March 2, 2018 marked my six-year anniversary living in New Mexico. Reflecting upon my journey from Pittsburgh, to Denver, to Santa Fe, I realized much of my energy had been spent catering to the happiness of others. When my marriage emotionally ended in September of 2016, leading to my legal divorce a year later, I found myself physically and emotionally depleted. I had become so preoccupied with attending to my deteriorating marriage, my children, and my work, that I neglected my own needs. I became fixated on the idea of, “once I achieve x, y, and z, then I will be happy.” This train of thought treats happiness as a destination—somewhere that we will eventually arrive at if we just keep working towards it.
During the past year while going through my separation and divorce, I learned that happiness is not a milestone or destination, it is lived moment-by-moment. Once I let go of feeling responsible for the happiness of others, I became free to discover my own. I began to learn about myself, explore interests that I have previously abandoned, and try new things. One surprising source of happiness that I discovered over the last year is the pleasure I derive from cooking.
Previously, I had cooked merely out of necessity; I never felt comfortable experimenting with different recipes or exploring new cuisines. However, after moving into my own apartment almost a year ago, I have discovered that I love trying new dishes and experimenting in the kitchen. Preparing a meal is a tranquil activity, I get lost in the spices, the chopping of vegetables, the tactile nature of working with food. Adding to the aromatic pleasure, I often light a stick of incense and play some relaxing jazz or R & B music while I cook. I have found preparing a meal to be a therapeutic process that allows me to get out of my brain and into my body.
Living in a culture characterized by a 24-hour news feed, it is important to take time and reflect on the little, day-to-day things that contribute to our sense of happiness and well-being. For that reason, I have created a “happy list,” as a way of staying mindful about happiness in society that publicizes and promotes cynicism.
Devin’s Happy List:
I would love to hear from others about what contributes to their happiness and sense of well-being. Feel free to leave comments or stories about things that make you happy. In a world that would rather focus on what is wrong or lacking, we need courageous people to share stories about what provides happiness and meaning to their lives.
Thanks for taking the time to read and share!
Devin James Baldwin, M.A. Professional Writing
As I packed lunches for my children, began preparing dinner for tomorrow evening, and ironed my clothes for work, I began reflecting on the concept of hustle. The idea is frequently referenced in hip-hop music and popular culture. Many people proclaim that one must, “stay on their grind,” and “constantly hustle,” in order to attain success. This notion made me think back upon my teenage years, when I was hungry for my first job. I remember the tenacity I put into my job search, pounding the pavement, going from business to business to inquire about potential employment opportunities. I fast forward to when I decided to return to college to complete my undergraduate degree in 2011, and later my graduate studies in 2016. I think about the many nights when I got 3 to 4 hours of sleep, as result of staying up to complete assignments and write papers. As a black person in the United States, we have always had to possess a high degree of hustle in order to simply attain access to the same opportunities as our white counterparts.
All of this made me wonder, is hustle something that is innate or can it be taught? As I go about my day interfacing with young people in my work, I notice many seem to lack this sense of urgency—a hunger for opportunity. When I got my first paid work opportunity as a dishwasher and delivery person at my Aunt and Uncle’s restaurant in the Uptown neighborhood of Pittsburgh, I was elated to simply have an opportunity to make money. The summer after graduating high school, I worked as a custodian for my school district, and later as a deli clerk at a local supermarket. Earning my own money, and having financial independence has always been a motivating factor for me. In my job as a workforce developer, I encounter many young people who turn down work opportunities if they do not align with their interests. These same individuals will come back a week or two later, and complain to me about how they cannot meet their financial obligations. Some people may call this behavior entitled or privileged; however, I believe it correlates to lacking a sense of hunger, urgency—i.e. hustle.
While I do not believe hustle can be taught, I do think it can be demonstrated and emulated. Growing up, I watched both of my parents hustle every day. They got up each morning, got me and my sister ready for school, and went off to their jobs. This act alone demonstrated the importance of consistency. My mother is the type of person who is always in motion, whether she is heading to work, preparing dinner, or cleaning the house—she is never idle. Hustle demands active intention; nothing changes for those who sit idly and wait for their opportunity. When I was young, my father played in bands. He also worked a full-time job at the electric company. I recall on numerous occasions, going into our basement to find him practicing on his piano. This taught me two important things: first, it showed me the importance of having a disciplined practice. To this very day, my father wakes up at 3 or 4 in the morning to perform piano drills. Developing and maintaining a disciplined practice, is essential to any endeavor in which one aspires to be successful at. The second thing I learned was the importance of managing responsibilities, and staying committed to one’s craft. Many of my father’s band mates only played music, whereas he maintained a full-time job to support our family, and concentrated on his music after work and on weekends. Maintaining this balance between responsibility and passion was an important lesson. It showed me the necessity of handling one’s responsibilities, while never abandoning one’s passion.
As I move into this new chapter of my life, newly divorced, single dad, professional writer—I hope to model the importance of hustle for my children. To show them, that despite what life may throw at them, it is possible to adapt, overcome, and most importantly—keep moving forward, keep grinding—keep hustling towards your dreams.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to leave questions or comments.
Devin James Baldwin, M.A. Professional Writing
3/21/2018 0 Comments
It has been almost three months since my last blog post. During this period of hibernation, I realized something—the idea of blogging with regularity terrifies me! The assumption that we, as writers, are so interesting that people will follow our thoughts, opinions, and experiences feels egocentric and arrogant. Additionally, the pressure of coming up with new topics each week, in the midst of coming out of a divorce, working full-time, and raising two children seemed overwhelming.
This blogging paralysis lasted until yesterday, when I met with a friend and fellow writer for tea. Among other things, my friend asked if I considered blogging as a medium for promoting my writing to potential publishers. However, beyond the specific medium, my friend emphasized the importance of telling my stories. Being an African American, divorced, single father, living in the Southwestern United States provides me with a unique experience. The idea of being an “invisible” minority in a state where African Americans make up less than 2% of the state’s population; or the challenge of trying to date as a single dad in an area where very few people represent your racial and cultural background. As we continued to talk, I realized that I just needed to begin writing—I needed a medium to get these stories out into the world.
My blog can serve as that medium. It can be an outlet to get my stories out into the world. After finishing my graduate program, I felt completely bogged down with stress from the divorce, lawyer fees, my impending student loans coming due. The focus became—how can I quickly generate money from my writing. While all artists want to be fairly compensated for their efforts, when the focus becomes solely about money the art becomes compromised. In my situation, I felt completely stifled and was unable to produce anything that I felt was adequate. What I failed to see at the time, which my friend helped me to realize, is that I have yet to pay my dues as a professional writer.
My father, who has been a musician since he was 20-years-old, and is now in his sixties, has written thousands of songs over the past forty years. While he has not yet achieved notoriety as a result of his music, he has undeniably paid his dues as a musician. While I may not always receive payment or recognition for my writing, I must continue to write. This is what those who truly love the written word do! They write because they love the act of writing. They write to quench the unyielding desire to share stories and human experience.
As we approach the closure of the third month of 2018, I recommit to writing in all of its beautiful and diverse forms. I will no longer limit myself with fixations about publication, monetary compensation, or being the most prolific writer. My goal for 2018 and beyond is to write authentically, creatively, collaboratively, and with discipline.
To all of my fellow writers seeking inspiration and encouragement, check out “Why I Write,” by Terry Tempest Williams.
Thanks for reading and keep writing!
Devin James Baldwin, M.A. Professional Writing