One of the most wonderful gifts I ever received was the following advice —
Listen to Joy
Simple words, but what do they mean? For me, it was a reminder to stop trying so hard to do and produce, and to comfortably rest in experiencing joy for the sake of joy.
What a radical idea!
My first thoughts when I heard the advice were, “You mean I don’t need to think about doing something that is useful or being of service or using my God-given gifts? I can just use joy as my compass?”
Yes, but there’s more…
I can hear your doubt as I write. I have had the same doubts. The good old Protestant work ethic lives strongly in most of us. We’ve all heard some of these messages:
- Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do. (True, but not always.)
- You need to work hard and be productive to be successful. (Maybe, but what if work felt like play?)
- You are valued for what you do, not who you are. (Not true!)
Using Joy as Your Compass Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Work Hard.
Following Joy Is Not a Cop Out!
You are Infinitely Valuable Just as You Are, You Do NOT Need to Prove Your Worth
I grew up on a farm where everyone worked hard from dawn until dusk. My parents didn’t give thought to joy. They just did what had to be done. We had a good life but it was an incomplete life—we didn’t thrive. There was little joy in our lives and laughter was rare.
Of course, I didn’t notice it at the time just as a fish doesn’t notice it is swimming in water. The looks and words that told me to rein in my exuberance, the constant messages about the need to be useful, obedient, and quiet—all these things led me away from expressing or experiencing joy.
To thrive, you need joy as much as you need air to breathe and food to eat.
Choose Joy and Your Life Will Change (internally if not externally)
I used to think that it was a radical idea to think about what brings you joy. But the older I get, the more I realize that life is short and a great gift. What better way to spend your life than in experiencing and sharing joy?
“Work may be your dominant thought, and joy an afterthought. But joy is your true purpose, and work the afterthought.”
― Alan Cohen
When I decided to end my software engineering career after a late-career job layoff, and started my photography business, the idea was totally grounded in doing what brings me joy. Yet, all too soon, I found “shoulds,” and “ought tos” filling up my time. I forgot about how I had accidentally discovered a passion for making photographs and I became obsessed with creating a “successful” and “profitable” business.
I did some wedding photography and didn’t like it. I taught some classes and liked the teaching but felt like preparing to teach and teaching took too much of my time and attention away from making photographs. I did portrait shoots for hire and always felt stressed by my perfectionism and desire to please the customer. I put up exhibits in coffee shops and churches and always felt like it was more effort than it was worth. I sold my art at a Farmer’s market and hated it.
These explorations taught me so much! But still, when I started planning my fall, I included a couple of classes in the mix, signed up to sell at a holiday boutique, and thought about where I might do another exhibit soon.
Then, I got some unexpected advice that made perfect sense to me:
“Joy is productive, even when the results aren’t tangible or easily measurable. You need not have anything to show for it. Do what you love only because you love it — eventual rewards will come and be icing on the cake. Until you can comfortably rest in experiencing joy for the sake of joy, you cannot commit to doing what will inspire joy in others.” — Liv Lane
When I read this message, I got tears in my eyes. Yes, I had been measuring everything I did in my photography business in terms of its productivity, looking for tangible results.
After reading this message, I made my intention for the next few months to simply follow joy wherever it led me. I decided to let go of a focus on creating a successful business. I don’t need the income and it had been distracting me from choosing joy.
I cancelled my plans for teaching classes this fall and started paying more attention to what brings me joy.
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” ~Henri Nouwen
As I followed my internal joy compass, I realized that writing this blog, making photographs, and selling prints and cards through my online Etsy shop all bring me joy. It actually surprised me that writing the blog showed up on my joy compass. I had started it because of advice for small businesses to start a blog, but it quickly morphed into something that nourishes me. I love writing and sharing photographs of beauty.
Coincidentally, shortly after I realized that writing this blog brought me deep joy, several people told me how inspiring my blog posts are to them. Holy wow! Is that great or what? I’m doing what brings me joy and it is inspiring joy in others.
Stay tuned for Choosing Joy — Part 2 coming soon.
May you walk in beauty.