Changing Dreams

We interrupt our regularly scheduled transmission to bring you an important announcement.

TL:DR I am finishing up my contracts at the University of Tasmania over the next eight months and going on to new and exciting things.

I thought it was about time that I make this Facebook official. It’s beginning to feel very official. Very real.

I have said already on this blog that this is the Year of Saying No to everything. Well, it turns out that one of the things I am saying no to is my job.

At the beginning of this year I wrote in my journal, “I’m not going to keep going as I am. I’m done…Ready to move on.” I have taught the foundation chemistry unit at the University of Tasmania for ten years, for three semesters a year. And I have taught into a couple of other third-year units as well. I have also worked in research at the University of Sydney and at the University of Tasmania for seven years combined. I have supervised  one honours student and co-supervised three PhD students. And no, I don’t have tenure, I don’t have a permanent position. My work has ranged from casual by-the-hour work to as much as a two-year contract. If you want to know how I feel about that, you can read this post.

This year, I was ready for a change, and there were a couple of different options available for me to apply for at the university. But as the year went on, I felt more and more that it was time for me to try something new. You see, I want to write. I want to produce novels and write non-fiction books, and generally put my creativity out into the world. But I also want to live, I want to be healthy, to spend time with family and friends, and to exercise. And while others may be able to hold down a university position, and write, and have a life, I know I can’t. I’ve tried.

I have read a few books this year about how to get the writing business going and most of them advocate waking at 4am to write before work, going to work and doing a good day’s labour, and then coming home to work on the business more after work hours. They say that it’s stupid to give up your day job until you are able to support yourself with your dream job. I can see their point, but I have two problems with that scheme for myself.

One is that I’m already struggling to have enough energy to do what I already do. Even with all the changes I’ve made to diet and exercise, and with figuring out and fixing my thyroid issue, I’m still exhausted. This may be due to certain aspects of the university job. I don’t know. But the bottom line here is that I would be taking my time away from my family and letting them down if I put writing first and added that workload to the work I’m already doing. I’m not willing to sacrifice my family’s well-being or my physical and mental health for a writing career that may or may not happen.

Another issue with the aforementioned plan is that the university system already wants me to work from 4am until 10pm for my academic work. To truly ‘make it’ in academia it needs to be your whole life, your passion. You need to be willing to work when you’re on holidays, to work over the weekends, to stay until 4am getting an experiment right. Now, there are several articles I’ve read that show that you don’t have to sell your soul to the university to ‘make it’ as a professor but I feel like the pressure to work long hours is there and that I would be fighting against the trend if I were to treat an academic career like a ‘9-5 job’ and even taking on that fight is exhausting. But to try to run an academic career and build a writing business at the same time? Hats off to anyone who can do that.

I was talking to a creative writing lecturer earlier this year about my book and she asked, “How are you able to write and work in academia?” and I had to say that I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep it up. That I was leaving the uni behind. She looked relieved, to be honest. For her, writing is her academic career and good on her. She couldn’t imagine being able to write as well as do the uni thing. And neither can I. Not on a long-term basis.

So, what is my plan?

I have nixed the idea of becoming a stand up comedian. Just thought I’d let you know that.

The teaching contract I presently have will finish at the end of December and after that I will have two days of research a week until somewhere around the middle of next year. That gives me about eight months to figure out if I can make a living working for myself. If I can’t then I will be looking for another job around the middle of next year. We shall see.

I would like to write about 2000 words a day. Working towards both fiction and non-fiction books. Writing generally takes 5-10 years to pay off if you’re going the Indie Author route (which I am). Yes, 5-10 years. Not a short-term investment.

In the meantime, I hope to make money by doing some English language editing of scientific journal articles and theses. That is, taking work written by people with English as a second (or fifth – these people are incredibly skilled) language and correcting their English. I am in the middle of writing a business plan for this idea and I’ll be setting up a website in due time and trying to get that off the ground. It’s something I really enjoyed when working with my PhD students, and something I have also done voluntarily for an open access journal. But now I’d like to make it pay.

