A friend of mine sent me a "just checking in" text this morning, and instead of saying "Oh, life is good" I blurted a hundred characters about how I'm just not someone who does transitions well, good or bad. These "swirly thoughts," I told her, were everywhere, all the time.
"I just wish I were more level-headed, ya know? I'm trying not to hide my lopsided self from what's good for me."
She graciously responded saying: " If everyone were willing to be vulnerable we'd all realize how normal we are!"
And there was my ah-ha moment. You're falling apart, too, aren't you?
In some small or big way -- doesn't matter -- you don't actually have your whole life perfectly pieced together. Neither do I, and I thought I was OK with it. But not really. Not when it gets messy. Brene Brown has a great saying: "Vulnerability is great for everyone else, oh but not me, I got this."
One of my favorite songs of all time is a duet between a woman at the age of conquer-the-world 29 and my-life-is-over 31. I first discovered this song at the blessed age of 29, thanks to a friend who could see me swimming in the ethereal glow of the final year of my 20s. You can watch the video if you want, though I'll warn you there is savory language in it.
I'm on the other side of this song now (31 years and four months old), and the truth is that the last 18 months in my 30s have felt like having my ass handed to me day after day after day. Just when I think I'm on top of the world (and in my case in command of it), life has a way of saying, "No way, buddy. Not so fast." This blog is about the hard truths of the last 18 months that keep smacking me in the face.
1. Just because you figure something out, doesn't mean you're the expert now
I work in an industry with a lot of robotic copy-catters. Content marketing is overflowing with cheerleaders and copy-pasters, and I loathe this. As a way to cope and perhaps make myself more marketable, I challenge everything that could be status quo. And the crazy thing is: I usually find a better way to do something that the crowds are cheering is the best thing ever.
This gets me in trouble because I have a disease called "Shiny Squirrel Shiny," which means that when I figure something out, I want to chase it, love it, pet it, grow it, make it a website and declare to the masses: Ah-ha! I've figured this out when all of you were just being predictable!
I've done this a few times now, and as a result, the editor in me has been going through an identity crisis and pushing back on being in the shadows all the time. So when I figure something out or have a great idea, this means I have recently (for the past 18 months or so) invested silly amounts of time to chase this Shiny Squirrel. And because I can write fairly well, I can speak to a lot of complicated issues with clarity and bring other people along for the ride.
However, not much comes of these meanderings. I get something up, I write about it, I answer 5 - 10 questions in well-formed blogs, then it's over and the real world (aka the paying gigs) come a-calling. I've learned that identifying the issue is muuuuuch different from being an expert who can fix that specific issue. The fact is there are experts who know better, have studied longer and harder, and they should be the ones coming in to clean up the mess of x, y, z.
2. Since observations aren't solutions, what do I do with my life?
I don't know what to do with my life right now. I'm in a major identity crisis (as eluded to above) and I'm pretty sure the typical mid-life crisis is still 10 - 15 years away. I'm supposed to be an entrepreneur, someone who creates and grows. But all I really want right now is to hide. After two years of being on my own, I love the freedom but love/hate the spotlight and pressure. As a dark and lurky creature, sometimes the shadow is where I need to be. Editorial work fits me well, but I also like having a team and running a content department.
This wasn't really a lesson to share. This was mostly just a chance to whine and say: If you have any ideas, please tell me what to do with my career.
3. It's inevitable: when you love people, you have to let them in
People. This has been the best/worst lesson of all. After meeting the love of my life, do you know what he did? He squirmed his adorable face, manly shoulders and contagious laughter into my heart of hearts.
Do you know what happens when you let someone do that?
You go crazy.
At least, I did. I went motherflipping crazy and all emotional and now I can't pretend that I'm a robot who doesn't have needs to be met. I had life in such a stranglehold before meeting him, partly as a way to cope with generalized anxiety disorder, but also as a way to maintain the status quo of perceived competence.
The trouble is: he sees it all. He sees and experiences (bless him) all my emotional meltdowns and fears and worries. And to his enormous credit, they don't bother him at all. Of course he wants me to be happy, but he's also extraordinarily insightful and understands that this woman of his does not do transitions well. This woman is, frankly, a little nutty at times. Again, to his credit, he also sees the ocean of love and warmth and loyalty in me that I far too often undervalue. He sees right through to the real me, the real me that's trying to uncover itself from a decade of 20-year-old "must appear competent" ploys.
4. Letting people in starts by letting yourself in
Survival mode is addicting and exhausting. It's also subtle. Without realizing it, I had transitioned to a place where I was physically and emotionally in survival mode much of the time. Whether it was swinging from diet to diet or swirling nonstop in deciding which religion was best for me, relaxing just wasn't on the agenda. These things gave me a pseudo sort of self importance: I am busy therefore I do not need to address the real things.
It's funny what we choose to distract ourselves with, isn't it? For some people it's alcohol or shopping or binge eating or extreme exercise. I have a growing theory:
"When we resist balance, we are resisting something hidden inside us, something we can't bare to look at directly."
For me, I used dieting, exercise and religious obsessions (and Lord knows what else) to avoid emotional intimacy.
Logically I knew I wanted to find a partner and grow a life together with him. I even knew that letting love in would be a bit turbulent, given previous traumas. I just never expected it to reveal this seemingly hidden self -- this person who's been wanting to learn to play piano since she was a little girl, or color, or paint. This person who loves cooking and having guests over. If I thought something would make me too emotional, I would cut it off: even if it was something my heart truly desired.
I'm learning to let myself in, and it's a scary (though worthwhile) ride. But I'll admit: I don't know what I'm doing. Some days everything is really, really lovely. Then some days I go into those "swirly" thoughts and they send me wondering if I'll ever have my act together again. And then, of course, I wonder if I'd ever really want that again anyways.