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Each year, about this time, I find myself in a dilemma, which is this: I’m completely overbooked. As much as I’ve tried to lay low, I find myself writing a ward Christmas program, helping with a major Relief Society holiday dinner, assisting the Cub Scouts, assisting with PTA movie night, and writing a major grant for my kids’ school. That is on top of my writing obligations, family obligations, and regular church obligations.
How did this happen?
After all, my number one piece of advice to writers and anyone in the creative arts is: Be a fierce defender of your time. No one is going to guard that time for you–quite the opposite. Everyone wants a piece of you. They will make you feel special: “Hurray, you’re the new PTA president! Congratulations, you’ve been selected to help with the Blue and Gold banquet.” But at the end of the night, you’re the one vacuuming glitter off the floor.
Don’t get me wrong: volunteering is awesome. We need willing volunteers. But there is a stigma, especially for moms who don’t work outside the home, that their time is expansive. They should be absolutely willing and available to help with chaperoning field trips, stapling copies and running the ward talent show. Before we’re even aware, we get guilted into raising our hand for one more thing. This trickles over into the home, with the expectation that Mom is always “on,” available to run forgotten homework assignments and lunches to the school at a moment’s notice.
So what’s to be done? As Mormon women, we have been taught to serve. This can make it especially hard to pursue a career or schooling path that may, to us, seem selfish. I admitted to my husband recently that I feel guilty every day for the service I don’t perform.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, I feel bad I haven’t taken bread to the neighbor with the two sets of twins. I feel guilty for not calling this person on their birthday, and that person when her husband was out of town.”
“Huh,” my husband said. “Feeling guilty for not serving would never even cross my mind.
For years I’ve looked at service as an opposition to my profession as a writer. I can either write or I can serve, but the two can’t co-exist.
Then I had a realization. I was reading King Benjamin’s address in Mosiah, something I’ve done dozens and dozens of times. I came across the oft-quoted scripture, “When ye are in the service of your fellow being, ye are only in the service of your God.” What I realized is that King Benjamin was talking about his job as king. His job. The thing he reported to every morning at 8 a.m. wearing a suit and tie.
That was my problem. I’ve never looked at my job as a writer as service. Yet I get frequent emails from readers who tell me how much my columns mean to them, how this insight or that insight touched their hearts. I look at my fiction writing as a bit indulgent, but I never feel that way toward my favorite authors. Their literary works, their gifts to humanity, have given my life so much meaning.
The definition of service is “an act of helpful activity.” Teaching, healing, scholarship, art: these professions all provide service. What would we do without garbage collectors and UPS drivers? Does the fact that we get paid for our service somehow diminish its importance? If you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird or birthed a child or pulled your overflowing garbage can to the curb, you know it doesn’t.
I don’t want to in any way marginalize the unpaid service that happens quietly throughout the church. I have been the recipient of hot meals, childcare, and the blessed phone call at just the right moment. I just know that a big barrier to women living up to their aspirations is the guilt we feel for not saving the world one bake sale at a time.
Most likely, the career of our dreams is some of the best service we can give.