I think sometimes that the reason why I don't publish more of my writing is because I have too much to say that I don't know where to start.
James has a tattoo on his arm inspired by Ernest Hemingway. It says, "Write just one true sentence."
The other day I listened to a writing coach say that when you write, leave the world outside and write down the whole messy truth. I have a friend who offers writing courses who says the same: be messy, be true. Those messages are coming to me over and over again.
The truth. What is that, really?
Is it always the painful side of life? Maybe it's so beautiful that it's painful. Macrina Wiederkehr said:
The truth about myself is that I have a lot to say. Which is probably not unusual for someone who is a rather quiet and introverted person. When you don't share a lot verbally, that doesn't mean you don't have anything to share. It's that you either don't know how to say it or you don't think anyone else would be interested or would understand.
Or, like I mentioned above, you have so much to say you don't know where to start.
So, just one true sentence: For most of my life I didn't know who I was.
That right there is a bomb of a statement. But I feel the truth of it. I know it in my heart to be true. I didn't say a lot to people and didn't share myself because I simply didn't know the truth about myself. I was a person who kept a diary and kept it to myself because I didn't even believe that what I was writing was the truth. I could have been lying to myself all my journaling life.
Not knowing who you are is quite painful. It came to a point where life every day was a painful experience for me. I would ride the subway into work with my sunglasses on because I was crying behind those glasses. I cried at the drop of a hat. I was a wreck.
This is 10 years ago now when this happened. I thought I was going insane. I consulted a therapist and she let me talk and even as I talked to her I didn't know if what I was saying to her was the truth. I had hid myself for so long that even talking about my life was not cathartic. It didn't reveal anything surprising.
The thing that stands out for me was that the therapist's sympathy wasn't enough.
Fast-forward a few years and I began to realize that I wouldn't know who I was unless I began to like myself. To do that, I had to split myself in two: be the observer who watched me with a friendly and uncritical eye, and then the messy, lost me who wasn't sure what the hell she was doing, who felt shame, anger, frustration and fear. Yes, the ever-present fear.
This strategy was suggested by a coach who I still deeply respect and am so grateful for. His course, Pathway to Happiness, is what truly saved me.
Here's what I also know to be true: I was (and still am to a degree) living life as if it was meant to be survived, not enjoyed. Not only had I stayed in a marriage for 12 years with someone who was entirely wrong for me, but I had also stayed in a job for 10 years that was entirely wrong for me. And I was miserable almost the entire time.
Survival was my modus operandi. Living in survival mode was dragging me down, keeping me small. It's my default strategy for living. Making sure the "boat stays afloat," as it were.
It's what I struggle with still to this day. As my current job within a non-profit company is coming to an end soon, I'm faced with the next step. I know taking the safe route and settling is not the answer anymore. I did that and it didn’t work. So I am looking at my future life and thinking: what am I willing to risk?
And here's what I also know to be true: You can't know who you are until you know where you came from. You can't know where you're going next until you know who you are.
Taking risks is somewhat easier when you are certain about who you are. A stable sense of your values, your truth, your dreams, what you do and don't want are the guiding forces. I'm not saying it takes the fear away. I still tend to fall back on safety over uncertainty when it comes to career choices. "As long as the bills are being paid," is often a refrain that runs through my head.
Even after therapy and being coached and trained as a coach myself, it took being let go from my painful job of 10 years to make the leap to self-employment and start a brand-new career of life coaching.
And here's the truth of it: I wanted to be self-employed and I wanted to help others to work through their own painful career journeys and come out the other end to a better place. I wanted to not have a boss but be my own boss. I wanted unlimited income potential, independent from "higher ups" deciding what my salary should be or whether to keep me as an employee.
Two years later, I stepped away from the coaching business. I was earning nothing, really. I had taken all my savings, all possible unemployment compensation, and even a portion of my retirement fund to stay "afloat." I wasn't where I wanted to be. I wasn't doing what I wanted to be doing.
I'm sure taking a temporary job was the right choice. I got to know new people and learned things about myself that are important. I'm still getting to know myself. I know that I'm not cut out for a cubicle life. I'm not cut out for not seeing the sun from 8:30am to 5:00pm. I’m not cut out for spending most of the hours of my life doing something that doesn’t make my heart sing.
This morning I came across this statement in an article written by author and speaker John Maxwell:
"I am willing to give up financial security today for potential tomorrow. Physician and writer George W. Crane said 'There is no future in any job. The future lies in the man who holds the job.' I have always believed that to be true, and as a result, I have always been willing to bet on myself, so much so that I often accepted financial risks or pay cuts to pursue what I believed was a good opportunity."
Do I believe this? I find this a difficult one, because my fears around financial security have been with me my whole life. But I recently examined those fears and see that they've never been completely honest. As one of my best coaches always told me, most fears are false expectations appearing real.
I did take a financial risk by not jumping back into cubicle life right away when I lost the job of 10 years. I didn't know if it would "work" being a life coach. I learned a lot. I made a lot of great connections. I helped a few people along the way and I'm proud for having tried.
So I have to re-examine whether I feel the same way Maxwell feels: willing to accept financial risks and pay cuts to pursue a good opportunity. Did these past two years show me I can do it and still be alright (after all I didn't die, and I didn't end up on the street)? Or did these past two years show me that it's too much for me to handle? That there's always going to be a part of me that needs the security of knowing the bills will be paid. Unless that's just a story I tell myself and I can see it for the false expectation it really is.
What's next? I honestly don't know. I will let you know as things develop.