At age thirty-one, I didn’t know what to do with my days. I remember my husband telling me, “Just relax and enjoy yourself!” And I shot back, venom in my voice, “I’m not retired! I’m not seventy! I want to do something!”
At that time, my friends were doing one of two things: building their careers or having children. I couldn’t have children. But, I wanted to, so building my career also didn’t seem like the best option. In fact, the last post I wrote on this blog before opening our wellness studio ended like this:
I’ve spoken of this hypothetical studio for six years. I’ve toured locations, built brand models, played with fake schedules. I’ve attended conferences, wrote business plans, and created financial models. All along, one thing has stopped me: fear. Not the fear of failure. Not the fear of the work. Not the fear of falling and learning. The fear that has stopped me is the fear of giving up on another plan. As soon as I’m healthy enough to do so, I’d like to be a parent. I’ve said this every day since September 2012. I’ve never been healthy enough. I’ve harbored a fear that saying “YES” to my dream career will come in the way of saying “YES” to my other dreams.
It wasn’t that my days were bad back then. They were pleasant enough. I walked my dog, I ate lots of breakfast burritos and wrote lots of blog posts. I worked out a lot. But, I wasn’t living in sync with the rest of my peers, and looking at that made me feel – truly – wrong.
On a walk this weekend, I listened to the final episode of the podcast How to Build a Happy Life. Atlantic happiness correspondent Arthur Brooks talked about this concept of either being “in time” with those around us or “out of sync.” Essentially, we get a lot of cues from society about what it looks like to be a successful (31) (39) (56) (72) whatever-year-old. If we meet those placeholders in life, we feel some sense of accomplishment. If we miss them, we feel we have failed.
For years, I felt like a failure as a mother simply because I wasn’t one yet. Now, that particular situation is unique because there is an actual biological clock element involved. As women approach our mid-thirties, we are inevitably faced with the reality that our days of procreation are numbered.
That’s not true in the vast majority of pursuits, though.
I’m telling myself this in part as a pep talk. I’ve self-identified as a writer most of my life, and I suppose I always expected to sometime become “actual” writer. I’m not really sure what I thought that would look like. Maybe I thought I’d feel like an “actual” writer when I was interviewed about my forthcoming book on someone else’s podcast. Maybe I thought it would be when people knew my writing before they knew me. Maybe I thought it would be when I got a fat paycheck.
But, really, I think I always thought I’d know I was an actual writer when I prioritized writing in my life and made sacrifices for it.
All the other things were going to be what I used to justify the sacrifices. Like, I can take time away from my family to write because I’m getting a fat paycheck. Or, I can spend money on a writer’s retreat because I need new material for the forthcoming book I’m going to be interviewed on.
But I never have, and at some point I started feeling out of sync again. Surely, if I was ever going to become an actual writer I would have done more by now, right? I’d have the bylines so-and-so has. Shit, that woman published four novels before forty, so she’s an actual writer. Her “about the author” sounds a hellofalotmore “actual” than mine.
When we start to feel really out of sync, the only cure is to take 10 steps back and name the feeling. I’m not any less of a writer just because I haven’t dedicated the time to it yet. I’ve just not done it yet, and they have. We’re on different timelines, and that’s okay.
If you’re out of sync in your own life, take 10 steps back and just recognize that it is what it is. It is okay. The majority of these timelines are manufactured.
A second helpful step would be to ask: Do I actually want to be in sync?
If the question is whether I want to start covering my midriff like most 39-year-olds: no. I do not want to be in sync on that one. I am okay getting the looks at preschool pick ups when I show up barefoot in harem pants and a sports bra. I feel good that way. When I no longer feel good that way, I’ll change (my clothes).
A third helpful step would be to ask: Do I have any control over this timeline?
So, I’ve decided I do want to start (maybe restart … I’ve had a lot of false starts) the clock on my writing career. Since I’ve come to realize the only barrier is doing it, I’m going to do it.
Is there any area of your life that you routinely tell yourself you’re failing in simply because you haven’t done X by Y date? Can you recognize this for the essence of what it is – being out of sync? Are you okay with it? Or, do you want to get started?