While we wish it were otherwise, most of us don’t have the luxury of pursuing our creative passions as a full-time job. Whether we love painting or pouring candles, writing or dancing, event planning or photography, the truth is that we don’t often make a living from those passions. Instead, we find pockets of time to shadow those desires on the weekends, the evenings, and often, when we could be sleeping. We read articles and books about our hobbies, and spend our money on the passion we love so dearly. But we aren’t waking up every morning to head to a studio or the craft room or the keyboard. Instead, we get up and work at jobs that don’t set our hearts aflame.
There were a lot of years where I bemoaned my lack of time to pursue my passion. I’m a writer at heart, a woman who comes alive with the tap of keys on the keyboard, a woman who could spend hours each day whittling down a paragraph until it sings with the vibrancy of power and precision. But for most of my adult life, I’ve been a writer in the margins, pulling out my laptop in the evenings or on the weekends, taking twenty minutes over lunch or an hour after work to finish an article or pen a chapter.
And for a while, I thought I was missing out. I spent my best hours, I believed, working as an administrative assistant, and later as a teacher — for ten years. I gave those “normal” work hours to jobs that I deeply valued but that didn’t necessarily hit the sweet spot of all of my dreams and passions. I supposed that because I wasn’t a full time writer — a full time creative — I wasn’t doing the beautiful, meaningful work that I could be doing if only I had the time.
I was wrong.
I can say that because, in many ways, I’m on the other side of the proverbial fence now; I work as a writer and writing coach. I’m a full-time creative — well, as full-time as I can be while also being a wife and mother, and being primarily at home with my toddler. But I’m making a living as a writer, and when I’m working at my job, it’s (mostly) in my creative sweet spot.
And I have learned that I’m not more creative because I have more time. I’m not even convinced that I’m producing “better” work because I have more hours to work in.
In fact, what I’m realizing now is that the necessary boundaries that most of us live in — our jobs, our responsibilities, the hours we give to mothering and laundry-folding and meal-making and grocery shopping — those boundaries are actually gifts to us, if we will receive them that way. Having to squeeze our passions into the margins of our lives is a good, good thing.
Because when we don’t have endless amounts of time to do what we deeply love, the hours that we do have become more precious. We see that time to chase our creativity as the gift that it is — as an opportunity and not as a right. And so those hours in the margins are often charged with the electricity of a soul on fire, a soul finally getting to release her passion onto the canvas, or on the page, or into the dance. Deep creativity is born in that place.
When the margin for our deepest passions is small, then the pull and stretch of time and longing can actually birth something new in us — an urgency and an ingenuity that might not be found otherwise. It is the tension of wanting to do more of what we love and simultaneously not being able to always do it that often stokes the fires of passion for our craft.
So let us re-frame how we see our responsibilities and our jobs throughout the day. The time away from the explicitly creative side of our brain — at our jobs or in the daily tasks at home — these “normal” routines give our imagination time to rest and bubble in other ways. Let us see that our responsibilities aren’t necessarily keeping us from our creative work. Instead, they might actually be helping us by stretching our skills of analysis and interpretation and repetition, things that will also help us as we pursue our “passion in the margins.”
Ultimately, the amount of time that we have to do our creative work isn’t the most important part of any formula for being productive and inventive. It’s the heart behind it that matters.
Because if we can faithfully live well in our other jobs and roles, then when we come back to our creative endeavors we can attend to those desires with the intensity of a mind working to pour all of its energies into a small space. Because, for the creative spirit, ideas and insights are always churning beneath the surface, and they will spark beautifully in whatever time we can offer them.
What are you working on “in the margins” right now?