I had a breakthrough last week. I realized that much of what I do is for other people. I’m not talking about service, exactly, but more like the old adage of the fallen tree in the forest. If no one was around to hear it, did it really happen?
Think about it. If you clean the house and no one notices, was it worth it? Why play a beautiful song on the piano if no one is around to hear it? Why put in volunteer hours at the school if they don’t count for something? Weed a backyard that no one else sees? Vacuum a car no one else drives? Get an A in a class that won’t count toward a degree anyway? It all comes down to one question.
Did you do it for yourself, or for them?
My epiphany began when I started collecting all the book reviews of my newly published book, How to Have Peace When You’re Falling to Pieces. I’d pore over those precious words, memorize them, post the best words on Facebook, and retweet them. It was like an emotional massage for a first-time author who had waited a lifetime to hear her writerly praises sung.
But then a realization hit: what happens after the blog tour is done? What happens when my friends have finished the book and set it on the shelf? What happens when my publicist moves on to other, newer authors, and my Amazon rankings start to slide? Am I still glad that I wrote the book?
Did I write it for them, or for me?
I was one of those geeky school-focused teenagers who had to ask a guy out on my first date (a girl’s choice dance), and only then because that’s what teenage girls do. They go on dates. So I made it happen.
Then college came, and I got a degree. Because that’s what girls do. I got married, had kids, and decorated my house–because that’s what women do. I quickly found that I wasn’t the crafty type, and I didn’t run marathons or throw elaborate parties. But there was one thing I loved, and it was writing. So I wrote a book. It was my answer to those Pinterest-worthy cooks and housecleaners and crafters, those moms who spent hours building PVC-tents and IKEA bookshelves for their kids. They were good at that stuff, and I wasn’t. So I stopped trying and switched to what I knew.
Now that the experience is over and tapering off, it’s taken a little soul-searching to realize that I really did write “How to Have Peace” for me. If no one read it, or if the publisher hadn’t accepted it, I’d still have done it. A small part of me probably wanted to experience being an author, and another piece wanted to influence the lives of others in a cosmic and literary way. Maybe a deep, innermost piece wanted to feel like I was worth something as a person. But at the end of the day, I wrote a book, and I did it for me.
That realization is starting to change a few things in my life. I’ve struggled with weight issues since childhood. I have three sisters who can eat anything and never gain weight, and most of my friends are thin. I’ve finally admitted to myself that my half-hearted diet and exercising attempts were for them, not for me. I wanted their approval, and I wanted that body that magazines and TV shows say we should have, or we’re not worth much. With that mentality, of course I wasn’t going to lose weight! I had to decide to do it for me.
Whether I lost weight or not, whether the inches fell off or I worked myself into the ground for no reason, I had to make that decision. So last week, I made it. I signed up for a month-long strict diet program–and I did it for me.
My next book is in the works, and even if it doesn’t see the light of day, I’ll always know that I did it for myself. That’s really the only reason to do something anyway.
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