Monday, June 22, 2009

avoiding the "Well, how did I get here?" syndrome

Maybe because it's my favorite genre these days, but I've been hearing a lot of "I was successful but unhappy so I quit my job to follow my dream" stories. The lovely thing about these stories is that no matter how insane the decision looks on paper (i.e., bagging enormously lucrative advertising job complete with fat expense account and prime corner office to enroll in cooking school in the hopes of working 60 hours a week as a line cook, making $15k/yr salary while getting yelled at by Chef), no one ever seems to regret taking this step.

I've done Part One of this process - I quit the hateful job that was making me a miserable slug - but I'm still working on Part Two - figuring out my dream, and going for it. (Though sometimes I worry that, actually, I've found my dream, and it involves lots of reading, traveling, hanging out, and going to the movies, none of which seem to be paying much these days.) Over the past couple of months, however, I've been connecting a lot of dots and feel (finally!!) that I'm moving forward - still not quite sure toward what, but it does feel like progress of a sort. I've been tentatively thinking about making some sort of career as a writer, and I'm not talking press releases and PowerPoint. I've received a lot of support from various corners, and I'm at a point in my life where I can actually hear the encouraging words and not discount them as I would have in the past ("Oh, that's nice of her to say that about my writing, but really, anyone could do it"; or "Well, okay, so what I wrote isn't half bad, but what are the odds I could actually get published?"). Also, I have plenty of role models right now.

For example. Last week, during what was supposed to be a business-type meeting (I say "business-type" because I no longer have actual hard-core business meetings, thank you very much), David and I digressed into a major discussion of "Vocation, Finding one's." David has the classic narrative of the genre: turned his back on a big-shot career as a commercial photographer, went to film school, and ultimately found his calling as an artist, creating intimate, powerful works that connect deeply with their audience. I get the sense that he sees his work and his path very clearly, and the joy and self-confidence and contentment that he radiates are so strong, he can't help but inspire those of us still flailing about in the murky depths.

It takes a lot of courage and faith, I believe, to make such a drastic change, and getting past the fear of what others will think is one of the biggest challenges. After all, following a dream along these lines usually means freaking someone out - a parent, a spouse, a lending institution. A few years back, as one of the many, many, many things I did to try to figure out my life, I went on an Outward Bound sea-kayak trip in the Sea of Cortez - 10 days of paddling around, sleeping on beaches, and (rather to my surprise) organized soul-searching. I didn't delve into the "sharing" as much as I probably should have (not my cup of tea, though I applaud those who went all out and shared like mad), but there were still some deeply resonant moments. At one point, one of the trip leaders read us a list of qualities you need in order to find and follow your own path, and there was one that, for me, rose above self-help treacle: "You must have the courage to disappoint the ones you love." Yowza.

Perhaps one of the reasons it's been so difficult for me to find my path is that there's constantly been a checklist of people I feel I must please, people whose voices I can hear whenever I'm making a big (or even semi-big) decision. It's bad enough when these people are criticizing me inside my head; if one of them questions my choices in real life, I get flustered, and it's difficult for me to stay centered on my (typically wishy-washy) convictions. Nowadays, however, I do feel I'm better equipped to disconcert friends and family with my crazy schemes ("I'm going to Mexico on Sunday!") without getting knocked off track, and I'm less worried about making mistakes and getting a load of "I told you so" down the road.

Because, Dear Readers, if I've learned one thing and one thing only during this process, it's that the big risk doesn't lie in recklessly chasing the dreams of your heart (even the vague and indistinct ones); the big risk is sticking to the safe, easy, well-trod path and realizing much later that you missed out, and then there you are, sitting up late at night, nursing a scotch and listening over and over to Miss Peggy Lee sum it all up for you.


  1. "It was clear, at last, that in writing, she had found a home."
    Freya Stark

    As one of your readers, Sioban, it couldn't be clearer that you, too, have found that home. And what a pleasure it is to be there with you. Don't stop.

  2. What neither said. Does it PAY?

  3. Thanks, brenda and Jane2 - I was unsteady about this post, so your comments are much appreciated.

    And Remonster: unfortunately, it doesn't pay, but I'm hoping it has inherent value.

  4. I just finished reading ALL the entries on your 25 Days in Paris blog and wanted to send you a note to let you know a/ how much I enjoyed it and b/ how helpful it has been to us as we are headed to the City of Light in about 10 days. Le Verre Vole and Mon Viele Ami are both on our list!

  5. Pooja: thanks for the comments! I'm so glad you enjoyed 25 Days - and have a GREAT time in Paris! Please report back on your discoveries.

  6. Fear of failure is something that I'm struggling a lot with right now in my life decisions as well. I'm only 21 and feel as though I have to make the right decision RIGHT NOW to avoid future unhappiness and/or regret. The only problem is, the fear of having regrets and of letting people down is preventing me from putting myself out there, my greatest regret. It's easy for me to get down on myself about this, but reading your blog helps me know there's at least one other person out there struggling with these same fears, and inspires me to keep an equally positive outlook.
    Thank you for not being a silent sufferer, and for your humour and perspective :)

  7. Hi Siobhan,
    I came from your 25 days in Paris blog. I too was in Paris about the same time you were and your blog makes me miss it so much. I didn't have a chance to explore as much as I wanted to but I will definitely go back and live the Parisian life one day.

    This particular blog hit close to home with me. Especially your very last paragraph. I'm struggling with this right now and hope to find my path soon.


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