Note from Nick: This is probably close to the most personal, “diary-like” thing I’ve ever written. It’s not edited, not “vetted,” and might contain words that express feelings I haven’t felt in a long time. However, I think it can help someone, so I’m writing it. You have been warned.
Have you ever been depressed?
I’ve been there. It wasn’t anything too life-threatening, nor was it chronic, but it was a form of mild depression, caused by work stress, the feeling of never-ending boredom, and that I’d reached a dead-end with my job. At the time, I was working a 9-t0-5 at a marketing company that was going nowhere fast. It was a ruthless, sales-focused environment, run by people who cared more about the bottom line than the people they worked with.
It was all I could do to keep showing up to work each day…
To get through it, I decided I would write a book. That book, The Golden Crystal, has done well for me and has (obviously) turned into something much larger than what I’d initially envisioned.
The point of my depressing story, though, is this: We need to be able to work through these life changes.
I don’t mean work like “show up to a job and be happy,” I mean “work on our passion.” We must be able to see through the thick veil of bullshit in front of us, convincing us that our life is complete crap. Here’s what I remember telling myself. Maybe it can help you, if you’re where I was:
- This isn’t the end. For me, I knew God had something bigger and better planned. Whether or not you’re Christian, know this: you were created for something other than doing someone else’s bidding. You weren’t meant to show up and clock in, sit down and hate yourself and your life and your peers. You were created for more.
- This won’t pass until you change. After realizing the first truth, you need to believe the second one. That same God I mentioned above will give me opportunities to succeed, change, grow, and leave that crappy existence behind. He isn’t going to zap my cubicle with a divine lightning bolt from the heavens and scorch my office building, and he isn’t going to do that for you, either. You need to be willing to change, and you need to do what it takes to get there. Read books, get inspired, learn a new skill, whatever.
- Make time for your “new life.” People who are depressed like I was feel this: “I don’t have time for anything. I go to work, I come home, and I go to bed.” There’s cooking food and filling the car with gas in-between, but that’s about it. Knock it off. You’ve heard it before — no one has time. We make time for what matters (more on that later). If you want to be a writer, find the in-between time at your job (lunch? breaks?) to write and get something done. If you’re building a side business, same thing.
As I mentioned, during this time it was all I could do to just show up at work every day.
Until one day, I stopped showing up.
I had lost 15-20 pounds, felt like throwing up every morning, and would go to bed hours earlier than I needed to, because — I remember thinking each night — “there was nothing to look forward to the next day.” My wife and I were in Portland at a friend’s wedding, enjoying the city, the people, and the life.
I remember the moment, walking through a store with her, when I thought to myself, “this is it. I’m done. I have to change this.” I told her about it; that I’d been praying about it, thinking about it, and that I had a plan. To my surprise, she said it was a great idea. “Let’s do it,” she said.
Fast-forward two years… I’ve never been happier. I quit the job, started doing more web design and consulting, and began to focus heavily on writing books and building this blog. It worked, and within six months we were still alive. Not necessarily thriving financially, but happy. I got offered a part-time position at my church doing some graphic design work, and that eventually turned into a full-time gig as Communications Director.
As amateur authors like me say, one thing led to another, and now I’m a full-time Director of Worship Arts at the best church on the planet. Period. I work with the most amazing people I’ve ever met, I have the greatest, most humble boss you can ask for, and I can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning.
I’ve self-published seven books, two novels, and a blog that’s growing a little each day. I have the most beautiful, loving wife who encourages me and learns with me, and even my dogs (and tortoise) seem to approve of the life we’ve built.
We recently moved to a cabin on a mountain, which is a dream that neither of us thought we’d see come to fruition for many years:
Life is great, and evenings are spent around the fire pit roasting s’mores and hotdogs. Seriously, dream come true! Why am I bragging about it? Well, something happened over the past three weeks that I didn’t expect:
I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my entire life, but I’m feeling the same way about work as I did when I was depressed.
