I do not want to be folded, for where I am folded, there I am alive.
I had a realization yesterday that much of my life and headspace is guided by what I am reading, be it a book or an article or a long thread of Facebook comments, so it should also serve as the muse for my blogging patterns.
The Artists Way by Julia Cameron
Christianity: The First 3,000 Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch
Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte
There Is No Good Card for This by Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell
(always too many books)
Since I just started The Fire Starter Sessions today, that seems like a good launching pad. First of all, TFSS is not a book. It's a free online day-by-day "course" I'm working through with a friend of mine. It's light, short reading but it makes my brain curious so I'll count it towards this venture.
Day 1 (today) was about "Declaring Your Superpowers." If you know about Danielle LaPorte, this will make sense to you. If you don't, it's going to sound a little cheesy and you might even roll your eyes. That's okay, eye rollers are my favorite. Essentially, she poses:
- What comes naturally/easily to you?
- You're probably competent at a lot of things, but what are you amazing at?
- Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?
- What would you like to never have to do again?
within the framework of:
- Your strengths are what make you feel strengthened.
- If poetry does not come as naturally as leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.
- We will never be great at the things we have to try to be good at, but we can become masters of the thing we are naturally great at.
- Dump the things you don't want to do, and focus on the things that come easily to you.
I wonder a few things.
Is it realistic that everyone only ever do what they want to do?
I was raised to work hard. I was taught that you gotta do what you gotta do because that's just life, baby. The idea that I should stop doing what I don't like doing is simultaneously liberating and infuriating. I want to say, "Yes please! I'll have what she's having" and also "You don't know reality anymore."
So I'm stuck in this tension because here's the thing. There are children in the Philippines who are actually shoveling (and living in) shit. There are boys and girls orphaned all over the world who have to beg on the streets, and a whole lot of paycheck-to-paycheck earners who are working two full-time jobs to put food in the mouths of their families.
Do they want to do those things? Can't they just decide they want to live their best life now and drop it all to pursue paint marbling and figure skating?
No. I think the answer is no.
But in an ideal world, do I believe people (and the whole of society) would benefit from being fully alive in what they're giving their time to? Yes.
Am I personally in a privileged enough state to even ask these questions, let alone pursue such a luxury? Yes.
Ah-ha, reconciling reality with the ideal. My stomping grounds.
I'd like to suggest an amendment to this "do-what-you-want" line of thinking, because as inspiring as it is, I think it can also be harmful when it is misapplied.
The amendment comes from an idea I'm pulling from a project I've been working on with a financial advisor to help creative entrepreneurs price their work correctly. In the course we're writing, the concept of margin is essential.
The foreword reads, "Think of a time in our collective history when we have had little margin—such as in times of war or in an early tribal context where the vast majority of everyone’s time is spent simply surviving. Some, but very little art is happening. There just isn’t the time or space for it.
We find a similar proposal in science. Neuropsychologists observe that the ideal state for creative thought is not in conscious, tightly-structured, task-driven moments when we demand our brain to work for us, but rather, our most creative times are when our brains slow down, shut out our conscious thoughts, and are given the opportunity to wander with only light structure. The official name for this is “transient hypofrontality”.
In other words, creativity takes place when there is mental margin."
I think the same is true for the "do what you want" lifestyle. There must be margin. Another way of thinking about it is through Maslow's Hierarchy of needs:
Some people have beef with certain elements of this hierarchy, but I think the premise stands. When you don't have food or shelter, you aren't likely to spend your time conceptualizing a new sculpture or knitting an embellished sweater, even if those are your passions. You're going to do what it takes to survive because that's how our species doesn't die.
To come to a high-level place where you are ready to let go of the tasks that wear you out, to say "no" to the things you don't love in order to say "yes" to what you do love, you have to feel safe enough. You have to have margin. You have to be secure in your survival.
This is where another tension comes in.
And then another one.
First, some people might say, "No, you need to take risk. Pursuing your dream is never easy and there's never a perfect time to do it. You have to say no to the things that are good in order to take hold of the thing that is best, and that never feels safe." And to that I would say AMEN.
You must also have the margin for it. You must have space. You must put in the hard work it takes to secure your survival so that you can begin the unbound pursuit of passion. (Am I wrong?)
That's why the fire rises up in my throat and I want to burn everything to the ground when I hear someone say, "Just drop the things you don't want to do" because, for example, my husband is running two businesses that are HARD TO RUN. He is tired and overworked and I think he'd be happy if he never had to deal with Dan again. He's moving toward his passions, but in the meantime, he does things he doesn't love while he carves out a future for himself.
Second tension: There is this whole "poverty mindset" thing where, because of early events or some other sort of life-trauma (like going bankrupt, losing a job, etc.), you have the belief that you are unsafe and barely surviving even though in reality, you're totally okay. That can really mess with your ability to pursue your dreams because you can end up trapped in a life you never wanted simply because you don't believe you're free from scarcity, when you actually are. This is called living out of fear and it's not healthy.
So, lets look at the plates we're juggling:
- It is ideal to only ever do what makes me come alive.
- If I am struggling to survive, I will not have the capacity to pursue my passions fully.
- If I believe I am struggling to survive, I will make decisions based out of fear and keep myself from joy.
This is where I land, because reality tends to put a damper on unbound bliss, but there's always the beautiful possibility of positive forward motion:
Be where you are, and make your next move.
It's too lofty to think about a life where you only do what makes you happy when you're in the trenches with a rifle and a helmet, just barely staying alive. It's hard to move through a scarcity mindset when your dad never took a day off in his life and yet your family was always strapped for cash. But every single human being I know has a flicker of curiosity and the burn of passion somewhere within them, and I think the world would be best served by their coming into themselves as fully as possible.
We need (I want) to live in a world where everyone is free to engage their honest desires, where each of us operate in our highest state, and where every human being is optimized for growth and positive influence. We also need a realistic way forward (which, to be fair to Danielle LaPorte, TFSS is a month-long course and this is Day 1, so I'll probably eat my words tomorrow but that's what I'm here for.)
Be where you are, and make your next move.
For example, if you can identify just one thing that sucks the ever-living joy out of your soul and find a way to say no to it, you're moving forward. If you can locate something that feels like a total dream and make time for it, even just once a week, you're moving forward.
That feels like progress, and it also feels like grace.
It feels like reality improving.