When I was a child, I did not like being one. I was prone to depression and crying at inopportune times, it was humiliating. There is a picture of me at four, at my pre-school “graduation”, where they wanted us to come up to the front and take a fake diploma. You could hear the parents exclaiming how cute we looked. I was horrified to have to go up in front of people, so instead, I burst into tears. Somehow they got me up there, and in that class picture, I am rubbing my red eyes, looking away from the camera. I hated the camera. If I could have had a motto, it would have been “Don’t Look At Me!”
I spent so much mental energy trying not to cry all that time, that I was terrified of conflict–because I would probably embarrass myself with tears. What is the use in a person like that, who can’t keep it together? Who can’t speak up for herself? That wants to talk but is choked into silence?
Somehow I made it through the slog of childhood and my teenage years. Part of me wished that something outside of me had hurt me, to better explain my neurosis. I made friends with people who had endured childhood molestation and actual abuse, because it made sense to me that if you had undergone such traumatic events, of course, you would emotional scars. I related to their depression, their anger. I had no such excuse. The only person that tortured me was myself.
In school, I went to many advanced classes, which I enjoyed. I love math and science, it made sense. But I lagged behind in making friends because I was awkward. In college though, I got better, and in my 20’s, I really thought I had beaten depression. I figured out how to get a real job, I got married, and I bought a house. Free (for a while) of my inner demons, I enjoyed playing. I watched horror movies because I found they didn’t affect me in a deep way and I played lots of video games.
But my lifelong challenge is to get out of my own way, to stop being my own Janus, looking at both the future and the past (but no movement in the present). Except that Janus has only two faces and I have many–stuck in the crossroads of opportunities, taking none.
Which I suppose is not entirely true. I have had a diverse and interesting career path. I have good relationships with my kids and my friends. And well, my marriage didn’t make it, but I am happy with my romantic partner of three years. However, I am still searching for truly meaningful work.
I want my work to matter, I want my years of life to account for something more than a boring, ordinary life. I want some significance, some influence.
After my divorce, I started taking “how to start your own business” courses. Marie Forleo, Denise Duffield-Thomas, Ramit Sethi, Jeff Walker, the big names. (There’s actually more, but it’s bad, I’m a personal development hoarder and I don’t want to own up to it all) I wanted to explore making money without a job, I hate being reliant on any one thing. And I’ve been failing SPECTACULARLY at every single one. I have no business. This is only my own fault. I cannot seem to get out of my own way.
I cannot seem to figure out what I have to offer. My main gift is empathy, feeling.
Yay, goody for me, I cry easily. Yay, goody for me, I feel injustice. Yay, goody for me, what effing career is in that? I have spent my life censoring and weighing my feelings because I know they do not always show the truth. That they embarrass me, that crying undermines any logical argument or thought I could make. That I can’t be taken seriously if I let my emotions rule me. So I have been very good practicing restraint, and over the years, I have made great strides in not crying when I feel it coming on. But the fact remains, I do not trust myself to make mistakes and recover. The feelings remain.
There is a quote from Kahlil Gibran that resonates with me:
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potters oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirits the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”
This has brought me comfort in the past. But sometimes my cynicism says, “Oh great, so I can be deep. . . and hollow. I think I’ve been cut up enough, thank you very much.” Note to self: Stop being mean to yourself!
Anyhoo, last year I decided THIS TIME would be different. That 2017 was the year when I would finally change my lazy ways. (When I’m feeling down, I compare myself to a smoker trying to quit. There are people who fail again and again to quit but finally make it, and that’s the only thing that matters. So I try and try to start a side hustle and one of these days I’ll finally figure it out.)
In 2017, I decided to sign up for Steve Pavlina’s CGC course in the Spring.
In the summer, I embarked on a new spiritual practice.
In the fall, I signed up for Jeff Walkers PLF 2018 course, which started last September.
Wow, I like to start things, huh?
And time went on and I made some progress and then stalled. I fell behind a little, and then a lot, and I’m looking at a year that has passed and thinking “What the hell happened?”
Where did I go? Why is this so very hard for me, to put in the work? My biggest fear is to be boring and to have a boring life, so I have a vested interest in putting in the work. Perhaps that’s my problem. Though I have never been without a job since graduating, I know I can be laid off at will. I don’t trust companies to have my back, because I am disposable. All employees are.
It’s not an incorrect stance, but it is a cynical one.
There is a part of me that is an optimist too though–I want to explore how to make money in a fun and ethical way. How does one do such a thing outside of a job? I like learning new things.
But it looks like I have to sort my internal emotional side out first because being consistent, having a plan and sticking to the work to be done brings up anxiety, avoidance, depression, and shame. Goddamn stupidly connected neurons and their effing myelin sheaths. EFF you, brain. See, now I’m being mean to myself again, it’s a sick cycle.
So this past spring, I went to a business conference to try to move me out of my stuckness. It was surprisingly emotional, some parts were really good, and some parts not so good. I decided that when I got back I would get a coach to move me through my procrastination.
In retrospect, I did experiment with different things. In May, I hired a business coach. I thought that having someone specific to disappoint (besides myself, of course) might be a good thing. Yes, I thought that the idea of disappointing someone cooler than me would make me move. Guess what? Apparently, it’s not enough. I am perfectly capable of disappointing multiple people.
In June, I decided I would continue with the coach and hire a therapist. That was a good decision, he was really kind. I made a teeny bit of progress on the writing with the coach, but I allowed myself to accept any writing, including journaling. And I’m trying to get beyond the beating myself up because it just doesn’t work.
In July, I continued with the therapist and dropped the coach. And in August, I dropped the therapist and did a deep dive into abundance with Steve Pavlina’s course. I also signed up for a small group coach program, hoping that I had progressed enough to make movement on the business side. But I have not done well in that either.
So here it is September, a new school year for my kids, a new cycle for me, spirals in time. The Earth moves around the Sun, but only in a similar place, not the same place, because all things move through space. I see that in our lives too – the slump, the low-level depression I’m in, is similar but not the same to things I’ve experienced before. I don’t want to die or move somewhere else or not be who I am, but I am frustrated with my lack of progress. I am frustrated with me.
I’m not boring, but I am bored with some aspects of my life. I don’t want to die like this, never having accomplished anything of note. So what am I doing? Am I trying to escape, to prove to myself that I mean something? Or do I just want to explore the potential of what I could be because I hate wasting something that could be great? Or at least good? What am I doing with my life?
The thing is, there are many things I could do, I just need to do them. In this cycle, I’m going to practice forgiveness. Maybe I got spoiled in those high school years when advanced classes were totally doable and I just did them. Maybe I just didn’t realize that you can be smart and ineffectual. Or maybe, it’s just that it takes time to get your life in order, some longer than others.
For the long haul, I’m going to keep going, even if it’s at my glacial pace. I get upset at myself but I can’t really give up. I have no choice but to go on, even if it takes me to the end of my life. Because I have most of what makes a great life–love in all of its human forms, children and parents, friends and romance–but I just want that last piece. I want the last piece of going beyond, of going towards the love of an idea, love of meaningful work. That’s what I want.