For a long time I wanted both: I wanted a successful career in the corporate world, making gains every few years in salary and title and I wanted to write and be creative in a public way. This never made a ton of sense to me, since I thought Artists should want to be Artists, only, but I never saw myself as an artist, I guess, and I was pretty curious about continuing on with my day job to see where it was leading me.
I remember often if I had a dissatisfying work day asking myself if what I wanted was to be an artist solely and the answer was always no. I wasn’t looking for that from my writing and I truly wanted to continue on in my line of work. (And, let’s be honest, writing is Hard.) I didn’t really realize that that was no longer the case — wanting both — until after I gave notice at my job last week. Something has been wrong for a while in my life, and I knew I wasn’t as happy as I had the potential to be. I couldn’t sort out what it was but I knew work was now making me feel drained not just on rare days but commonly. Something that sounds incredibly obvious but actually took me some soul searching to figure out was that what was different about now versus any other time I considered leaving was that for the first time, I was also ready to walk away from all the perks and privileges that went along with my job.
So not only was I ready to leave that which I didn’t like about it, but I was also ready to leave that which I did — and there was a lot that I still liked about my work life, which is why I stayed so long. I liked my office, my title, my salary, my boss who had become something of a mentor, my coworkers and the industry insight I had. The push-pull I felt in the years leading up to last week when I gave notice was that regardless of whether or not I was in love with my work anymore, I wasn’t prepared to walk away from the peripheral things it provided me with. I wasn’t ready to relinquish being able to tell people, “This is what I do for a living.” Those things I mentioned, they meant something to me and I liked them. Liked them for what they were, the ease they provided me, and also what they said about me–that I was an adult, I was successful, I was very nearly whole with this very large box ticked. I have always been proud of what I do and the company I worked for, and I was aware that not everyone has such a privilege.
I never went looking for a career. I’ve never thought any job would satisfy me, and it was so confusing to me when people knew what they were going to do, went to school for it, and then did it. I couldn’t imagine something being less accessible to me than that path. But what I did seek out was good people and good-feeling places to be and, as a result, I found them time and time again. This would explain why I’ve worked in so many industries over 12 years, because I was only ever interested in the people. What we did together all day long was kind of irrelevant to me.
Which is funny because I remember in university realizing that when I asked my friend Shawn to hang out, he’d always ask what we were going to do and when he asked me to hang out, I always asked who was going to be there–even then, what we were doing didn’t matter, it was who I was with that did.
There was something tangible, measurable, about the perks of a job that writing hadn’t given me. With the exception of when I first started spoken word and a few big momentary feelings of success, writing hasn’t really given me what I was looking for out of it on a day-to-day level. It’s not hard to see why. I showed up to my office job day in and day out for seven years whether I felt like it or not, wanted to or not. I had the opposite commitment with writing: I showed up when I felt like it and not even always then, and never for eight hours at a time. I was reluctant to give very much of myself to writing. Unlike a hired position, the boundaries aren’t clear. Where and when does the writing life stop? How much of myself do I give and what do I hold back? There’s a safety in employment because the hours are defined, the expectations contractual, and you get paid even if you have an off day. My commitment to writing has been to write as little as I possibly can to still feel sane and then wonder why I am not being rewarded for it. It’s worked out great.
I have heard at two different times in my life, in no uncertain terms, that I am supposed to write. Both times in response to prayers of desperation said aloud to the sky: what am I supposed to be doing? But what I didn’t hear either of those times was that I would get anything back for doing so. And call me an entitled millennial, but that just wasn’t enough for me. I couldn’t ignore that I wasn’t being guaranteed anything in return and I just wasn’t prepared to give my all towards something if something worthwhile (preferably fame and fortune) wasn’t being promised to me in exchange. I wanted to be owed something. I wanted a capitalistic exchange on the soul level before diving into the scary world of writing. So it was an easy out to take to just walk away from it claiming, “I have to eat.” So I did, eat that is. I ate tons. Eating was my most favorite way to not write.
Over the years I wrote a little because I had to. I’m the equivalent of a dog that doesn’t get enough exercise with writing — I get squirrely if I don’t do enough of it. So at best, I do the minimum and feel free for a few days after writing a blog post; and at worst, I use a plethora of distraction mechanisms to keep me numbed from the restlessness that builds in me when I don’t write (food is good, men are great!).
So the other week I gave notice and sitting on the couch today I realized, “Huh. I guess there’s really nothing left to do but start writing.” I thought I would feel grief at the possibility of letting one door close that I’d been counting on for my stability. I thought I would feel disappointment or like I’m taking a step back as I consider getting back into restaurant work in order to leave my days free to write. But the strangest and strongest sensation of peace has come over me. I guess the main difference about this time versus any other time I’ve considered walking away, is that I have never been grounded enough to handle an absence of promises, a state of no guarantees. Something has come over me this past year as the biological clock ticks, as the matriarch of the family passed, as more and more of my girls have babies and Time for the first time has become a reality. A thought passed through my head like a single cloud on a clear day, “Are you going to keep going?”
But there has never been another option. With acceptance that nothing may come from writing, a whole new world of freedom has opened up to me. You mean, I only have to make money to live? You mean, I can spend the rest of my time playing? You mean I can still write? Still chase boys and write about chasing boys? Still live my life?? Really?
I started writing because I felt my soul scratching at the door. I got distracted when I thought I was owed something other than the privilege of writing. And so now, with Instagram capturing everyone’s moments and them not looking quite like mine… I feel an exciting sense of freedom, opportunity, joy: there’s no not doing it. As long as I’m being honest, as long as I’m prioritizing being happy, as long as I’m paying attention: there’s no not doing it. Money or no money, talent or no talent, readers or no readers: there’s no not doing it.
So thank you for coming in tonight. Can I tell you about today’s specials?