[I thought about calling this series “letters in the quiet” because I’ve been offline, writing the things I think I need most to hear: but it’s coming slowly home to me that maybe I’m not the only one who needs to hear some of these words and so now they’re letters to be shared. Don’t read this thinking I’ve reached all my goals. Really, I’m just a girl who needed this pep-talk too.]
It’s possible – just maybe possible – that what you needed to hear isn’t what you expected at all. You need to hear it right when you are waiting with expectation. Right when you are waiting for an expectation. You think there are rules to follow in this dream of yours. (and maybe there are, but there is a time for rules.) You think there is only one right way to get to the place you are going. (And maybe you are right about that too, but not the way you thought you were.)
I think the only way to keep going in a direction is to just keep going. And maybe that sounds stupid or simple or cut-and-dried, or maybe it even sounds like the rules you thought I was about to toss out the window. Well, like the hero of a movie always says when he gets caught with his pants down, I can explain.
Of course there are rules: there is one big rule. Keep moving. If you want to be a writer, put your butt in a chair and write. If you want to be a runner, stop browsing Nike’s newest running shoes, lace up the ones you have and walk out the door. If you want to be a therapist, start by signing up for some classes. You can’t just talk to your own therapist forever about how you want to do this too, one day. But then your therapist, if they’re worth their salt, will tell you the same thing I’m telling you. It matters a hell of a lot more that you begin and keep going than that you have the same path to get there that everybody else does.
A friend of mine wants to major in Psychology. A lot of people go to college knowing they want to major in Psychology, and a lot more go to college knowing they have to pick a major and they pick Psychology eventually. My friend started with cosmetology. She went to beauty school, which we have learned not to call it anymore, and has worked with her favorite and least-favorite clients in a salon in a city near where we grew up ever since. It doesn’t sound very glamorous because it isn’t. But tomorrow is her first day of classes at a new college and in a few years she’s going to have the exact same psychology degree as all the people who just graduated high school and haven’t had to hunt down their love of psychology through the hair-cut therapy sessions delivered compassionately to the soundtrack of a hair-buzzer and a scissors. Isn’t that worth something – that knowing?
Hell, let’s just make it personal. I want to be a published author. And yeah, the only way to get there as I’ve been told again and again is to get my butt in the chair and write. I’m beginning to realize it doesn’t matter as much what I write as that I am writing. Can we agree on that for a second? Because sometimes I go around and around in my own mind, just trying to determine what I should be working on right now and instead of writing I think about writing and puzzle about writing and make writing complicated when it should be as simple as sitting down and getting out the words.
I’m a lot like everyone else trying to write. We all know the struggle: you worry about developing your own voice, but how are you ever going to do that if you don’t write? You worry about finding what it is you love to write but how are you ever gonna do that if you don’t write? You have to write. But who cares what you write?
I think we are too lenient on ourselves because we are so hard on ourselves. I can explain that one too. You are hard on yourself for not choosing a direction. You don’t know what to work on so you worry about choosing a direction and because you’re so nit-picky about a direction you give yourself permission not to write until you have something figured out. But you’re not going to find success like that. Success comes at the end of consistent hard work. Greatness is out there and it will find people, but it will find those who’ve put in the years of behind-the-scenes training. Who’ve put their butts in chairs and written things nobody has ever or will ever read.
The invisible work is the work that matters, do you hear me? The invisible work is where you’re going to be built. The invisible work is boring and unrewarding for a long time and everybody who’s somebody has had to deal with that. They’ve had to figure out what they love about this work so they can keep going when there isn’t a soul cheering them on, because for years and years there probably won’t be a soul cheering you on (except me, right here and right now) and you’ve got to be ok with that – you’ve got to get your butt in your chair and your fingers on your keyboard for different reasons than just the cheering. Trust me on this.
So don’t self-sabotage. Don’t hold back and wait for a direction; don’t stop the habit just because you’ve finished one stage, don’t give up on a direction just because you didn’t start walking towards that degree the day after high school ended. It’s not how you get there that matters. It’s going in the same direction, day after day, until you arrive. I trust you babe: you can do that. And when you get there? That’s when the applause begins.