Risking uncertainty

 Photography: Rick Barrett

Photography: Rick Barrett

There were moments in my life when I was holding onto certainty so hard that I was stuck in a rut, unable to move forward. It happened with two momentous decisions I had to make. The first was when I was still in my first marriage and wanted so badly to leave, but I didn’t know how to make it happen, or even if it was the right choice. The second time was when I was contemplating leaving my job and becoming self-employed.  

Last June, I was still in that job and feeling miserably unhappy. I was so sick with stress that I was having a hard time sleeping and had such bad pain in my stomach that I went to the emergency room on a Sunday when it first came on. The doctors found nothing physically wrong and the pain remained for over a month. It eventually disappeared, but not until I decided to not let the stress of the job get to me; I decided I would leave either way, if they fired me or if I chose to leave on my own.

One day in June, after meeting with my coach, I just about had enough of the stress. I had enough of battling the fear that was keeping me from taking this leap to self-employment. 

This is what I decided: I am going to remember to be grateful every day that I am still in that job. Because this whole unbearable situation is teaching me lessons and making me a stronger person. I am going to feel grateful that it provides me with a steady income. I am going to be grateful to my husband, who is taking on 3 jobs so that we can get through another house move.

I am going to be grateful for the stress and stomach pain because they’re the signs I need to get the hell out of that job; showing me I don’t belong there and that it’s doing me more harm than good to stay, to the point of impacting my health. I am going to be grateful for the 4 hour-per-day commute, the lack of exercise, and not being around the kids. Because all of that is bad and what I want in my life are only good things.

I needed to have all these negative things happen in order for me to know for sure I had to leave. I even asked for it to happen. I stayed far longer than I should have in a job I didn’t really care for. 

I wanted there to be an end to all that; and an end to wondering. I couldn’t know where my dream for self-employment would land me. No one can know how things will end up; whether it’s a new marriage, a new job or whatever. Everyone’s in that boat. I needed to get over it and be grateful for the opportunity.

Having all that stress is likely the best thing to happen to me. It fuels me. Even as it brings me down, it’s telling me, if you’re not going to do it now, when things are so fucking rough, when are you going to do it? What else needs to happen for you to make this leap? Just do it. Why wait?

Another day waiting is another day of living safe. I am not going to wait years to be happy, like I did with my first marriage. I need to be happy today, based on my life right now. In my first marriage, the most frequently spoken words were: “I’ll be so happy if…” and, “If only…” None of those future moments ever happened. Waiting for happiness to happen? You have to make your own happiness.

Every day I wake up feeling that fire in my belly, feeling how important it is to me to be my own boss. Wanting my own life, running my own business. Not just to run a business, but to help people and to help them be happier. If I’m not happy, how can I teach others to be happy? If I can't be happy with all the stress of my office job, how can I teach others to be the same when they have stress in their lives? It’s not about “if only, then.” If I were to teach that to people, I wouldn’t be helping them at all. Life’s not like that. 

How can I generate happiness today? By taking action. By doing something risky. By being the person I want to be. Not just talking about it, but sharing my voice. Not being silent anymore, sitting safe anymore, letting life pass me by while everyone else is doing what I want to be doing. 

I hold back because the timing isn’t right, or I don’t have lots of money in the bank. When all I want is being out of the rut, out of worry, out of stress. All I know is that I need to forget about avoiding risks and be a leader, show the way, be that voice of fire. Because I’m not the only one.

I know that it’s the way. It’s also new territory and yes, it scares me to death! But if I don’t try, I’ll never know what I’m capable of.

Rather than allow the fear to get to me, I feel gratitude. That others have done this before me, so it’s not exactly unchartered territory. It can be done and has been done. 

Now was the time for action, not waiting, not preparing, not sitting on the sidelines while everyone else is raking in the success and happiness. The future is now. It’s now and now and now. I’m almost 50 years old and I don’t have time to waste. Each second that goes by and each breath I breathe is another one closer to death. 

I’m done playing safe! This is my chance to live the life that is mine to live. For once, the life I dream of and talk about and gather information for and prepare for has to be mine now. Because talking and dreaming and preparing is not living! It’s just skimming the surface of life. Never diving deep into what is real. Even with all its pain and struggle. 

Like John Lennon said: “Don’t make your life a waiting room.”

That’s what I was doing. Waiting for life to start. Waiting for my vision to become clear or come true. Planning but never taking action. Sitting in those spectator seats; never taking center stage.

As for certainty? I am certain that I will not let me down, I will not allow the dream to die. Many people have let me down, but I refuse to do that to myself.

In the end, taking action is what counts. It’s just living. It’s quitting a job or, when fired from one, taking the opportunity to start something else. 

Which is where I am today. I’m starting. I’m doing. I’m free.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
— Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day"

There are going to be moments in your life when you have to take a leap of faith, without having any certainty of the outcome. What have you put off doing, out of fear of the unknown, and that is pulling you and nagging at you and won’t let go?