On wonder, and how to follow it.

I'm sitting here in my sister-in-law's apartment in Sweden (Malmö to be exact, Möllan to be exact-er). It's early in the evening, and we've just arrived home after the most delightful, wholesome weekend on the Island where she grew up. 

 
 This is what total happiness looks like, coming in from the cold on a Swedish fall day. 

This is what total happiness looks like, coming in from the cold on a Swedish fall day. 

 

We went to an 11 pm lute concert, picked mushrooms in the woods, made friends with neighbourhood horses, and on and on and on and on. 

Now I'm online with a group of incredible business owners in Toronto, and we're all tapping away at our laptops (or maybe some of them are working on paper, I can't see everyone on the webcam at the moment). It's the first meeting of the Use Your Words Content Collective, which my friend Lindsay and I decided to create when we wanted to meet up to tend our neglected (or nonexistent) blogs. 

I arrived in Sweden on Thursday, after spending six days wandering around Paris. I'm not sure when I'll be back home, or even where home will be in the long term. 

This is my life. 

This is totally new.

A year ago, almost exactly, I was in a totally different place. I mean that both literally and figuratively. I had been working in a job that I sometimes enjoyed but also resented, slowly (and then quickly) falling apart. I knew something needed to change, and I knew it needed to happen soon. 

But I had no idea how, or even what, exactly. 

This is the story of how I actually made a change, finally, after years of needing to. This is the story of how I became a person who works from Paris, or Malmö, or who knows where. This is the story of On Wonder. 

I have always been a writer, but it took me a long time to call myself one. I think in words on a page. If I need to know what I really think about something, writing is the best way for me to do it. I 100% believe that you can capture a thing's essence or energy in words, that they form a sort of bridge to an idea, so that when other people read them they feel exactly what the original thing is. 

And it took me a long time to acknowledge this for the gift it is.

Which means I felt lost, and for a long time. I'm grateful now (and I know everyone says it, but it's true). I'm grateful because it means I know that change is possible, in a way I didn't before. 

But lets get back to being lost, before we get found. 

I was always a writer. I was always creative. I always dreamed and wondered and watched and shared what I saw. But I had no idea that I could do that for a living. All around me I saw people being practical.

My parents had been practical. They're both artists at heart: one a jazz singer/songwriter, the other a writer and photographer. They're both artists at heart, and they both - for practical reasons involving the world and raising children and responsibilities and for which I am in many ways incredibly grateful - took jobs doing work they enjoyed, but that didn't leave enough time for their art. Jobs where their full beauty and power and truth didn't get to shine as much as it could have. And I think they both hurt for it, more or less as the years continued on. For 35 years. 

I always said that wouldn't be me. That I wasn't interested in a job for practicality's sake.

And then I did it anyways. 

Looking back, it started young. During high school, I decided I wanted to work in film. I've always been totally in love with movies, and at some point I decided that working in film would be a good way to make a living. I pursued this for a few years in my early 20s, working on student and independent films. On the one hand I adored the rush of energy that comes from a film set - all of that adrenaline coursing through the days. On the other, I knew I would end up burnt out. I imagined my ideal days - relaxed and beautiful and creative, with lots of time for people and projects I loved. It was the opposite from the work I was doing. 

Which meant I needed to find a new idea of myself, and of my career. 

And I had no idea. 

I was operating under what I now realize is a totally outdated model of work and careers. One that doesn't work. But I assumed I had to start as a receptionist somewhere, and work my way up (or at least some version of that). 

When I graduated, with a BA in Film Studies, I had been trying to find work and totally failing. I always worked, but it seemed like I could only get the same kind of jobs I had held when I was a student: barista, customer service associate, and the like. 

Meanwhile, I had also spent five years working as a library assistant. It was an amazing job as a student - it paid more than minimum wage, and I was surrounded by books and readers. 

I started thinking: maybe I should just become a librarian.

A note: if the word "just" enters your lexicon when it comes to career planning, I think it should probably be a warning sign that you're thinking too small for yourself. 

I decided (eventually, after a couple of false starts - also warning signs) that being a librarian might be perfect. I'd have a nice, decently-paid job, and I'd write novels or something during my down time.

Something that I didn't realize then is that work - especially the wrong work - takes a lot of energy out of you. When I finished my master's in library studies and started working, I was immediately consumed by my jobs. I had no time, no energy, and no interest in writing after work. I wanted to watch Netflix (and I'm still very pro-Netflix), hang out eating delicious things either alone or with friends, and sleep. 

In reality, depression feels like a strong word to use, but it also doesn't feel totally wrong. I definitely felt off. Things weren't how I wanted them to be. 

Cue the magic words: that's what work is. 

I hope I don't have to tell you how strongly I disagree with them. 

Work does not have to be totally draining. Mondays do not have to be a thing you dread. Anyone doing work they love, in a way that they love, with people they love working with, will tell you the same. And that might sound like a heck of a lot of things to try to get into order, but I can tell you that it's not only possible, but so worth pursuing. 

But for a long time, even though I didn't really believe them, I still lived by them.

Which is how I ended up where I was a year ago: five years into a career that had never felt totally right, doing work that I sometimes loved but mostly found totally exhausted, yearning for something different but with no idea how to make it happen. And it felt like I had existed in that state for four of those five years, with no way out coming clear. 

I had been looking at job listings almost the entire time, and had applied for maybe three actual jobs. I didn't see anything I wanted. 

So I hit a point where it felt like I had no way out, but I couldn't keep going. I could not keep going.

So I stopped. Without knowing. Without a clear path. Just knowing that whatever path I thought I was on, I couldn't keep on in the direction it seemed to be taking me.

It was terrifying. And thrilling.

Really, in all actuality, it came down to a question of values. I started really thinking about what was important to me in creating and living a life. For me creativity, joy, love, exploration, curiosity and wonder: those are the things that I want to guide me and my choices. 

But I had been living according to something that I, personally, didn't actually prioritize very highly (and I know I'm not alone): stability. 

What about my pension? What about a regular paycheque? What about extended health insurance? 

What about them? 

What about feeling curiousand excited and like something beautiful and new could be around every corner? What about creating work that I believed in, in ways that felt good? What about creating the kind of world - and the kind of work - that I wanted to live in? 

In that moment (really a long series of moments) I knew that this - exploring and creating my own work, my own business, my own career - was something that I needed to at least try. I didn't need to be successful (although that was definitely the ideal).

And suddenly, everything came together.

It didn't happen all at once, or as quickly as I sort of wanted it to (it turns out I needed to spend a few months just stopped - healing and resting and learning to be in a new state). 

But pretty quickly, things started happening. Magic started happening.

Don't ask me to explain the universe, or how it works, or what exactly I mean when I use the word magic (or the word universe). But I can tell you how it feels: beautiful and wondrous and fun and interesting. Real. Weird. Great.

Projects and clients and work came out of nowhere (and when I say nowhere, I mean somewhere, but I don't understand where exactly). 

I had that thing that happens, when all of a sudden all of the meandering paths I had taken suddenly converged, and made sense together (which I had thought would never happen in my case). 

I felt good. Shock. 

And here I am, a year later. 

This is my work. This is my life. It's guided by adventure and newness and wonder. 

I have something I knew (or hoped) was out there, somewhere, even though I had no idea how to get to it. 

The answer was this: follow the energy. Follow that pull, in your heart and your body, towards the things you love. The people and ideas and projects. The way of working. The way of living.

Follow that. 

If you need some inspiration, here is some of Sweden. Did you know that they have cinnamon bun day?? A whole day, where everyone makes cinnamon buns. It is the most wholesome, adorable place I've ever been. 

Ange Friesen