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‘Work’ Is Not a Dirty Word

by Nicola Burnell

In the Holiday 2012 issue of CapeWomenOnline magazine I asked readers to consider their answer to the question “Hi, what do you do?” If you don’t have an official ‘job’ title this query can turn your mind into a pretzel as you search for the ‘right’ answer.

No matter what you respond, you will probably get pigeon-holed one way or another by the person asking the question.

Perhaps what we should really be asking is, “When you get out of bed in the morning how do you feel? Are you excited to get to work or do you dread it?”

My eldest son asked me this question recently after talking to his professor about his own career options. He is painfully aware that his career choices could affect the quality of his life for decades to come. The pressure to succeed is overwhelming, but at least he is asking the right question.

I believe it’s never too late to adjust the course of a life. My own work has evolved over that last two years in ways that I never imagined. There was no magic wand, just a hard core butt-in-seat approach to moving forward in a clear direction.

I made a plan, set some serious goals and now I can tell my son that I am excited to get to work in the morning. As I said in my 2012 article, “My life is my work; my work is not my life. For this, I am truly grateful.”

When I was his age, however, this was NOT the case. I subsidized my university life by frying eggs at a nearby truck stop from 4:30 to 9:30am a few days a week. But it’s not the awful brown uniform and standing in front of a giant pan of hot oil containing thirty floating eggs that I remember, it’s the truckers who lined up for them. I quickly got to know them and enjoyed our 30 second conversations far more than I resented the early hours and low pay.

I’ve had a lot of jobs, but I’ve discovered that work doesn’t always result in a pay check. You can call it sweat equity, pro bono work, or ‘paying it forward’, but never underestimate the power of doing something from the heart just because you can.

Work (paid or unpaid) can be a means of connection that may lead to the next big leap in a career or the next wonderful change in a life. I’ve learned that when I’m busy focusing on a beloved project, doorways that were not on my path before begin to show up and creak open.

This magazine has been a labor of love for the past seven years. From the first issue to this final issue our mission has remained the same: to provide a forum for the women of Cape Cod to share their ideas, experiences and resources while inspiring each other in their life's journey.

My work with CapeWomenOnline Magazine has inspired me to reach beyond my own perceived limitations. It has never been a 9 to 5 job. This work has introduced me to hundreds of amazing women who were willing to share their stories with our readers. Together we have created a community that reaches far beyond the internet.

The dedication of everyone involved with this venture over the last seven years has always been the fuel that drove me. This sense of connection and support is the real reward for working well into the wee hours of the morning to launch every issue.

As we transition away from our magazine format, CWO will continue to support our community both online and offline with the launch of our new website. will serve our readers in a more ‘real time’ manner and will continue to publish the kind of articles that inspire and encourage us all.

What this transition does for me, personally, is to free up some of my time to focus on other areas of my work. When I’m not wearing my publisher’s hat I am editing manuscripts, teaching writing classes and coaching clients to take their own steps toward creating their life’s work.

While I’ve had many jobs, my work has always carried a theme which I can now trace through them all. The central theme to my life’s work is storytelling. I didn’t realize this until two years ago, when I examined what ‘work’ really means to me.

When my alarm goes off every morning I may feel like hitting the snooze button but I don’t feel like hiding under the covers. My ‘work’ does not feel like work to me. It is a privilege to spend my daytime hours working with writers as they craft their stories. It is exciting to see their books in print and to know that I helped them get there.

Life has a curious way of nudging us toward the work we were born to do. It creates a stirring in the soul that tells us that we aren’t happy, that something needs to change, and if we listen to that message we might just find ourselves living in whole new life.

I got this message a couple of years ago, when I noticed my cat and dog watching me from the front door every time I packed up my car for another day’s work at an office that wasn’t mine. They seemed to be sad that I was leaving, their heads both tilting in the same direction at the exact same time. It was like something you’d see on You Tube.

I’d back out of the driveway and feel sad too because I didn’t want to leave them. That’s when I heard myself thinking Wouldn’t it be great to work from home every day? The idea of quitting my ‘day job’ was intolerable so I shook the thought off and tried to silence the whisperings that had begun.

I’m not suggesting that we all quit our jobs because our pets make us feel guilty for leaving the house. My point here is that once those inner thoughts emerge you may want to listen to them. I ignored them for as long as I could. When I finally did quit my job it wasn’t because I’d panned to. It just happened.

This forced me to lean on my skills and create my own work. I wrote up a two year plan and committed to the vision of what my work could look like, every day. I now live in a world where work is no longer something that I do for someone else. My cat, Travis, likes to sleep on my lap when I’m working in my home office and my dog, Duke, loves it when I take a break to walk with him on the beach.

Travis couldn’t get any closer if he tried!

I’m not going to pretend that I don’t still find myself sitting at my desk long after other people have settled onto the couch for some mindless television before bed. I still work well into the wee hours sometimes. But that’s by choice, not necessity.

And it’s not all work-related. I took the NaNoWriMo challenge to write a 50,000 novel in 30 days again this year. Last November it was hard to meet my goal but I did it. This year it has been much easier to find the time to write. Two hours a day – every day – for thirty days. My intention is to turn this into a regular habit. Perhaps even into another branch of my career.

I’ve put in my time punching clocks and working for others. With my nest now empty I have the luxury of time and space to see where the next path in my career might lead. I know that I am fortunate to be the one in the driver’s seat and I have the freedom to make decisions that only affect me.

This is an opportunity that will not be wasted.

Nicola Burnell is the Publisher and Editor of this magazine.

In her work as a manuscript developmental editor and coach, Nicola has helped many writers turn their idea for a book into a completed, polished manuscript. She also works as a Booktrope Publishing Book Manager.

Nicola also teaches writing classes through Nauset Community Education. These classes include Stop Talking About Writing a Book – Just Write it! and The Healing Power of Writing – a program designed to heal through writing and journaling.

Nicola is a member in Letters of the National League of American Pen Women and is Historian of the Cape Cod Branch. She strives to support the Arts on Cape Cod and collaborates with several cultural organizations in her community.

Email Nicola: You can also follow her on Twitter and read her blog "Nic's Novel Project"