What I Learned From My Hiatus

Three months ago, I announced that I was taking a three-month hiatus from blogging and taking on new projects. I was a month into a new job, I had a new baby on the way, and I felt as if I had overcommitted myself when it came to side gigs. So, I took a break.

I had three goals in mind for these three months. First, I hoped to learn how to say no. Second, I wanted to learn how to focus on what really mattered in my life. And third, I yearned to rediscover the simple joy of being alive.

How did I do?

Well, I did manage to avoid committing to any new projects, I did manage to complete one of the biggies I was working on (editing the amazing memoirs of the incredible Chuck Galle), and I did manage to make major progress on my next book of short stories (working alongside the awesome Elissa Quinn). So, in terms of saying no to new projects and catching up on existing ones, I did make progress.

And I do feel like I have rediscovered the joy of being alive. My new daughter, Melody Woodsum Clark, who was born on April Fool's Day, has reminded me daily to look at life a little less seriously. I've lost 35 or so pounds since January, and am edging ever closer to a healthy weight. And I've taken time to fool around more, too—I beat both Mega Man 2 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii over the break.

But, for all my success in learning how to say no and in rediscovering the joy of being alive, these past three months were a struggle when it came to learning how to focus on what really matters in my life.

When I agreed to start a new job at the end of January, I did so for a number of reasons. The office was located closer to home, it paid enough that I could eventually be a one-job guy, and I thought I would be a great fit. The job was in marketing communications, and I was responsible for helping to market a product that dealt with one of my core interests in recent years: social media. The people there were fabulous, and they seemed thrilled to have me aboard.

But it quickly became apparent that, though I was great fit personality-wise, I was not the best fit for the position. Every week was a struggle. My supervisors and peers went above and beyond to try and help get me up to speed, and I did make progress. But, in the fast-paced world of a start-up, I just couldn't keep up. And I think that, deep down, one of the primary reasons I couldn't keep up was that my heart wasn't in it. Hard as I worked—and I do believe that I worked hard—my heart was somewhere else. My heart was in the secondary, part-time jobs that I'd hoped this new position would help me to eventually eliminate.

My heart was in teaching. It was in writing fiction. It was in blogging.

I fought these thoughts, and I fought them hard. Even as it became clearer and clearer that losing my job was a matter of when and not if, I struggled against the realization that I was coming to about what mattered to me most in life. I finished leading an amazing discussion on the stories of Andre Dubus with my Advanced Fiction Workshop and I told myself, "Sure, you'll miss this, but you won't miss grading homework. Or driving to Boston. Or dealing with plagiarism or excuses for excessive absences or..."

But the truth was, as the end of the semester drew nearer, I began to feel like I would miss all of those things. I began to realize that I would miss even the worst parts of the job. Silently, I told myself, "You're trying to get out of the wrong gig." Then, on May 1, publicly, I wrote this:

There will always be stress in life. The trick is to figure out which stresses are worth it in the end.

It was a Saturday afternoon, I was riding shotgun while my wife drove us north to see family, and I admitted to her that I thought I wanted to teach full-time. I told her how stupid I felt saying that out loud, how unrealistic a dream it felt like. I told her that I realized how hard it would be for us and for our growing family, but I told her that I was sick of lying to myself. The writing was on the wall at the new job, and it was time to figure out what was going to happen next.

In the weeks that followed, I thought long and hard about how every aspect of my professional and semi-professional wants and desires might be incorporated into a single vision for myself. I thought about how Geek Force Five fit in, about how my writing fit in, and about what I wanted to teach my students, about how I planned to take my teaching to the next level if given the chance. I came up with a personal mission statement:

To tell stories (primarily through the written word), to learn everything I can about telling stories, and to pass on that knowledge in the classroom and in other less traditional teaching opportunities.

A business plan followed, as did a revision of my resume. Suddenly, everything began to click. I lost the job, which was a terrible blow, but I found myself. And that's what these three months were supposed to be about. That's why these three months away were, in the end, a success.

And now, now it's time for the fun stuff. Geek Force Five is coming back this month. Pre-sales for the new book will launch next month. And there's oodles more that I can't wait to share with you. Stay tuned!