post in the series.
Hope and Possibility, straight to your inbox!

 

Two Ways to Give Your Hoped-For Work a Voice. Right Now.

2 ways hoped for work voice I have a small index card that I’ve lost and found again at least six time in the last couple of weeks. This tiny card boasts my scribbled out notes for what was to be my next post in the series on work. Notes in the form of bullet points that I hoped to flesh out later with real sentences. But life hasn’t allowed for real sentences, much less paragraphs-turned-blogged-posts lately.

Sometimes life only allows for bullet points.

I’ve been writing a series on work and I have loved it. The more I write, the more I realize I have to say about the subject. Last week I asked a question on the blog’s Facebook page and I was surprised by the quick and thoughtful responses. Your questions and frustrations only fueled the content I hope to share.

But my right-now life and my hoped-for work and not in sync at the moment. I can resent that. And I have. Or “I can see my limits as a gift instead of as a liability,” as my friend and fellow writer Emily Freeman puts it.

The truth is, my next post on work was supposed to go out a week ago. But I’ve had some limitations to reckon with. Time and space are in short supply. I’ve had several moments of external panic and many more moments of internal resentment over the whole thing. I’ve been tempted toward two opposite extremes:

1. Steamroll my way through my task list anyway, fueled mostly by fear and anxiety.

2. Give up.

I’ve done both of these in the past and am tempted to fall into either ditch even today. But on Monday morning a funny thing happened. My husband and I were talking about the upcoming couple of weeks and he could sense my edginess. And by edginess I mean the slamming of kitchen drawers and yelling for kids to get in the van already and “Where is my COFFEE?!?”

Thankfully he was a kinder soul than I was in that moment. He asked what I needed, what he could do for me during these next couple of weeks that are going to be extra hectic.

The morning school commute gave me time to sit with his generous question and to figure out what, exactly, I did need.

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“I need time to write,” I said. “Writing makes me feel like my truest self and connects me to God.” I need to find the time and space to keep writing, even though it’s going to be crazy. I don’t want to lose my creative work and my momentum.”

I felt instantly better. There is power and freedom in voicing our needs and allowing someone we trust to help us carry both our burdens and our longings. But there was something else, something even more remarkable. My “art,” my writing, my hoped-for work — it stood up for itself with a voice I hardly recognized:

I matter. I am not merely a hobby or a selfish indulgence as she is prone to think. I am food for her soul. I am the thread that connects her most deeply with her Maker. I am the therapy that helps her sort through the rubble and clear out the cobwebs. I am her offering.

That was on Monday. Today is Wednesday. By the time you read this it’ll be days later. I knew I wouldn’t get to write until a couple of days after that conversation. But I was able to bear both the busy-ness and the lack with a bit more peace.

Why? Because my work had wedged her big ol’ audacious self into the space of that real conversation and said to my husband {and to me}:

Girfriend needs to write. Are you gonna give her a room up in this place or not?”

 

This week, my hoped-for work sounds a little bit like Madea and looks like an index card.

It doesn’t look like completed blog posts or a finished series on work or a lead magnet on my blog or a turned-in book proposal.

But it does look like promise and it feels like a priority. The bullet points matter. They serve as shorthand arrows that point to a deeper story.

Today, I searched through a pile in my office again for the holy grail index card and thought to myself, “There it is. My big important work scrawled in bullet-point form with smeary pencil + two different colors of ink.”

Sometimes our right-now life means our hoped-for work looks like bullet points instead of books.

My right-now life means that I run around a lot and write half-coherent thoughts on receipts that end up in the bottom of my purse with gum wrappers and sloshed coffee. It means I dump my favorite purse onto the kitchen counter and attempt to soak up the coffee from the leather while trying not to cuss in front of my kids as I salvage my precious thoughts. {True story. As in, this very thing just happened yesterday.}

purse contents

Here’s what I’m trying to say.

My hoped-for work — the writing I do in the wee hours of the morning and in the last minutes of the day — it’s not exactly magical. It’s messy. It’s limited. It is literally sitting in scraps all around me waiting to be turned into something a bit more masterpiece-ish.

