It’s easy to fall into habits, to do what is expected or wanted by others. As a consequence it pays to stop every now and then and ask why you’re doing something. What is this for? Where am I going with it? What is it costing me (and I don’t just mean money)? What am I achieving? Is this even a good idea?
We’re taught to think about ambition in terms of worldly success, money and status. However, our hearts and minds respond to all kinds of things. Being ambitious is really, really good, but only if you’re doing it on your own terms. So, what are my terms?
I’ve spent weeks with these questions recently, needing to make some significant life decisions. I learned a lot. I will start by asking whether something is of practical or economic benefit to my household, because I have to factor that in. I will consider the environmental impact, or benefits, and think about wider social implications and who is benefiting, or paying for the idea. Beyond that, my absolute preference is to pick the jobs no one else can do, because I can take real pride in that.
Sometimes, the jobs no one else can do are all about my unique skills set and experiences. Last month I had the honour of getting to proof read the third Matlock the Hare book. Who else could edit who knows Dalespeak? Who else can make the time for some 200,000 words of fiction having read the other two books so as to be alert to continuity? It was a joy to do.
Sometimes it comes down to my unusual capacity to stay focused on long, fiddly, tedious jobs. At the community allotment, I’ve spent mornings picking stone out of the ground to make way for plants. I once spent a month painting all the exterior woodwork at my son’s school because it needed doing, and there was no money to do it, and this is not the kind of job you can usually get volunteers for. It doesn’t have to be glamorous. There are a lot of really important things that need doing, which do not confer status or wealth on the person doing it. Picking up litter, being an obvious one. I will be there for those jobs, not because I am uniquely capable, but because I am willing.
If there are lots of people who can and will do something as well, or better than I could, I’ll probably step back. Those jobs rapidly lose interest for me. I don’t want to be interchangeable. Plus there’s every chance someone else has a unique skill set that would transform the work, elevate it, bring in some new dimension. I don’t want to get in the way of that.
It’s possible to do anything well, with style, creativity and in a way that makes the task more valuable than it first seemed. For some people, the kitchen can only ever be a place of drudgery. For others, it’s the place of witchcraft, magic and delight. We are all likely to be happiest in the spaces where we find our own personal magic, where we can make contributions uniquely our own. When we put down the material-wealth-based ideas about worth and start looking at what we find intrinsically valuable, life changes.
And so I have laundry to handwash, a cake to make, and books to review. I have rubbish to upcycle and pages to colour. In knowing what I do best, and where I fit I am able to work happily, and not to feel irrelevant, or interchangeable, or insignificant. There is significance in moving the stones to make way for plants, which supposedly more glamorous jobs for which I am unsuited, would not give me.