“I can tell you’re undisciplined.” Literally a stranger.
Some rich, little old man with a Napoleon complex, who thought he actually had a shot at dating a friend my age. I was 22 years old. Just out of college and fresh into the workforce when he said this to me.
8 years later, in the middle of my career break, he’s still not wrong. I think about that night a lot, how I felt beat down, embarrassed as I force-fed myself the rest of my 4-dollar sign dinner and ran off to the bathroom to cry. He saw right through me - I need to be told what to do.
I thrived working on someone else’s schedule, meeting deadlines, working in and around meetings set by others. My peers and supervisors were there for feedback, collaboration, encouragement and comradery every day. There was a constant stream of work and a proven career path. It was a world of social certainty.
But the workload was too much. I burned out. So I quit to take a career break. I needed to regroup, relax, and figure out what to do next. It took me a year to make this decision. I was afraid of the obvious: not having a stable income, running out of money and not having a clear path forward.
But my biggest fear was not having discipline to work towards discovering a new career path.
Realities of Not Working
I thought creating discipline for myself would be easy.
Following schedules my whole life, I figured I could easily create my own and stick to it. I know how to use the internet too - researching is a skill I mastered from school and work, so I’d easily find new career options. I’d create so much art because I can paint or draw whenever I want. Since I wasn’t working overtime anymore, I’d have more time to see friends and family.
Nope. It’s been much more difficult to take action than I thought.
I’ve been struggling without discipline these past 4 months. Paralyzed by indecisiveness, I haven't created any new portrait paintings, hand-drawn mandalas, nor researched new career paths. Instead, I've indulged in binge-watching Bridgerton on Netflix, playing Zelda:Breath of the Wild (for a second time) and deep diving into the world of Kawaii gamer desk set-ups and mechanical keyboards (thanks a lot, Instagram). I avoid friends and family because I don’t want them to ask me how I’m doing. I’m afraid they’ll see right through me, just like that little old man, and judge me for being undisciplined.
After months of irregular sleep schedules and mood swings, a friend intervened. He suggested I take Write of Passage, an online cohort-based writing course. In addition to learning how to write online, it’s also a great opportunity to meet people from around the world in different industries. So I decided to take a leap of faith and join the October 2022 session.
Taking this course not only made me realize that I can apply my design skills to writing, but that I also need a creative community with structure, encouragement and collaboration.
Working as an architect for so long, I’m used to creative problem solving within constraints under time pressure. There were many times I’d only have 1 hour between meetings to reconfigure an apartment layout, while maintaining the original footprint and column locations, keeping windows centered in rooms, and making sure all the kitchen appliances fit. In Write of Passage, I write essays or give feedback in between scheduled live sessions and personal obligations, in response to the given prompts, within a word-count range, and apply course principles like “POP” or “Shiny Dime.”
I realized that I enjoy creative work, like writing or drawing, within a time constraint. The time pressure makes me competitive with myself. Before, I competed against my peers at work to climb the corporate ladder. But now, I compete with myself to level up from the week before.
Completing creative work within a time constraint also makes me feel productive. Consistently meeting a weekly deadline, like publishing essays each week in Write of Passage, feels good. Like, really good. I’m only 3 weeks into the course and I feel giddy over meeting a 2 week publishing streak. I want to slap the voice of that little old man in my head.
Encouragement & Collaboration
One of the best features of Write of Passage is the community. I am surprised by how easy it is to be vulnerable and trust a group of strangers on the internet. Everyone in the course is approachable. Reading general body language, everyone is relaxed and smiling. I’m finding impromptu zoom calls to be nourishing. Making friends across the globe and discovering why they want to write, it feels like everyone wants to learn from each other. We encourage one another to share writing, give feedback and attend live sessions. The excitement around learning and growing together made me nostalgic for architecture school.
Collaborating with others and exchanging feedback is essential for creative work. The trust in knowing that we all want to learn and grow together, keeps me motivated to write and create art. I had conversations with fellow writers in the course that left me motivated to start new projects after the course. I’m inspired by Ishan Shanavas to paint more wildlife portraits and by Steven Foster to start a youtube channel about baking around the world.
Through this collaboration I am encouraged to publish regularly, and I support others to do the same. It's rewarding to get recognition for improving an essay after receiving feedback from others. I realized this is what I was missing on my career break.
Community is Key
Through taking Write of Passage, I realized I need to be involved in an active creative community to be disciplined in my creative work. The collaboration and encouragement from others is motivation to hold myself accountable, and the added course structure pushes me to write and publish every week.
Thanks to this new found discovery, I will be brainstorming ways to be involved in a creative community. Some ideas are hosting a weekly open writing/feedback gym, setting up regular one on ones with fellow coursemates, or discovering other creative communities online. If you find yourself resonating with these ideas and are looking for a post-Write of Passage writing community, interested in creating a new community or have suggestions for existing creative communities, please reach out!