Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. Because when we choose Must, we are no longer looking for inspiration out there. Instead, we are listening to our calling from within, from some luminous, mysterious place.  – Elle Luna

Lean-into-your-dreamsMy office was packed with papers – copies of readings, portfolios that students had never come to claim, drafts of syllabi – and I was buried as I try to sort through three huge filing cabinets and determine what I needed to keep and what I should recycle.

It was my final week as a full-time writing professor, and I had to clean my office.

I gifted the talking Dilbert doll. I packed my family pictures in a box.  I lugged crates of books out to my car.

Even now, four years later, I get sad thinking about leaving that place, a place where I had made dear friends and come to love my students.

But from where I sit on the farm in my bathrobe, almost 5 hours of work for the day already behind me, I don’t regret the decision to leave full-time teaching to write. Not one bit. 

This morning, my friend Kristin posted this link to my FB wall. I cried when I read it because, well, because four years ago, I chose to do what I “must” instead of what people said I “should” do.

  • I had a FULL-TIME position teaching position in English, something I had worked toward through two graduate degrees and 5 years of adjuncting.
  • I had secured the position against talented, qualified people in a market that was glutted with people who had English degrees.
  • I had the rare opportunity to teach creative writing at a community college.
  • I worked with incredible colleagues and talented students.
  • The administration trusted me enough to manage our accreditation process.
  • A friend and I had started a successful speakers’ series.
  • I had two chapters come out in two significant academic publications.

Why would I ever leave that? I left because that life wasn’t my dream.  While I loved (and still do love) teaching, I needed to move on for several reasons:

  • The administrative work, as much as it was an honor, was sucking me dry.
  • Teaching 10 classes – all of which required significant hours of grading each week – was forcing me to work 60-70 hours a week.
  • Spending most of my time and energy on other people’s words was stealing the time and energy I had to give to my own.
  • I just wasn’t happy.

And that last point – the one about happiness – that’s the biggest deal – not because of some hedonist who seeks pleasure is the most important thing. No, the fact that I wasn’t happy meant I wasn’t doing my best work. I was falling into negativity and bitterness, and I was beginning to resent my job.

Teaching is not a job where resentment works out well.  (In fact, I’m not sure any job does well under the burden of resentment.)

So I gave a year’s notice, and I quit.  I had no job lined up. No significant savings. No plans.  (But I did have a mortgage.)

I lined up some adjunct work and tutoring. I starting looking for editing clients.  I sold my house and moved into a rental with a friend.  And I made it work.

Plus – and here’s the clincher – I felt better and I wrote more. 

Within 18 months, I was able to leave college teaching altogether (and I do so miss my time in classrooms with students), and within 3 years, I was supporting myself completely by writing, editing, and teaching online writing workshops.

So here’s why I’m writing about this journey today. I’m writing to encourage you, to challenge you – take a risk, lean harder into something you dream of doing.  Work for it.  The dream will hold you when you work and trust it.

  • If you’ve always wanted to write a book, then start – TODAY – write the title down. Then, tomorrow, write a paragraph.
  • If you’ve always dreamed of working for an incredible organization that quite literally saves the world, pull up a job ad and begin to get your resume in line with what they need.
  • If you want to own a farm, start reading farm magazines, find out if you can have a few chickens in your yard, fill your Pinterest board with images of goat feeders.

Here’s what I know – the more you fill your days, your mind, and your heart with your dreams, the more you will live them.  So dream big.  Dream wide.  You can do it.

And all those papers, I moved a lot of them with me to that rental with my friend.  Then, when I moved again, I pared down to two boxes.  Then, when I moved again, I was down to just one trunk full.  A couple of months ago, I condensed everything to four file folders.

Everything else made a beautiful flame in one of our bonfires here at God’s Whisper.  I don’t miss them at all.

What is the dream that makes your heart flutter? If you don’t know, try an exercise from Luna’s essay and write your own obituary.  What do you want your life to speak in those words?  Now, how do you lean hard into that?