“And indeed there will be time to wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’” – T. S. Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
I’ve been reading so very many wildly inspirational stories from writers I admire that all spin from the common thread of just getting started in whatever it is that your heart is screaming at you do to. The resounding bottom line is . . . Just. Freakin. Do. It. And on the surface, that message appears so simple, so blatantly obvious that it seems idiotic that there is ever a reason to try to talk oneself out of it. And why is it that we only engage in this behavior – this true fear of action – when the end result really affects only us? I don’t know if there’s any one person out there who has thought about making a major life change that hasn’t stood on the edge of making the leap and then ultimately stepped back, returning to the cocoon of alleged safety, even though that “safe zone” is actively and actually a soul-killer.
My mother used to say that it’s easier to stay with the devil you know than the devil you don’t, and I would nod my head in great agreement. To be fair, she wasn’t advocating this behavior, just acknowledging my fear in making a change; breaking up with my high school boyfriend, trying out for the dance team, getting in the pool to compete in a swim meet, etc. One of my favorite stories that she told me about myself involved her giving me permission to just let go. I was painfully, painfully shy as a child (those who know me now will find this hard to comprehend, but it’s true.) We lived on a cul-de-sac in San Antonio, Texas, and the three girls who lived in the house across the street were my playmates. The oldest girl, Anne, had a chronic habit of taking my toys. I would say nothing, instead remaining quiet and brokenhearted, wishing it weren’t that way but I wouldn’t stand up for myself. Somewhere in my brief history as a human, at the ripe old age four, I had already relinquished my power to others, to the outside world, figuring that I was meant to take whatever showed up for me. After one particularly hurtful incident, my mother gave me full permission to take my toys —and effectively—my power, back from that mean, property-stealing bully. In sum, I wailed on that kid until my mother pulled me away. I’ve watched that scene in “A Christmas Story” where Peter finally lets out his rage on that schoolyard oaf and can only imagine that my ire must have been very similar (without all the cursing; I apparently felt my actions were enough to convey that I wanted my shit back).
As I continued from that point in the timeline along my lifetime, I lost that part of me yet again, becoming a slave to corporate America. The ultimate dream of the ultimate scripted reality: get an education, get a job, fold yourself up into a cubicle and work like the groundhog you are, pushing and prodding yourself forward, performing menial tasks, giving up nights and weekends and slices of our “real lives” for our “work lives”, ever-enticed by the dangling carrot of raised-ink business cards and a corner office, being included in executive meetings, being named to chair various committees, eventually celebrating with a retirement party with a meat platter from the local grocery and a cake from Costco, and where, at the end of it, a security guard has you pick up your box of possessions and walks you out of the building where you have toiled and sweated and given so much of yourself. And thus, in the end, you are dismissed into your “real life” by being escorted out of your “professional life” like some sort of criminal rather than any type of hero.
I recently realized that I no longer want to live under the guise of such pretense; I no longer want to wait for my real life to begin. I’ve become violently aware that we are only here on this earth for a limited amount of time, and that what I choose to do with that time while I am here is up to me. I’m not yet sure how this revelation works in the grand scheme of things, i.e., how I will pay those pesky bills, etc., but I have realized that perhaps I don’t need all those bright and shiny things that I’ve worked so hard to have, those things that no matter how many I amass, I still find myself on the wanting side of fulfillment. Effectively, I have lived my adult life as that four-year-old kid who never spoke up for herself, consequently never believing that I could truly own my own power.
When we don’t trust those inner voices, the ones that weep and say “here we go again” every morning when we put our feet on the floor to take our first step towards dragging ourselves to perform a job that means nothing, we are giving our power away. And what I find so odd about this is that we will happily choose to show up for that soul-sucking job, but we will not pour that same energy into showing up for ourselves to do that for which our hearts long, the thing or things that we pine for, the collective dreams and actions that, at the end of our lives, will make a beautiful montage in our minds as we look back over our years; the mental film that you will want to watch again and again, even though you know each and every story line and how it all ends.
My fervent wish is that none of us die with aching hearts fueled by unfulfilled what-if’s and if-only’s. I hope that the highlight reels of our lives leave nothing to the imagination. My goal is to die with an empty bank account, a full passport, and an incredible story about all of it. And Anne—and all the other life bullies—can just sit quietly in a corner, weeping.
”If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.” -John Irving