I spent half of last week attending the Human Performance Institute‘s Corporate Athlete course. While the title of this course focuses on work, this course has changed my life on every level. Having listened to much of the audiobook of All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner leading up to that business trip also helped to set the stage. I may not be addicted to pills, booze, or drugs, but I have my own ways of hiding from life and numbing the pain I feel. Listening to that novel about addiction and recognizing the stories Allison tells herself to justify her addiction put me in the perfect mindset for this course. I plan on writing more about the course and my own personal demons, but I’m going to start small and focus this post on my reading and blogging life.
The first day of the course, we talked about our big whys or our ultimate missions. What is it that keeps us focused and moving toward our goals in the face of opposition? We talked about the difference between setting out to do something on a whim or without a good why and doing the same thing with that why or ultimate mission in mind. It wasn’t that I didn’t already know the power of doing something for a good purpose. Very little of what they covered during the course was new to me. It wasn’t rocket science. It simply prompted me to reflect on my past experiences. I could easily categorize things I’ve set out to do in my life based on doing them halfheartedly or on a whim versus because it mattered deeply to me. Without exception, those things that I succeeded in accomplishing were done through the power of my why. What a powerful reflection. Since then, I’ve reflected on my reading and blogging life.
The First Big Why
Literate Housewife has been in existence and a part of my identity in one form or the other now for 7 and a half years. In 2007, the big why for reading and blogging about what I read began with a New Year’s Resolution to do something just for myself. I was then the mother of two preschool aged daughters and the fog of postpartum depression and anxiety was just starting to thin out. I had been focused especially on my life as a mother and full-time employee and I needed something that could be just for me. Something that would bring me comfort and joy. Something that would build me up. When you’ve felt as low as I did, that was certainly a huge why for me.
I found that in the midst of my anxiety filled nights that reading calmed me down and allowed me to get back to sleep. This wasn’t surprising in that reading has always comforted me and brought me solace. So, on January 1, 2007, I challenged myself to read a book a week for that year. To keep myself honest, I created a blog to journal my progress. Not only did I feel like reading was bringing a little balance back into my life, I discovered an entire community of readers along the way. It was a wonderful year and I met my goal easily. I left 2007 feeling better about myself and so thankful to have reading back as part of my daily life.
When I started blogging, there was a clear shelf date in my mind: 12/31/2007. As that day approached, I didn’t want to stop. There were these wonderful readers and book blogging friends I’d met along the way. I needed a new why and without a doubt community was it. I loved reading and commenting on other blogs and I felt driven to write not only reviews, but about topics that came up along the way. I have wonderful memories of the first Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I was in love with my identity as a book blogger.
Other readers and book bloggers were not the only people who played into Jennifer as book blogger. Authors and publishers began to contact me, pitching their books and hoping for coverage. That was a huge mine field to maneuver through almost from the beginning. There were uncomfortable situations and the inevitable situation where I’d bitten off more than I could chew. When I finally posted about this book blogging crisis, my fellow book bloggers, most of whom I’ve never met and might never meet in this lifetime, had my back and supported me. They were my big why and I love them for it.
A strong sense of community was a very strong why for me for at least three years. Looking back, there were a couple of huge why nots lurking:
- Reading and blogging were taking up an inordinate amount of my free time. What began as reading and blogging for me was morphing into reading and blogging to hide from the stresses of my family and work life. Disappearing from my family was not part of my initial mission at all. Where was my head when this red flag started waving?
- My reading focus began to drift away from what I wanted to read and toward what others wanted me to read. During my first year of blogging I read what I had on my shelves or what I found at the library. Yes, some of the books were newish releases, but most selections just followed my fancy (Philippa Gregory and Historical Fiction). While being pitched books that had yet to be released was fun and regular book mail made me giddy, reading began to shift from relaxing to even more work. While I always dreamed of working with books most of my life, getting a second unpaid job was not a part of the original plan. I am a people pleaser to a fault. I will go to great lengths to keep others happy without taking my own into account. My reading moved from making me happy to making others happy at top speed.
