Hold Your Ambitions Lightly

Photo Credit:  Victor Camilo  via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Victor Camilo via Flickr Creative Commons

As a parent of young children I know the discomfort of caring for my kids needs in the midst of my own struggle to realize my creative ideas.  It’s a struggle we all share and everyone’s solutions are different.  Like you I am on a journey and cannot say what the outcome will be but I’d like to share with you what my aims are now and how these aims have grown from the hardships and joys of parenting.

Before the kids arrived my dreams were at the center of my life.  The identity crisis of parenthood shook the foundations of these dreams.  On the one hand I felt fulfilled in a new and unparalleled way.  On the other hand I felt frustrated and agitated that I couldn’t do the work that was once the core of my identity.  

It’s been four and a half years since my first child was born.  The paradox of frustration and delight still color each day.  But there is an important difference now: I hold my ambitions lightly.  Like so many parents my kids re-oriented my priorities.  I focus more now on intrinsic interests, serving people, and make the most of my skills not for personal gain but to build a well-rounded life.  

In many ways our children don’t change our vision.  They soften our vision.  When we hold our ambitions lightly we allow our creativity to collaborate with the Universe.  Working for personal gain is its own hardship.  When the hardship of parenting comes into the picture we can choose to take a path of aimlessness.  Aimlessness doesn’t mean you are without vision.  It means you do not direct your work tightly.  Instead you take whatever steps you can take.  It means you move in the direction of meeting the needs of your community, network, or family.  

As creative people self-expression is essential to our wellbeing.  We can choose to push for personal fulfillment.  Or we can allow fulfillment to flow into our lives and celebrate the creativity that is always in our midst.  Creative parents have a unique opportunity to make a working life for themselves that is both strong and tender.  Our insights as parents opens our hearts.  The practical difficulties we face each day strengthen our capacity to get things done.

The straight and narrow path we followed before parenthood may no longer be open to us.  When I first became a parent it seemed there was no other way to get work done.  I despaired.  As is so often the case time has softened my perspective.  Now I take small steps toward my vision.  I celebrate my modest achievements.  I keep a bright mind about my future.  And I look toward the needs of people around me and how my skills can best serve those needs.  It’s a slower road but it has greater, sweeter gifts than single-minded ambition.

5 Benefits of the Writer’s Life



Flickr Image via Creative Commons by  Fredrik Rubensson

Flickr Image via Creative Commons by Fredrik Rubensson

1. When you’re not writing - and are naturally pre-occupied with your quotidian life - you are forced to become present so you can remember it all and write about it later.  Additionally, despite stereotypes to the contrary, a writer is greatly served by improving their mental and physical health.  Living with clarity of mind is one of the hardest, but most rewarding, and overlooked, aspects of the writer’s life.

2. When you’re writing you get to dive deep into a subterranean emotional world, a world of cosmic energies, that normally, people too preoccupied by the maintenance of life, cannot go to.  When you get your writing “right”, you get to make others feel what you’ve felt.  Bridging this gap between self and other, living in this interdependent way, is one of the most thrilling imaginative relationships a writer can have.  (For the extremely introverted it may be one of the most thrilling relationships, period.)  It’s what keeps the chase alive too because it’s so very, very hard to achieve.

3. When you revise you get to be a builder.  Getting in there and tinkering with sentence, moving words around, moving one paragraph to the top and deleting another…it’s like putting together a building, you get to figure out how a sentence is constructed, what the fabric of the building needs to thrive.

4. This is the best bit - you get to read! And better still you become a better reader.

5. And then you start the cycle all over again - it all works in a glorious harmony.

How Can A Writer Begin A Project?

Image via  Suzanne Schroeter  and is a Flickr Creative Commons Lisence

Image via Suzanne Schroeter and is a Flickr Creative Commons Lisence


“He began watching and questioning his own experience, and writing down what he observed.

At first, this mainly meant following his personal enthusiasms, especially stories from his reading: tales from Ovid, histories from Caesar and Tacitus, biographical snippets from Plutarch, and advice on how to live from Seneca and Socrates.  Then he wrote down stories he heard from friends, incidents from the day-to-day life of the estate, cases that had lodged in his mind from his years in law and politics, and oddities he had seen on his (so far limited) travels.  These were his modest beginnings.”

-How to Live: A life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer by Sarah Bakewell


If my creative life had a mantra this week it would be “contrast”.  On Saturday our family hosted a party for ten children.  Those of you who have party-aged kids will know it was pretty high-energy.  On Wednesday our daughter was part of a neighborhood parade of hand-made lanterns called St. Martin’s Day, a traditional children’s holiday in German.  The week before we’d gone to her kindergarten to help her make a hot-pink dragon with purple glitter.  


Here’s the contrast bit: my writing life is quiet.  Though I don’t know yet what it is, I feel on the cusp of a new project.  Its details are still a mystery to me, but I sense I need a new way of working.


It’s too easy in creative life to be preoccupied with movement of thought.  I read about a book a week.  I keep a podcast on while I’m cooking or cleaning.  And of course I write.  Writing isn’t just about the time it takes to put words to paper.  It’s the movement of thought before-hand.  


But something is missing in that mix.  That something I think is life itself.  Without unfiltered experience there’s no material to write with.  So my creative goal this week is a non-doing.  I will commit to chunks of time when I look as clearly as possible at my environment and experience.  I think of it as a writer’s meditation.  As beautiful as getting to know your life when sitting is, as a writer I’m interested in getting to know the texture of my life as it’s lived.  That’s the grist for my creative mill.  I hope that, paradoxically, quieting my writer’s mind I will unearth the deepest layer of material for a writer: not the movement of thought but the movement of life.