Redefining happiness and fulfillment
When setting resolutions at the beginning of every year, I swear this is the year I’ll write. This is the year I’ll write almost every day as if my life depends on it. But by February, I often start failing on that promise as God and life take over. At first, I feel a deep sense of guilt that I have been unable to write for those waiting to read my works and, worse, that I am a disappointment to myself. And soon, I forget that I am not even writing. And the year ends, and another starts, and I promise again with pretentious forgetfulness that the new year is my year.
Whenever I introduce myself as an MFA – Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing student, one of the following questions I often get is, “What are your writing goals?” Unlike other clear goals I have set, I am sometimes embarrassed to admit that I am unsure of what I am chasing as a writer for myself. I can name a thousand things that I do for others in regard to writing but fall short when I talk about writing for me.
When I started sharing my works online over 10 years ago, I wanted fame and to be seen. Then, my writing wasn’t as good or unique enough that if you walked into a bookstore and picked a book without looking at the author’s name, you’ll know it was mine. I was obsessed with Instagram, especially in 2015, because I had surpassed 1,200 followers. And in April 2015, I boldly decided to delete that account. However, before deleting it, I took screenshots of all my posts and the comments hoping to reflect in a few years when my writing was much more improved and I had more maturity to control my use of social media. I opened a new account at the end of that year and started afresh.
Around that time, I made some really good friends online. Someone much older did the same around 2020. He even had more followers who engaged heavily with his wise words. When I discussed with him soon afterward, he shared his decision not to write or publish and just focus on enjoying life and having a good job… I tried urging him to return sincerely because I missed his writings. In the past two years, I can point to more people, some, who are my age mates, that followed the same path… either erasing themselves from social media or rebranding themselves to their profession rather than their talent and leaving thousands of followers hanging without looking back. I admire their bravery. Don’t worry, I am too cowardly to commit such crime.
In early 2022, when I began posting sarcastic poems, and my Instagram account grew past 5,000 followers, I thought to myself with joy and disappointment – here we go again. However, I have not posted something new for the past three months, and I constantly feel that I am disappointing many people, even though thousands of them are strangers with whom I have no real-life business. I detest the spotlight effect – the feeling everyone is paying attention to you. I constantly fear that if I keep going like this, disappearing for months and not engaging the people who read whatever I write, I’ll be forgotten, and they’ll go elsewhere. Sometimes, I avoid opening my DMs because every other week, someone else asks why I removed and stopped posting my funny poems, and I am running out of excuses to give… And sometimes, I think, it’s just in my head. Last year, I turned off my WhatsApp read receipts to be less conscious of the people who see whatever I post. There is this quote I think of very often to justify my disappearance and convince myself that no one is noticing me – “When you’re 20 you care what everyone thinks; when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks; when you’re 60, you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.”
When someone asks what I want to do with my writing in the future, my genuine answer is this…I don’t know if writing will lead me to the future I want, but I want a future of comfort. I want to be wealthy enough to afford my voice, actions, and silence. I want to have enough to afford my needs and to give to others in need. And even if that comes with some influence by chance, I don’t want to be tied into an unbreakable trade and barter where I have to constantly pimp or exchange my life’s pleasure for money, impact, visibility, or relevance.
I recognize that once a person does something successfully well, either by consistency, talent, education, or experience, people and platforms would want to spotlight them to share and hear what they say… But I often ponder on how I have no interest in such. I also don’t want to be anyone’s voice for the voiceless; that’s too much burden for my small shoulder; although, my work and leadership history has forced me to be such in some way. I don’t want to do skits, become a brand ambassador or influencer, sell merch, host events, or speak at podcasts to sustain my life’s relevance.
I want to be able to not post on social media for months and not even worry about it. I want to be able to write when I want and publish when I want. I want to sleep without worrying that anything or anyone I am responsible for will fall apart. I want to sleep knowing that if something falls apart, I can afford the resources to try to fix it while calling on God’s help. I want to be able to skip past conversations about the poor economy, inflation rates, and how expensive groceries are and just have conversations with close friends and family about how joyful life is for them and the opportunities we can invest in to flourish.
