Thinking through what I value, and why writing is bad for me

I’ve been trying to write a book. I haven’t been trying hard, because I’d probably be half done by now if I had been, but I have tried. I have outlines and notes and a few hundred words written, but I can’t bring myself to sit down and work.

This is troublesome. As some of you may recall, I gave up on writing a while back, but when I was asked recently to write a book to help people study for the certification exams I’ve been helping write, that seemed like a good idea. It pushed the “duty” button, in that I felt like I needed to help people. It pushed the “fame” button because I’ve wanted to be a famous writer since I was young. It pushed the “money” button because it’d be nice to have another source if income.

But I don’t enjoy writing all that much. And I have continually been asking myself, “Why am I doing this?”

I’m doing it to help people. I want to help them be better JIRA administrators. So if that’s true, why does it need to be a book? Why not just blog about these subjects?

Then I go back to the outlines, and I realize that the topics are too complex for blog posts. They need to be long-form and information needs to hang together a certain way, which suggests a book would be a better format.

So I try to work on the book. But I don’t want to. And I look for a way out, and decide not to bother writing it. But then I remember that it would help people, and I want to do that. So maybe I could blog instead?

But no, the topics don’t fit onto a blog well.

During yoga this morning, as we entered the restorative phase and I let my mind wander, something clicked for me. I don’t want to write. What do I want? What are my values?

The other day, I worked for 8 hours, then made dinner for April and cleaned the house, and took care of our animals, and did some reading and a bit of game playing in the evening. I was content. My values are to provide for and take care of my family.

My friend Nathan put this brilliantly when he described a conversation to me in the context of a job interview. He was asked how much money he wanted, and he replied with his values. He turned the conversation a bit and said things like, “I value taking care of my wife, making sure we are healthy, and having a home and transportation with these different features.” By identifying his values, he was able to then discuss a salary and benefits package that would meet those values. It wasn’t about getting as much money as possible, it was about meeting those needs.

I value helping people. I want them to be good at what they do. Does writing a book do that? It might, but which values are more important to me? Is helping other people be good at what they do of more value to me than my mental and emotional health? Because I need to be healthy to provide for and take care of my family. The balance I need to be a good husband and provider might be harmed by the additional time spent writing, which is taxing for me since it doesn’t make me happy. If the work makes me unhappy, it’s actually antithetical to many of the values I hold and want to support.

If I don’t value writing for the sake of writing, then I probably oughtn’t do it. I have told several people I’m writing this book, which I knew at the time was probably a bad idea because I already doubted I would actually write it because I knew it wouldn’t make me happy. But I was hoping I could push through and get it done. I was going to take a week off work and bang it out, which would give me enough mental and emotional space around the writing to keep myself balanced and healthy. And then I wasn’t able to get enough time off, so the plan fell apart, and I wasn’t too sad about that because, again, I didn’t actually want to do the work of writing it anyways.

I need to keep my values front and center in my mind. I need to remain true to my own sense of integrity. Maybe I can still cover the topics by blogging and linking posts together, sort of like a wiki. Hopefully it’ll help people. More than likely, someone else will write a book to help people with the cert and I’ll feel a bit foolish that I didn’t do that, because I totally could have done it and done it well, and then it would have been my name on the cover and money in my bank account instead of theirs. But you know what? I’ve been foolish and embarrassed before, and I know I’ll get over it. Fame and more money don’t support my values of taking care of my family and pets and household.

As a follow-on thought, I hate the concept of “follow your passion,” which I’ve written about elsewhere. I wonder now if “follow your values” might be a much healthier, better way to live.

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