It’s like this: I’m a writer. I’ve always defined myself that way, since I was a little kid — a nerd with a notebook while my cousins and sibling played with Legos, Barbies and G.I. Joes.
But recently, I suffered a bit of an identity crisis over that fact.
A writing 9-to-5
I’ve written professionally for over a decade. I work in communications, and write every day on behalf of my clients (things like articles, blog posts, press releases, media pitches, brand messaging, website content, speeches and talking points — you name it).
My job is to understand my clients’ diverse audiences and connect with them by making compelling stories out of any subject matter — no matter how complex or boring. (Case in point: I once had a client that provided software to automate the filing of Form PF, an onerous regulatory form that hedge funds and private equity funds are required to file as part of the Dodd–Frank Act. Let me state that again: My client’s whole business was software to file a 42-page form. Try making that interesting not just once but daily over the course of a multi-year client relationship.)
Writing for clients can be challenging and, at times, discouraging. To be clear, I wouldn’t consider all of the writing I do for work to be objectively good. (You may argue that this post isn’t objectively good either; and of course, that’s your right. But what is “objectively good” anyway? Aren’t all judgments of this kind subjective by their very nature? But I digress.) Writing for a new client always involves cracking a code — figuring out whether they prefer to follow a specific format or template, how much (and what kind of) personality they like injected in their content, which turns of phrase they like or dislike (such as: end any list with “and more”; don’t use “helping” because it is a weak verb).
Writing well for a client means uncovering and following their unspoken rules and style guidelines, while representing their voice, their business and their customers’ needs. It takes a unique skill set.
And sometimes those rules are a moving target. While I have great working relationships with most of my clients, I’ve worked with my share who are unpleasable. It’s hard not to take it personally if a client asks for a fourth round of revisions on something I’ve written.
These kinds of challenges can wear a person down.
And then: Burnout
I hit a breaking point last year. I’d grown tired of writing from other people’s viewpoints and getting negative feedback. “I need a new medium,” I heard myself telling people. “I don’t want to write anymore.” So I started taking design classes. And I loved them. They were challenging and new and novel. I thought: This is it. This is my way out.
But then my friend Sarah — whom I’ve known even longer than my professional writing career — and I were talking one summer night about what we wanted to do with our lives, giving each other advice and sharing experiences. She said, “You know what I’ve always wanted to do?” And that’s when this blog was born. It was such a compelling idea: a forum to share personal stories and advice from ourselves and our peers. To help solve the challenges we were both facing in our own professional lives, and that we knew others were also facing.
I thought The Juggle would be a great way to practice the design skills I’d been trying to hone. (I made this thing you’re looking at! Hand-lettered logo and all.) What I didn’t expect was that it would also reconnect me with the writer identity I’d lost sight of.
How did this blog turn things around? The recipe seems simple, actually: passion and motivation, when combined, create something really nourishing.
The passion part comes from working on subject matter (professional and personal development) that is important to me, and connecting with other women struggling with the same issues. And in blog world, the hurdles of client work are eliminated. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a tougher critic than my clients are. But understanding my voice, my point and my audience is easier because I have so much in common with my readers.
The motivation part is the effect of our team: We hold each other accountable, cheer each other on, read each other’s drafts and provide encouragement and edits. That keeps me motivated. And I’m motivated to write about things that I’d actually want to read.
Having this blog as an outlet — this passion project, to borrow a term I keep hearing lately — has made me feel inspired about writing at work again too. Turns out, writing from my clients’ points of view is an important part of my writing craft; it has made me versatile and flexible. And I take pride in getting it right for them, in helping them actually connect with their audiences with compelling content told in a relatable and accessible way, just like I’m trying to do in this blog.
Onward & upward
My work will always be challenging, and sometimes my clients will be too. But overcoming those challenges, solving those puzzles — that’s what’s so interesting and rewarding about writing in the first place. Besides, my renewed passion means I’m not only bringing my best self to work, but I’m also better able to recognize that an unpleasable client has nothing to do with who I am as a writer. Because now I have an outlet for the writing I love — and the content I develop here, and the growing I do here in the process — are far more relevant to my writing identity.
My takeaway? Let your day job pay the bills. But don’t lose sight of your passions, whether or not they are a part of that day job. Making time to pursue your interests outside of work is critical. And look, I’m the first to admit how hard that is: I have ADHD, two kids under the age of six, and an intense full-time job. But focusing on what excites me and having a support system in place are the invaluable pieces of the equation I’ve been missing for the last several years.
And I highly recommend it.