(written about 5 weeks ago)
You guys. So much to say! And the paralysis of getting this post right is, well, paralyzing. But, suffice it to say that what has happened in the last few weeks is what always promises to happen when your eyes and ears are open to the universe answering an open-ended question: perspective shifts and sharpens, and we realize that knowing the answer is more of a remembering than it is a finding. I should have known.
The day after I published last, I got a call from an organization that I admire inquiring about whether or not I'd be interested in becoming a fellow of theirs, with the end goal of opening a charter school. In the span of that decision process, I was asked by that organization's CEO why it is that I "can't figure out what I want to do with my life." In a separate instance, I sat around a table of fellow ex-TFA'ers (current teachers and scholars, mostly) and ruminated on how confusing it was that vocation and contentment continue to be so confusing. Along other lines of life and happenings: I have missed Seattle wholeheartedly this summer. I rediscovered my music library from high school and the results are gloriously damning. I started taking guitar lessons.
But alas, I did not get said fellowship (a truly poor fit from the start), and the few short days of amusing the possibility brought up some curious feelings. I began to foreshadow how I would miss the life that I'm currently living: bringing Rufo (dog) into work everyday, feeling valued by the company, being able to live in our cozy studio in the Western Addition. Everything is a trade-off, isn't it? I also immediately threw myself down a path of 'what would this person, and this person, and this person think?' People who work in education would be concerned (school leadership without the proper training is a disaster, and often a very costly one), my parents would be impressed, my coworkers would be surprised, my friends would be all across the board. It would awe certain people and not others. Win me points here, but not there. But that's what happens when you're as externally focused as my little baby heart tends to be-- it's a game that you can't win. The cards are marked, the game is rigged, and it's best not to start in the first place.
But, of course, easier said than done. Those older and wiser tell me that not caring what people think comes with age. I really hope so. What a gift to have some irreverance come earlier, and what a long and active road it is to get to that place; the term 'gift' feels like such a passive understatement.
Like many, I've always put a lot of stock in what my parents think (or what I think they think). I hold onto a fistful of off-hand comments or conversations from long ago or from the other day, and feel deeply sensitive to their views and wishes, which, of course, are rooted in so much that I cannot control. As Anne Lamott said at her UC Berkeley commencement speech, "[your parents want] you to do well in your field, make them look good, and maybe also make a tiny fortune. But that is not your problem. Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are."
And then she goes on to suggest that if your parents are hell bent on you excelling in the field of, say, microbiology, that they are free to enroll in their own program and forge their own way. My choices have to be my own. And even in two years of therapy, I probably barely scratched the surface of this dynamic; and though I don't know much, I do know that my desire to please and impress my family is stunting.
I was having breakfast with a good friend a few weeks ago, and we were talking about she has a flower bed on her rooftop that she's tended to pretty vigilantly, but for some reason the flowers that she's planted there die pretty quickly. They get plenty of sun, and it's a secluded spot, so there's no real reason why they wouldn't thrive, but they don't, and still she waters. She was telling me that it reminds her of pregnancy, actually: the woman has to incubate an environment that's friendly toward new life, so she eats well and exercises and doesn't drink. But she can't control whether or not something grows, and she can't control how it does. The actual development of the baby is a hands-up-white-flag-surrender situation, even as she makes sure that she's doing her part. It's both incredibly active and very passive, which (not speaking from experience) seems like an exercise in trust and major anxiety regulation. The metaphor alone slays me: that we can only create an environment where something can grow, but whether or not it does is not something we can manage. This was true with dating, it's true with friendships, clearly it's true with child-rearing, but it's also true with career.
Nurturing a place where something has the best chance of growing means letting go of the grabbing for approval and validation from those who (in this instance) don't serve me, even and especially family, even and especially old acquaintances, even and especially anybody that I please. We live in an age where, if I wanted to publicize and ask for affirmation about every aspect of my life-- my job, my commute, my marriage, my writing, my free time, my friendships, my adventures, my outfit, my dog, my face-cleansing routine-- I could, all day everyday. But on that micro-level of social media, it makes me nauseous to even think about playing that game (says the blogger). I never leave a rabbit hole down instagram or Facebook feeling more inspired or enthused, instead I emerge wondering how this person's arms are so toned, or how this person got a particular job, or why that couple looks more in love than I feel sometimes. It's silly and, for me, a gigantic waste of precious time.
But I need to apply that aversion to the harder, bigger, monolithic work of becoming apart from my parents' views in the ways that will allow things to grow. In the ways that for some people, happen when they turn 18, or 25, or when they're sent out on their own, or when they get married, or when they get divorced. And for others, holding onto this misplaced anxiety leaks out throughout their lifetimes and masks itself as ambition or laziness or restlessness or long hours. Clearly, I cannot deny anymore that my struggle with career is tied and knotted up with my fear of letting my parents down. In the words of the great Josh Ritter, every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied. The process of unwrapping and untangling doesn't happen overnight--how can it when the coils and snarls took 29 years to form?--but rather with presence and conversations and fights and truth-telling.