Thursday, November 12, 2009
The real voyage of discovery consists not only in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.
Don’t know about the new eyes, Marcel, but man do I want to hit the road again and see some of those new landscapes.* I want to take my new (to me) car for a cross-country solo spin, I want to head back to Mexico for a couple months of easy living, I want to take intensive French lessons on the Riviera for four weeks to be followed by at least two weeks of practicing my new-found fluency (one hopes) in glamorous-sounding spots like Cap Ferrat and Antibes and Nice… oh, and in Marseilles, which just makes me think of cauldrons of bouillabaisse. Then there’s New Zealand, and Barcelona, and Buenos Aires, and Bali… all places I’m dying to visit and where I’d want to stay for a good chunk of time.
What’s stopping me? Well, let’s see. I’m working, for one thing, which, at this point in history, is not something to be taken lightly. I’ve got contracts and clients — and cash coming in — and my own L(ucky) L(ittle) C(ompany). It feels like it took a long time to get to this point, so I’m not sure it’s wise to disappear for a few months and then perhaps have to start from scratch.
However, my contracts expire at the end of the year, and though it looks like there could be more work in 2010, nothing is set in stone. My clients could very well decide that they’ve got nothing for me for the time being — at which point, I’m hitting expedia.com and finding me a ticket to points unknown.
And if it looks like those contracts are going to be renewed, well, then, I just need to build some vacation / sabbatical time into the year. That’s one of the joys of the self-employed way of life: I may not get paid vacation, but my boss tends to cheerfully approve all requests for time off.
To sum up: I’m a lucky duck, and 2010 could be another great chapter in my post 9-to-5 life. So why do I feel a panicky dread creeping up in me? It seems to hit when I feel like I’ve got nothing to look ahead to (cf. here and here and here), creating an opening for all those big Life Decisions to come on over and start tapping me on the shoulder (and/or clocking me upside the head). You know, the big ones: what do I want to do with my life, where do I want to live, who do I want to be, WTF is wrong with me?!
Nice, efficient downward spiral there, if I say so myself. I really have mastered that move in the past few years. Practice, practice, practice!
But I’ve also been practicing a few other tricks: namely, how to put the brakes on the spiral. For one thing, I don’t get automatically sucked into comparing my lot with that of a friend’s, or a colleague’s, or that of someone I read about in my dreaded alumni magazine or even just notice on the subway, for god’s sake. Instead, I’m trying to keep in mind something a friend told me a few years back, when he was helping me figure out how to pull my act together and get un-stuck from my unhappy work situation: Don’t compare yourself to other people; compare yourself to your own potential.**
When I size myself up in relation to friends or subway strangers, I get overwhelmed by a wave of defeat, of my failures and missteps and so forth. When I’m instead able to follow my friend’s advice and think about what my potential may be and how I can live up to it, I find myself wanting to be true to that potential, to care for it, and, actually, honor it (it’s mine, after all), and, by extension, to be true to myself. (Sounds New Agey, I know, but it feels very strong and calm, somehow.)
What that means, more and more, is that I need to write, and take pictures, and have my own projects, not just those of my clients. I need to be okay with not knowing where I’m going or what’s in store, and trust that it will all continue to unfold.
And right now, since the void of an empty calendar seems to freak me out, I’m thinking of the first few months of 2010 as either work work work, or France France France. Voila. Calendar full.
*Full disclosure: As I write this, I’m on a plane, crossing the country (hence the photos), but it’s only for a week-long trip, which is not what I’m talking about here.
**Hindu proverb: There is nothing noble about being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.