I have recently accepted that I will never be a master gardener.
Nor will I become a high-powered lawyer, make piles of money, or get good at yoga.
In fact, I do most things badly.
In the morning, I stumble out of bed. I don’t cook anything more sophisticated than pasta. I make careless mistakes at work and don’t call my friends or family enough. I mow the lawn only when it has reached a crisis point. I cut corners and mess up and generally do a below-average job. But I’m satisfied.
Because I’m also a writer. And in that realm, I’ve made a choice that has changed everything.
I’ve chosen to kick ass.
There’s always time!
This was the mantra of my meandering early twenties, as I explored first one waterway, then the next. Whenever I got tired or disillusioned—the flowers on this riverbank just don’t call to me the way the last ones did—I turned around or cut through to the next route.
There’s always time! And there was. Time to pass an afternoon reading by a lake. Time to write emails to important people and never send them. Time to start a novel. Time to finish a novel…eh, maybe later. Time to get depressed. Time to drink too much pour-over coffee and journal frenetically. Time to start a career as a novelist—no, nonprofit communications person—actually, try social worker...
None of my decisions carried weight, because none of them were final.
Until I made some choices. I quit my job. I moved across the country. I (re)discovered the thing that had been waiting for me to take notice: I wanted to write. In fact, when I stuffed my fears into a jar and stuck them in a corner for five minutes, I discovered that nothing else mattered.
And so, at last, I chose.
Here’s the things about choices—they tend to attract energy.
The boundaries of my life once seemed infinite. But lately they’ve narrowed to a sharp point, thrusting me forward at alarming speed. I dash from writing groups to critique groups; from self-imposed deadlines to ones dictated by clients. As I do so, I hurtle past the blurred outlines of alternative selves. They call out to me, these other, more alluring versions of myself:
You should be like your teacher at the gym, one booms. Look at her—a real Krav Maga master! You could take more classes…replace your early morning writing time with conditioning runs…
What you really need to be doing, another insists, is investing in your community. Attend that Indivisible group each week, and the sub-group on healthcare, and the protest this weekend (I know it was the weekend you were going to go off and write, but with the future of our country at stake) …
It’s not too late to get a full-time communications job, another chimes in. Really invest in your career for a few years, then get back into the writing thing when you’re more financially stable…
These voices operate like a pressure valve in my brain, promising relief from the stress of following through on the choice I’ve made. They offer a diversion, just a quick trip down a side route. But heeding their calls would mean sacrificing my momentum. So I shut out their noise long enough to ask myself: What would it feel like to spend my weekends gardening and never write another word?
The answer flies back: Like my life had no purpose.
Armed with that answer, I resist the lure of those alternate realities. I don’t abandon them entirely, of course—a person can write and also take to the streets. I just accept that I will not do them perfectly. I barrel along, picking up speed, shouldering aside the phantoms whispering, you should, you should…I shoot over a waterfall and plummet into the unknown, knowing that when I land I’ll do what I meant to do all along:
The teacher in me resists the idea that just reading the above words could help you. So saddle up, folks, and pull out your writing implements (but please, don’t actually try to write while riding a horse):
- Brainstorm a big list of all the things that you do in life—your routines, your loves, whatever fills your hours. (Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”)
- Choose the three that matter most to you, those things at the core of your being that you cannot live without. You know what they are.
- Tell all the others that you’ll attend to them soon (this is a lie, but they will believe you).
- Let. Them. Go.
- Remember those three things? Go do them.
- Do them imperfectly. Do them resentfully. Do them even though you feel the laughter of an invisible crowd. Do them first thing when you wake up. Do them last thing before you go to bed. Do them even when you mess up. Do them the best you can, wherever you are. Give them everything. In return, they will light up the world.