The Rise of Audiobooks
Around 2010ish, I began to notice that my “I don’t wannas” in terms of reading and blogging began to appear. Despite the drama that continued to swell in the book blogging community, I still loved being a book blogger. What I found was that in and of itself wasn’t enough for me over the long term. It was a why that needed an equally compelling counterpart. While the impact blogging had on my family life should have been in the forefront, I still was telling myself rational lies about how reading and blogging made me a better wife and mother at the time. The weight of blogging as a second job was taking its toll.
I opened an Audible account mainly to help me get some more reading time in at night while I was trying to get my kids to sleep. What I found was that audiobooks provided me another avenue to get in that “just for me” reading. The times that I listened to audiobooks (laying down in the kids’ room while they fell asleep, doing laundry, my daily commute) were times that I couldn’t fill with the reading I otherwise felt obligated to do. I was not only exploring a new world that I now dearly love (big shout out here to all you audiobook narrators and publishing professionals out there!), I was once again free to follow my fancy. I was back in a blogging heaven that widened the net of my community and increased my creativity. It was during that time that I first freaked out that a certain British narrator started tweeting with me and the Armchair Audies and Baby, It’s Cold Outside were born. Despite the fact that my why nots were still there and becoming more and more pressing, I felt on top of the world.
Mini Whys and the Absence of Big Whys
While Baby, It’s Cold Outside in December of 2012 was definitely a result of my audiobook drive, it also was the beginning of what has felt like the end ever since. I featured 30ish narrators over the course of that December. I love and respect each and every one of them, but it spent about every drop of gas I had left in my blogging tank. I worked the equivalent of two and a half full time jobs that December and I’ve yet to more than partially recover my drive to blog.
There have been little things along the way that have given me a little shot of adrenaline, like Bloggers Recommend. I love being a part of this group of dedicated bloggers. I am proud of what Nicole and Jennifer have done with this dream of theirs. What an honor. Still, I haven’t found a healthy balance for this in my reading and personal life. There are times when I am ahead of the monthly deadline curve and (more and more often) when I’m pushing that deadline as far as they’ll let me. Bloggers Recommend is wonderful, but it’s only a Mini Why that highlights the lack of a big why.
For the past six months I’ve felt almost desperate in my search for the next big why in reading and blogging life. I’ve tried moving to a more organized blogging week. It helped in the short run, but a Monday Mini once a month is about all I have in me most of the time. I have also considered things like what Book Riot is doing. I love their website and I was so very tempted to apply the last time they opened up for new contributors, but I held back. As much as I think I’d love to become a Rioter, I worried that I’d just be trading one second job for another. I also am not sure that I want to full on give up on Literate Housewife. I’m moving more to a place in my life where giving up on dead weight is the only logical choice, but I’ve invested so much of myself to this blog for almost 8 years. Literate Housewife is so much a part of my personal identity. I won’t lie. I’ve been scared to find out who I am without it.
I’ve also been talking with many people about creating something more collaborative. While I didn’t apply for the Book Riot opportunity, I need to move away from a platform that relies solely on me. Starting something new and exciting with people I admire and respect would definitely take the sting out of closing the Literate Housewife chapter in my life. Nothing has become of this yet, but it’s still there in the back of my mind when Literate Housewife is not.
It’s always important to take a time out and reflect on where you are and where you want to be. As life moves forward and you change, sometimes you outgrow a why that was once very meaningful to you. You need to reassess your mission and realign your whys. Other times those you need to take a step back and reflect on your big why to determine if you’re still in line with it. If it still matters, all you may need is to go in for a realignment.
After taking the Corporate Athlete and doing some intense self analysis, my first target mission is on my own health and fitness so that I can be a more engaged wife and mother. Literate Housewife has been gathering a lot of dust for a long time now and its future is far from my top priority. By doing that I’ll also take care of the fears I have surrounding my own identity because it will be rebuilding it day by day on things that will truly matter to me. When the time comes I will address my future as a book blogger. In the meantime, I’ll be using this place to focus on the literal and figurative housecleaning going on in my life.
Here’s to the biggest and best why of all.