I started reading "Becoming" by Michelle Obama over the weekend. In the preface, she writes about the inanity of the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
She notes that implied in that question is that growing up is somehow finite, something you reach the end of and then you are that something and that's that. (She says it much more eloquently than my butchered paraphrasing here. SUCH an amazing writer.)
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a poet when I "grew up." Or an international secret agent who would speak dozens of languages. Or someone who would make lots and lots of kids' lives better. I also had this mistaken belief that being interested in something meant you had to get a Ph.D. in it.
Later, I desperately just wanted to be myself, and to find some way to make a living at it. Easier said than done.
I read something last night by Beverley Barnes about the difference between "survival work" and "sacred work." This speaks to deeply to me.
For so long, I struggled for these to come together. It can put a lot of pressure on the "sacred" -- this quest to make a living doing a thing you love doing. Sometimes, when you get the thing you thought you wanted, you find that it was better off protected from commerce. Like most things, it requires time and attention and patience and trust and risk and some free falls and failure. Don't forget the failure.
I realized this morning that this is the longest I've ever done any one thing for work. I think three years was my record for staying at a job before this (three weeks was the record for shortest-lived gig -- ironically, that was also the highest paying).
In my 20s and into my 30s, I tried so hard to "fit" into what I thought I should be. A professor, maybe. A nonprofit director. A "leader" in a conventionally accepted and recognizable role, with a title and a salary and paid time off and all that jazz. I cried on many a lunch break. I read self-help books until I swore off self-help books. I also loved aspects of many of my jobs over time, usually the parts that involved connecting deeply with people on their journeys and creating ways for folks to learn together. I kept listening.
And I keep listening, still. Michelle was so right. Growing up is not finite.
I said to my friend Omkari this morning, "It's July 1st, which means I have to pay the rent for my office!" Suddenly this new venture felt all the more real. I have to pay the rent! Shit! Was this a good idea?
I went on to tell her that at my worst, or perhaps just most vulnerable, I spiral into wondering what I'm doing, whether I'm doing enough, etc. She calmly responded, "You are making room for what's coming."
Two weeks ago, did I know melanoma and surgery were coming? Five years ago, did Mani and I know chronic illness would transform our lives?
We could all share a thousand stories of all the things we didn't foresee.
I don't actually know what's coming. I want to. I feel like I "should." But why? We can never know any of it. And then there is also the relief in that, and how it is a kind of invitation or imperative to LIVE NOW. As I said oh so poetically in a group last week: Live, live, live!
What I can do is stay focused on the things that light me up, bring me joy in a deep sense, and make me feel most like myself rather than taking on more roles and tasks that I think I need in order to survive.
These don't go away; we have to keep the lights on, after all. But not letting stress or fear overtake me as this work life continues to unfold -- that is such a big part of my practice as a human. I have so many ideas and yet can easily become overwhelmed or just plain stuck, usually because I'm spending too much time behind my computer screen and not shaking things up, sometimes quite literally.
On that note, I'm going for a little walk to feed the meter, move my body, and drop off my rent check. Happy Monday, peeps.
p.s. I feel the need to add one more thing here -- what you DO is not who you ARE. Yes, it can be wonderful when these align. But Jesus there is so much pressure to "follow your bliss" and "discover your passion" that it can backfire and make you feel like shit if you don't like your job or if you're living check to check or just don't have the energy or time to put towards these kinds of questions. Be good to yourself.