As of tomorrow, it will be four weeks since I became self-employed. This is what it looks like when I work:
There’s a lot of coffee and tea involved (you can’t just sit in coffee shops without ordering a drink! There are rules and I follow them!). It’s pretty awesome. I’m not going to lie; there’ve been ups and downs and stressful times, but all of my own doing, seeing’s how I am, in fact, the boss of me (see below).
One thing there hasn’t been is regret, which isn’t surprising to me, but still a nice validation of my decision, nonetheless. Regret isn’t really my style. I don’t generally linger in my decision making and once I’ve committed to my choice, I look forward from there at what’s next.* Giant ball of fears and insecurities though I am (remember; I’m a human), I tend to follow this advice:
* That being said, there have for sure been areas of my life where I was carrying around a lot of significance and not letting go of my past, partly because I hadn’t yet realized that who I am is not the same as the things that have happened to me. I’m a work in progress, but it’s progress!
The week before last, I was talking to my coach about a familiar story that is driving me Up The Proverbial Wall: When I get to X, then I can Y. It’s very closely related to my “not-good-enough/all-or-nothing” story; the one in which I’m simultaneously the tragic protagonist and nasty-ass villain in my own story.
Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of storybook references in this post. I’ve always loved make believe and fairy tales. I’ve lived in a committed certainty that my fantasy just outside my peripheral vision. I don’t ever open a wardrobe without hoping, just a little bit, that there might be pine trees and snow just past the jackets.
What I wanted to work on with my coach was the way I continue to get in my own way. As in, here I am, in the future I’d oh-so-longed for, and yet, I wasn’t doing the stuff I wanted to be doing. Why wouldn’t I look at what I wanted? What was stopping me from creating my vision? There was nothing in my way but me and it was getting really, really irritating. When I get irritated/irritating, all possibility of self-compassion takes off, fleeing for safety in higher ground, and I’m left being a not very nice person to me.
It was time to bankrupt this story and that’s precisely what we did. I looked at every single way in which this story was costing me joy and happiness. The evidence was plentiful and obvious. Eventually, we got to the point at which we realized that I believed I had to bust my ass to deserve anything, and even when I did just that, I still couldn’t enjoy the fruits of my labours.
“You’re addicted to suffering,” said my coach. “What’s that about?”
“Well, I am Catholic; it makes sense,” I joked half-heartedly. And then I got frustrated. After all, I actually remember a time when this wasn’t the case.
“I don’t get it,” I said, my frustration mounting. “I used to be so happy. When I was a kid, I was happy.”
It’s true: Despite growing up in a pretty stressful family life and amidst lots of sadness, fear and anger, I was a happy-go-lucky little kid. If it wasn’t fun, I’d go off and play by myself and find some fun. I was a genuine Sally Sunshine.
“Seriously,” I said, “I loved my childhood. When other kids wanted to play grown up, I’d peace out. I never wanted to grow up. Ask my mom.”
“So, what happened?” asked my coach.
“I don’t know. It’s like I just passed this imaginary line and life got all hard and—oh! Oh my god. I can see it.”
Forget the penny dropping: It was like a massive tree falling right in front of me. It all made sense and it had never occurred to me before.
Here’s what I saw:
I’d lived in my happy childhood (my therapist thinks it’s hilarious when I try to convince her my childhood was happy; she knows my family situation from way back when), never wanting to grow up, because all the grown ups I knew were sad, scared, angry, stressed out and unhappy. Why would I want that? Nope. I had a serious case of Peter Pan-itis: If that’s what growing up entailed, then I wasn’t ever going to do it. Other kids couldn’t wait until they were a grown up for real. This was not my idea of a fun game or promising future.
So what happened? Well, somewhere along the way, I guess I grew up anyway, despite my protestations and denials. When I wasn’t looking, Life caught up to me and turned me into an adult. I inadvertently stepped over the line I’d drawn in the sand and I grew up, and from that point forward, I looked at my life the only way I understood adulthood to be: Hard, scary, stressful and unhappy.
This kind of took my breath away. I mean, I can see it. I can see how I made this real, without meaning to do it at all. How I’d been suiting up for a fight and approaching my life like a linebacker heading for a tackle, all the while wondering what the heck happened, like the concussed quarterback who got taken down.
The day you realize that you’re the reason your life feels hard is a pretty big day. Suddenly, I could choose anything else. Today is going to be fun. Today will be peaceful. This day, I’m going to enjoy myself. This one is going to be an adventure.
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It turns out, I’d been living a fantasy the whole time, but I’d been picking pretty crappy chapters for my choose-my-own-adventure. If I could choose joy before, I can choose it again.
Now, I’m not saying that life is easy, but does life have to be hard?
Only if I say so. And this time, I say something different.