But those scraps are important because I’ve said so. I’ve cleared off my desk and put the junk on the floor.

desk and mess

The contents of my dumped-out purse are still on the kitchen counter. My e-mail can wait and so can the dishes. Why?

Because I need to sit down right here and tell you something:

Don’t give up on your hoped-for work just because your right-now life feels like a bully. Friends, we don’t have to be all or nothing about this.

Just because that guy has figured out a way to jump ship on his right-now in pursuit of his hoped-for doesn’t mean you have to put all your eggs in one basket like he did.

Just because she’s been blogging for less time than you and has a book deal and you still have two subscribers — one is you and the other one is your mom — doesn’t mean you quit writing.

Just because you have more ideas than your precious brain can hold and zero time for those ideas to come to life doesn’t mean the ideas aren’t worth scribbling down and dreaming about anyway.

Here are my two bossy takeaways:

1. Do what you can. Right now.

It begins with giving your work a voice so it can speak up for itself. This is another way of saying, “Prioritize.” Maybe your work’s voice sounds like deep and broody like Johnny Cash. Maybe it sounds British and bawdy like Adele. You already know that my work’s voice sounds like Madea because she is old-school, means business, and is funny. I need Madea on my shoulder because she tells all the other voices to “shut the _____ up.”

Your work has a voice. Listen up. {And you might want to share what you hear with someone else who loves you.}

2. Use what you have. Right now.
  • A notecard when you don’t have time for a blog post.
  • A piece of furniture from the thrift store even though you really want to have your own fixer-upper.
  • A friend you meet for coffee when you don’t yet have the courage or time to create the larger ministry you envision.
  • A children’s class at your church while you wait for a teaching degree.
  • A little league gig when your real dream is to coach for a living.
  • An iPhone camera in your diaper bag because your fancy Nikon can’t fit between the wipes and the sippy cups.
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Sometimes we think our longings have to take a certain shape or they can’t take any shape at all. But that’s not true. Perfection is the enemy of Possibility. I 100% believe that there are right-now ways to practice our hoped-for work. Your ideas, your hopes, your dreams — they are still allowed to dance even if they haven’t received an invitation to the ball.

Your right-now life may feel like a lean and barren place. What could possibly grow there?

Anything. But new life always begins with a seed. And seeds tend to be tiny.

My bullet-point index card, my “Exhibit A” of “I have no time to write” — it turned into this post I hadn’t planned to write. I looked at it with discouragement and said to myself, “My creative work has been reduced to bullet points right now.”

Writing through this unexpected object lesson has been its own serendipitous consolation.

The bullet points testify that your right-now offering is enough. They serve as a deposit on what may one day grow into the vision that’s dancing about in your head.

But first? Take what you have right now and give it a voice.

index card

If you’re new around here, we’ve been winding our way through a series on work. Here are the other posts in the series:

“How to Pursue Your Hoped-For Work When You’re Busy With Your Right-Now Life”

 How to Embrace Your Right-Now Work Even if it’s Not Your Hoped-For Work

One Gift Your Right-Now Work Is Giving You, Even If You Smell Like Marinara Sauce

 4 Simple Ways to Create Time When You Don’t Have Any to Spare

 4 Reasons Why Your Right-Now Work Matters to Jesus {even if it doesn’t matter to you}

2 Ways to Give Your Hoped-For Work a Voice. Right Now.

Everyday Ways to Avoid Despair as You Pursue Your Hoped-For Work

My favorite resources on right-now work and hoped-for work and stuff

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Subscribe in the box below and you’ll receive each new post in the series. 
Hope and Possibility, straight to your inbox!

 

4 Reasons Why Your Right-Now Work Matters to Jesus {even if it doesn’t matter to you}

why right now work matters to jesus

Once Jesus’ “official” ministry on earth began, he ascended to fame quickly. Jesus, a no-name carpenter from Nazareth, fed thousands of people, grew a loyal following, healed sick people, and confounded the establishment. In today’s cultural currency, he’d be out-trending Beyonce. #Jesus

Even his followers got in on the fame. They became an entourage, fighting over who was his favorite and becoming recognized themselves.

