I was already mulling over the idea of treating you to a more personal post for the August Bank Holiday weekend. But it was my friend Eleanor who gave me the call to action. Writing about how to earn a crust doing what you love, and picking up on a frivolous comment I’d left about my weekend chocolate cake hobby, she wrote:
That stuff that you love doing? The stuff that makes you smile? Can you do more of it and still get paid? This might seem like a really stupid question, especially if the thing you love doing is something like Christine’s eating chocolate cake. How can Christine get paid for eating cake?
My first reaction to El’s challenge was to say, “don’t be ridiculous, eating chocolate cake is my Saturday treat, and what has it got to do with making money?”
But, since I like both chocolate cake and making money, and I’m always up for learning things about myself, even in completely wacky ways, I thought I’d stick with the question and see where it took me.
I don’t actually need much of an excuse to spend time in my local coffee shop but I thought a chocolate cake fieldtrip was called for, so off I headed this morning in search of whatever magic I could find.
Sure enough it came in the form of childhood memories.
It’s probably no surprise to know I loved chocolate anything as a child. My mum was a terrific baker and I ate pretty much everything she produced. Often before it actually made it to the oven.
These were terrific days. When I wasn’t eating, and sometimes even when I was, I was often holed up behind the sofa with pens, papers, crayons, paints, gripped by my creative project of the moment. See, I had the biggest fun as a kid writing stories, and doing all the illustrations for them. Sometimes the stories were serious; sometimes they were satirical and witty. Whatever, I just loved putting stuff together that people would both read and be affected by.
I should have been a writer. That was after all my dream. The child in me had visions of living in a beautiful old cottage, with my dream husband, and a brood of cute kids. When I wasn’t keeping house and feeding my family chocolate cake, I’d be producing block buster books. Stuff that seemed light and frothy on the surface, but captured people’s hearts and so made a difference to their lives.
My father’s death more than took the edge off of things.
But the killer blow was delivered by my guidance teacher who simply sneered as she met with me and my mother to decide what subjects I do for exams.
“Nobody makes money from anything arty in Glasgow, Christine” she said. “You need to focus your efforts on academic subjects and think about a commercial career instead.”
With my dad gone, and us living off my mum’s widow’s pension, what I heard that night, whether it was implied or not, was that I couldn’t do things I loved and make money from them. That I needed to stop thinking like a child and grow up.
I’d always thought that the creative kid had died at that point. But looking back I see that’s not true. What happened was she just got clever and did what she had to do to survive. She took her story in a different direction, and created a new leading role for herself: the business woman. And she played it impeccably. It was what got her through school subjects in which she had no interest; pushed her to do things that felt incongruous; and propelled her to levels she would not otherwise have chosen.
Neither of my parents were around to see me become an HR Director, or to launch my own business. If they had, they’d have been beyond proud. Such achievement was beyond their wildest dreams. So, the career girl certainly did good.
And, make no mistake: it was a part in which I came to feel very at home. It gave me lots of fun challenges, allowed me to meet lots of wonderful people, and enabled me to do lots of international traveling.
But it wasn’t sustainable in the long term.
Curiously when the persona began to crack, and I needed to find out who I was beyond it, how I was going to live and work without it, I intuitively turned to writing as a form of therapy. It allowed me to express myself in ways I may otherwise have not. It was through writing that I could articulate my passion for coaching and counseling, the things I’ve focused on in the last years, that I completely adore and that pay my way in life. But having retrieved the artist in me, I’m not letting her go.
My best writing has always been done in coffee shops, and often with some form of cake or other. Perhaps it’s just the caffeine and sugar buzz. Perhaps too there’s something of the warmth and busyness I find there that invokes happy memories of my family living room and stimulates my creativity.
And, sure, I’m not making money from eating chocolate cake.
But, I am marketing my business almost exclusively through my writing now.
Here’s the big, circle-completing part of the picture, and I only just saw it this way myself. So much of the work I do with clients is about story. When they come to me, although they never use this language, it’s because something of their story doesn’t fit, or is difficult to deal with. They’ve lost their way in the plot. An old script needs to change. A new storyboard needs creating. Partnering with others as they share their own cliff-hangers, romances and heartaches is privileged creative work indeed. Can you imagine what it feels like to work with someone who becomes truly gripped by your story; who can hold all the sub plots together; who can help you emerge from your own self-created mask and carry your true self forward in life?
Now that I’ve had this massive insight about story, will I do more with it? Will I write more? Will I start producing block busters?
You’ll just have to wait for the next chapter! But meantime I’d love to know in what direction you’d take this story next.