I don’t know if it is only me, but even if and when I have wealth, I may choose a quiet life, have a full-time or part-time job that I am passionate about while writing, reading, traveling all over the world, and knitting or, perhaps, live in a less populated place, an island with people who rest and sunbathe for a living. I want to keep learning and living and never feel like I have reached the end of my life’s calling. I want to keep being ready for the next great opportunity that comes my way. I want to have a good life and love with whom I can chase sunsets.
Recently, I talked with another close friend about how life is even more confusing for a polymath like me – people who learn and do many things well. Unlike someone who has the conviction to work in a particular field or feels destined to do and be one thing, I can do and be many things depending on the time, demand, and context I find myself in; sometimes, one thing I do well takes precedence over another. So often, I feel as delighted just doing my 9-5 job or traveling as I feel about writing. They all give me life… so why do I feel like I am failing when I am not constantly writing and publishing for people to read?
Like many people, especially young folks in their twenties, I am often uncertain about whether I am doing the right thing with my life or what I should be doing next. And sometimes, I don’t even want to do what I know I should be doing. However, I am no longer putting pressure on my writing talent alone to give me a desired and meaningful life. I pray for peace and grace for moments like this when I need to pause, reflect, or do other things equally important to my existence. I pray to be seen, known, and remembered by the ones I love who love me well.
So, I have not been writing and posting funny poems; what have I been doing… I have been traveling and working. Last month, I walked into the ocean for the first time at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. For context, I am scared of large bodies of water and conquered that fear. The most memorable part was that I did it fully clothed after a very long day, and I was happy. My former perfectionist self wouldn’t have done that. From June to July, I co-lead a virtual creative writing fellowship for 6 weeks under SprinNG, which I co-founded, managing 78 mentees and 80 mentors from Nigeria, South Africa, and Ghana… This is our 7th and largest cohort yet. I am very proud of that and grateful for the team at SprinNG. I also finally had the courage to read the manuscript for my next book after months of abandoning it… Yes, it is the more extensive collection of romantic comedy poems you’ve been enjoying. I fell in love with it all over again and was satisfied with the changes I implemented earlier this year.
I've been busy being happy and finding fulfillment.
About a week ago, I shared with my thesis advisor that I have two ongoing manuscripts; a collection of romantic comedy poems and a nonfiction book centered on grief. He asked why I chose the first over the latter for my graduate thesis. Beyond the apparent reason that poetry comes easier, there are responsibilities I am ignoring, that the nonfiction collection would need to thrive. Over the past two years, the responsibility of being a writer, choosing one’s words intentionally and carefully has become unignorable.
For over a year, I have been trying to write a nonfiction piece about my decision to be non-feminist. Of course, I divert – this isn’t what the post is about; however, despite having written many versions of that piece, I have struggled to find contentment in what someone else might believe my words convey or “my intent.” Being in an MFA program, words now matter more than before. In conversations with friends, I often say, “This isn’t the perfect word to describe this but think of it as…” because there is something about using words with precision and truth that makes a difference in whatever is communicated. The alarming consciousness of how words can convince, manipulate, or change people and things is a heavy burden.
The Side of Vegas You don’t Often Hear About – A Travel Series
Growing up in a middle-class household in Nigeria, traveling to a different state or country for holidays wasn’t a thing. A holiday meant going to another relative’s house, and while I considered that luxury, I dreaded returning to school and answering the question, “What did you do this holiday?” Not because my holiday wasn’t fun but because there was unspoken anxiety in sitting among my classmates at the high-end primary and junior high schools I attended and hearing them brag about their trips to Lagos, London, or some fancy place in the world. I also dreaded writing essays about my holidays for the English Language class.
For eight years after relocating to the United States, I never took a flight to travel anywhere else. No, this isn’t something I am proud of, and many friends and family members often teased me about traveling. I only went to a few states nearby where trains and buses could go. I wasn’t afraid of flying; I just wasn’t delighted and excited to travel as a young adult following the context of holidays and vacationing, I grew up knowing or saw others around me pursuing.