And then his story went off the rails.

He allowed himself to be crucified. To his followers this must have looked like He was complicit in his own murder, his own career suicide.

Does this sound like too much for a blog post situated within a little series about work? It does, doesn’t it.

The truth is, I’ve been wrestling with this Jesus part for weeks and haven’t known where to put him. Jesus feels dramatic and out of place. And maybe that tells us something. We compartmentalize Jesus. He’s with us at church, as the topic of our small group discussion, at a funeral, or when we’re in the depths of despair.

But Jesus seems either awkward or removed when we talk about work. Except that’s He’s not. He’s 100% relatable and 100% present.

If you feel alone in your right-now work —

If you feel insignificant and unimpressive —

If you feel like you’re getting lost in the dust of everyone else doing “important and meaningful work” —

Take heart. You have a friend who cares deeply about your work, one who meets you in messy places, one whose real life reveals that all our work matters.

When we realize this, all of work can become a sacred sort of water cooler, the place where we meet up with Jesus and discover that we have a knowing friend who’s with us in every role and every task, both the gritty and the glorious.

Here are 4 reasons why your work matters to him.

 

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1. Jesus is a friend in my right-now work.

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Whether it’s the office, the coffee shop, the kitchen, or the field — Jesus is with us in our labor as a kind and honest friend.

Do you realize that nobody gets you like He does?

Sometimes, knowing Jesus is with me in my work feels like Jim and Pam at Dunder Mifflin. I find myself eye-rolling. And I imagine looking over at Jesus, both of us sharing a knowing smirk. Why? Because He gets it. He gets me. He knows my frustrations. He knows I can be unproductive and frustrated. He knows people can be idiots. He knows that sometimes I lash out. And while He may lovingly nudge me toward confessing that haughty attitude and giving it to him, he knows why I feel the way I do. And being understood goes a long way when I feel tired, hopeless, self-righteous, unappreciated, or uninspired in my everyday roles and in my everyday work.

Maybe that sounds weird to you, making Jesus so “human” like that. I get it. Except that Jesus was a real person, a real carpenter, a real teacher. He had actual friends, people like you and me, and they adored him.

It’s easy to be in one ditch or the other when it comes to Jesus. We can turn him into our best friend, our buddy, our “Jim.” Because He is our friend. But we forget that he also holds all things together. Literally. Like, the whole world.

Or we can see him as only God, as only seated on his throne and nowhere else. Jesus can seem like an abstraction instead of a real companion.

But Scripture, the story of his real life, and his actual relationships on this earth show us that he was both.

 

2. He didn’t exalt one form of work over another.

His first miracle had to do with drink as he aided and abetted in sheer celebration.

He stretched the food so that hungry crowds could fill their stomach.

cheeseboard bfast

He washed dirt from people’s feet.

He broke bread and poured wine.

He made his living as a carpenter, a laborer.

I know what you might be thinking. “True. But he also preached and taught and healed people and raised the dead. These are hardly everyday labors.”

You’re right. But when you read through the Gospels, these don’t get more spotlight than the bread-breaking and the fishing. They are simply part of the narrative of a man who was born to everyday people and did everyday work even though he pulsed with the literal power of God.

Sometimes the narrative shifts and we see his epic power juxtaposed against his everyday work — signs and wonders that would astound anyone and rightly earn trending hashtags. Yet the epic is seamlessly woven into the everyday. Sometimes He even turned away from spectacular work, choosing instead to rest or pray.

These things should tell us something.

Perhaps you’re “just a stay-at-home mom.” You’re “just a customer service rep” or “just a teacher” or “just a creative.” You’re in good company. The “justs” don’t define you even though the world and your own mind are trying to convince you otherwise. Jesus was described as one who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”

He lived as an ordinary man doing mostly ordinary work that was infused with extraordinary love and redemptive power. His earthly fame and “success” was short-lived by our standards.

