“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.” —-Annie Dillard
I’ve run across Annie Dillard’s words several times in the last few years. This one sentence, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” rings in my ears almost everyday. I am acutely aware of how time passes and how fleeting our days really are, as each moment swallows up another. This way of living is sometimes too consuming. The pace is filled with a quiet terror.
In my twenties and early thirties, outcomes, results, recognition and amassing an arsenal of degrees offered a way to measure my time. Like a drum, my mind kept beating in the same rhythm. Success meant using time to accomplish a certain something. If it did not lead to a recognizable outcome, then I rendered it meaningless. I spent 7 years in a legal career, convincing myself that my time was well spent, because I “won” cases for my clients and collected a more than decent paycheck. Some of the undercurrents of this philosophy stem from my childhood. Artistic pursuits were hobbies, meant to be done after obtaining a degree that offered solid financial security. In other words, if the work lacked a tangible result, namely money, the effort was invisible.
Fast forward to now. This moment. I am writing these words in this space to share with you. I pen notes in my journal and read. How do I spend my days? I work on freelance articles, meet with my writing groups, and surround myself with as many words as I can. In the other hours, I am shuffling my daughter to playdates, tennis lessons, and summer camp. We sometimes sing and laugh and cry together. There are seconds where she sits in my office and keeps me company while I write. I am lucky because my husband supports my artistic pursuits, but yet he tells me in the most gentle way, what I also realize. I am not writing enough. My memoir has taken a backseat.
Do my current pursuits necessarily lead to outcomes? Not in the ways that I remember. I landed my first job when I was 16 and worked every year since until after our daughter was born. If we met in my twenties, financial security and a career with longevity were my main goals. I never predicted that my past would lead me to this place.
I am in a free-fall right now.
Here I go. I am saying it for the first time in this space. The fear of the outcome keeps me standing in the same place. Convincing myself that the memoir is only worth it if someone wants to read it, I mull over the outcome, instead of spending my days just writing it.
How do you break this cycle? How do you tell yourself that you are a success despite the outcome?
I am not certain I am any closer to answering this question, but I do know that I need to spend my days enjoying the process.
Isn’t that the whole point?