Basically, I don’t want to work on the blog, write books, or do anything productive toward my side business anymore. Instead, I want to garden, build fires, brew beer (a new pastime of mine!), and fix the cabin’s (many) issues. I want to hike, fish, hunt, and explore, and I want to be outside. Not an unnatural response for a couple who moves to the top of a mountain, but I can’t just give in to those demands and not get anything done! Books would go unwritten, articles would never be posted, and my podcast (oh crap — my podcast!) wouldn’t be updated!
Life may be great, but it still must go on.
That’s probably a good motto for me right now. I love everything — everything — that’s happening right now, but it doesn’t mean I can grow complacent and give up. I can’t just stop working. I have to keep building, creating, and growing, or this whole lifestyle is just a fun, temporary thing. It’s more than just “the blogging stuff paid for the cabin stuff.” It’s more than a financial realization. It’s a 360-degree life realization.
If I want to have the life that I’ve designed for myself in my head, I have to starting living that life in real life.
That last sentence looks weird, so let me break down what I’m thinking:
- I want to live in a cabin and grow a righteous beard.
- I want to write books while wearing my righteous beard.
- I want to build an online business run primarily through my aforementioned beard.
Obviously there’s more to it than that (I want to stay married, I want to save money, etc.), but those are the three things that are constantly battling each other in my head. I want to do all the cabin-nature-fun things, and the writing and business stuff gets left behind. But when I do sit down to write, I feel like I’m missing out on my life. Make sense? Anyway, it’s similar to the crappy-job situation that eventually led us here in the first place: I don’t want to go to work, but I can’t fully enjoy writing because I just have to go back to work when I’m done. Case in point:
- I haven’t blogged in almost a month.
- I haven’t posted a podcast episode in three weeks (primarily because Friday was my only weekday off, and we were moving).
- I haven’t written a word toward finishing my new novel in two weeks.
I could try to come up with excuses (“but I just launched The Depths! Why should I be writing?!”), but the truth is simple: Life is too fun right now to worry about “work.” I know, I know, what a great problem to have. And it is… but I still need a plan. I still need to get back on track with things. So here it is; my plan of action for living an awesome and distracting life: Rules for Living An Awesome Yet Distracting Life, While Still Getting Work Done (Title is a WIP…):
- Enjoy life, and thank God. Above all, living is a blessing. Living a successful, happy, married life is a quintuple-times-a-billion blessing. Wake up each day and thank the Good Lord I’m able to do all of these things.
- Use those fun “new things” as a reward. To put everything into perspective means that while I love the writing/blogging stuff, it’s probably the least fun compared to other stuff. So brewing a new batch of beer, gardening prep for the zombie apocalypse, and chopping wood with a giant axe wearing jeans and suspenders are all now officially “rewards” that I can reward myself with after I’ve worked a set amount of time, or knocked out certain things on my to-do list.
- Readjust as needed. I’m officially giving up trying to do a “daily word count” goal, or “weekly number of blog posts written,” ad infinitum, just because. I believe there’s merit to that approach if you know your life isn’t going to drastically change each year (e.g. you’re retired, don’t have plans to move, aren’t expecting kids, etc.), but the way things have been going for us, I need to be able to “roll with the punches” more.
- Give myself permission to relax and enjoy things. Seriously, this is a big one for me. My closest friends know that I have a hard time just “chilling.” I want to always be doing something, learning something, and staying active. Nothing wrong with that compared to sheer laziness, but it gets to be too much sometimes. I’m working on building margin into my life — things like “from 2-3 pm each day at work, read a book.” I believe we minister from our overflow, so if I’m not “filled up…” well you get the rest.
That’s the list — we’ll see how it goes. As an exercise in proof, here’s my plan for today:
- (Morning) Work: this blog post, one podcast recorded, edited, uploaded.
- (Morning) Reward: the neighborhood grocery store is having a crazy deal on Oxiclean, a great cleaner for homebrewers.
- (Afternoon) Work: interview for the podcast/recording.
- (Afternoon) Reward: work on the vegetable garden and drink a home-brew (Oktoberfest!).
Looking at that list, I can tell you I’m pretty excited. It might not sound like much, but I appreciate a plan, even if it’s simple.
“A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” George S. Patton
I’m going to execute my mini-plan right now by scheduling this blog post, and we’ll see how things go. I’m excited. Are you?