There is no “sacred / secular” divide with our work, not from Jesus’ perspective. There are no “Christian callings” that should be more esteemed than other vocational callings. Jesus’ very life reveals that it is all sacred.

 

3. He met people in their everyday work and came alongside them.

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He went to men working on their boats.

He fished, building relationship with them in the everyday rhythms of work.

He talked with a woman while she fetched the water she needed for the day — both helping her and asking for help from her with the everyday business of getting water.

He came to Levi while he was sitting at his tax booth.

Will he not also meet you in your everyday work, giving you strength when you’re weary and hope when you’re burned out — at the stove or by the bedside or sitting in the windowless office?

 

4. He used all kinds of work as a metaphor for the kingdom of God. This is huge.

So many of Jesus’ parables are grounded in work.

  • Leaven and flour — kitchen work
  • Sowing seeds — agricultural work
  • Building a house — construction work
  • The dishonest manager, property and stewardship, vineyards and tenants — financial and managerial work
  • Lost sheep — shepherding work
  • Giving a great banquet — the work of hospitality

 

Jesus spoke the language of work because we speak the language of work. Why? Because work matters.

Our work is a key filter through which we understand the kingdom of God and our unique yet everyday roles in this world.

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Our work can be the gate through which we become more intimately acquainted with Jesus, our faithful companion. Both the work that allows us to “feel his pleasure,” and the work that is so frustrating, all we can do is cry out to him for help, renewal, wisdom and understanding. Either way, our work is where we can find Christ. It’s not a place where he retreats into the heavenlies and leaves us on our own.

No matter what your right-now work looks like, Jesus’ call to you is the same as to the men and women who linked arms with him 2,000 years ago: Follow me.

He extends his hand to you just like he extended his hand to them. Their lives with him were not compartmentalized. As they fished, He fished with them. As they hosted guests, He was in their midst. As they worked to feed hungry crowds, He was right there, showing them how to do it and helping them.

He is with us in our work because if we are in Him, it is also his work. {John 15:4-5}

Will you trust Him with it?

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I wish I could hand you “4 tips to only doing work you love and that matters. And how to make millions of dollars doing it.” That’s sort of what we all wish for, right?

With gobs of money and time, I’d hire out the unpleasantries, be less stressed as a mom, pay experts to help me, and bask in “meaningful work” all day.

I’d also have little need of Jesus. No desperation. No need of his strength that meets me in weakness. No need to hope. No being surprised and relieved when possibility shows up out of the impossible.

I’d have everything I wanted, yet be without the most meaningful gift my messy life hands me when it feels extra uninspired — a Jesus who shows us in the trenches as my companion, my comfort, and my help.

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I’m learning to meet Him in work that is complicated and hard — in marriage, in motherhood, in writing, in running my home, in work that doesn’t come naturally to me and makes me feel like a failure.

Ultimately, this isn’t about me. It’s about Him. Meeting Jesus like this compels me to worship, to love, to live all of life — whether I’m wiping tears or writing words — coram Deo, before the face of God.

Friend, your “meager” right-now work can actually hand you the most invaluable gift — the company of Christ himself. One who has always met his own in their right-now work and compelled them to offer whatever they have each day, even as they hope for change.

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If you’re new here, we’ve been talking about hope and possibility when it comes to our work, especially the work we’re not loving so much.

“How to Pursue Your Hoped-For Work When You’re Busy With Your Right-Now Life”

Part 1: How to Embrace Your Right-Now Work Even if it’s Not Your Hoped-For Work

Part 2: One Gift Your Right-Now Work Is Giving You, Even If You Smell Like Marinara Sauce

Part 3: 4 Ways to Create Time When You Don’t Have Any to Spare

Part 4: 4 Reasons Why Your Right-Now Work Matters to Jesus {even if it doesn’t matter to you}

Part 5: Everyday Ways to Avoid Despair as You Pursue Your Hoped-For Work

Part 6: My favorite resources on right-now work and hoped-for work and stuff

Subscribe in the box below and you’ll receive each new post in the series.

Hope and Possibility, straight to your inbox!