That is the plan. And my teaching for the semester has all but finished so in a couple of weeks (after exam marking) I’m going to be able to put decent hours into the new stuff and get it underway. I’m pretty excited about it.

I also started crying in the car as I was heading home after my last lab class. My last ever lab class.

So you could say feelings are mixed. I’m laying down one dream, and picking up another.

Anyway, that’s the news. I wanted to let you know.

Saying no to a worthy thing

Everything is worthy

Some things are really easy to say no to.

For example, I have no desire to run a marathon. And despite how wonderful my running friends say that running is, I just don’t enjoy it. I love a good brisk walk in the evening but that’s about as far as it goes. So I am not in any way tempted to say yes to fun runs, boot camps, even yoga retreats. It is very easy for me to say no to those.

I used to feel very bad about saying no to party plan parties. You know, those sales parties for makeup or lingerie or linen or tupperware or cleaning products or… the list goes on and on. My good friends would ring me or send me a message telling me about this wonderful new product that they were having a party for. Actually, that’s not strictly true. More often they would ring or send a message to tell me that they really didn’t care about the sales, they just needed bums on seats, and they were going to provide yummy food (and in some cases, alcohol) and we could listen to the little sales spiel and then spend the rest of the time enjoying ourselves and just hanging out, and could I please come?

I would be torn. I was glad that the person thought of me. And I really understood the terror of booking a party-plan party and having no-one show up. And I wanted to be their friend and be there for them. And sometimes I even believed in the philosophy of the product that they were selling. But I really didn’t want to go.

In the end, I decided that these parties were not the best use of my time. I didn’t have the money to spend on them and I didn’t and don’t need more stuff. Especially stuff that I had to be talked into buying. And as much as I loved my friends and was flattered by them thinking of me, there was never time to just chat and hang out at these parties. Or at least, never time to get into the deep conversations that I like to have. Only time for small talk which I personally find exhausting.

So I am happy for others to have party-plan parties, but whenever I am asked now, the answer is always no. And it doesn’t hurt me much to say it.

However, some things are much harder to say no to.

This year I found that I had to say no to a part-time job.

The job involved working after-hours as a tutor in a small business that tutors primary and high school students in literacy and maths. It’s an excellent business, the tutors do excellent work, and it’s something I totally, whole-heartedly believe in. There is also a huge need for tutors – there is always a waiting list for the business. And tutoring is something I can do. I know enough maths and science to tutor people through high school and beyond, and I could probably do high school English at a pinch.

But it was not the right thing for me to be doing.

Each week as the time came for me to begin tutoring, or as emails relating to the job came into my inbox, or as I would think about the next staff meeting, my gut would knot up, my stress levels would rise.

But when I thought about saying no, about quitting, I couldn’t justify it. This job was only a very part-time job. I had made a commitment to keep tutoring until the end of the year, and I keep my commitments. I couldn’t think of any good reason to turn the work down, except that I wanted more time for writing, more time to do the thing I knew was my thing. And that keeping on going felt all wrong.

In the end, after much conversation, my boss made it easy for me and arranged things so I could bow out gracefully. I’m very grateful to her. And I’m sure it was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t easy – the job was such a worthy cause, the work was worthwhile.

There is no shortage of worthwhile things to do – worthy causes to give time to. But somehow we need to weed them out because we cannot do everything. We just can’t.

I’m going to explore this idea a bit more in the next few blog posts. For now I want to encourage you to listen to your gut. Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to a worthy activity that is just not right for you right now. Maybe you’ve looked at your schedule, your activities, and you’ve prioritised like I suggested in the ping-pong ball post and there are very worthy things that don’t fit. If that is the case, you don’t need to do it all.

If you need someone’s permission to drop that worthy thing, I give you permission. It’s ok to say no.

It might be time to have that hard conversation with someone so that your life is simplified and you are more able to do the things on top of your list. My experience is that it is worth it. Hard, yes, but worth it.

How about you? Have you said no to a very worthy thing? Have you had your gut say no when your head said yes? How did it work out for you? I’d love to hear in the comments.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

If you would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.