Stop! Sucking! Day 6: Tools for stopping...and restarting

I had a nice kind of cheering, Stop-This-Stupid-Crap win today.

I was gearing up for a "duty connection": extending myself to someone whom I really didn't want to meet, much less extend myself to. Not necessarily a bad person, but almost certainly, from the context in which she presented herself, Not My Tribe.

And lo, as I was hitting "command-n" to create the email, I felt the vomitous pit of dread blurbling in my stomach, thought about actually meeting this person and how that would feel, realized that I was in no way obligated to reach out. . . and didn't. Which, if you've been following along, is a major win.

It wasn't always this easy, though, realizing I had choices, understanding what they were. I operated on my factory default settings for a looooooong time. Saying "yes" when I meant "maybe" or even "no." Doing what I had always done because hey, it had gotten me as far as this in one piece. Not realizing that trying something else and perhaps failing at it was 10x better than not trying something else at all.

This is something I get now. Really. I may not get it 100% of the time, or as fast as I'd like (will I ever get anything as fast as I'd like, I wonder?) but I do get it. I've left careers that weren't fulfilling, relationships that weren't working, habits that were insalubrious. And sometimes, because I'm not where I'd like to be, or where I know I can be eventually, if I keep working on it, I forget that I may have useful advice for people who are currently encountering a particular bear I've already wrassled.

It happened in the comments section today. (I love the comments section. It's my favorite part of my blog, because it's not only a source of rich inspiration, community and connection, but it's the one place where I don't have to write everything.) Earl Kabong (not his real name, unless he's really managed to fly under the Googledar) posted a really touching and interesting comment about the nature of his current stuckage.

Earl, you see, is a writer, and a good one, it seems: not only does he get paid to write, many people's dreams, his pay comes exclusively from writing, something I'm pretty sure is my dream right now, or damned close to it. Moreover, he's been a paid writer his whole working life. Which means, of course, that he's smart enough to know that it can sound like 15 kinds of ungrateful to say he really doesn't dig it, but that he doesn't know what else he would do.

I get it. I do.

Back when I was an advertising copywriter, I regularly met with people who would have eaten a limb to do what I did. I was pretty good at it and worked pretty hard at it, but the truth is, I had my job because I had the native skills and the connections. In equal measure. My blessing, my curse.

It made extricating myself rather difficult. Because sure, I could quit, that's the easy part. The hard part was dealing with all the rest of it. How do I pay my nut? What do I do that's more fulfilling? How do I tell my father? What do I tell my father, and anyone else who asks?

And the biggest thing of all: how will I introduce myself at cocktail parties until I'm happily established in some TBD life pursuit? For me, it boiled down to two issues: money and identity. And the latter was much, much harder to deal with than the former. Poor, I could handle. Shiftless loser with no direction? Not so much.

So here are some things I've learned about the Full Stop/Reboot, along with some resources I found useful in making my transition:

1. Realize you're in it for the long haul

This is a process, not a to-do item. I was unbelievably arrogant at the start of my switch, thinking I could just tackle this like any other project. It is a project, and that's a good way to look at it. But it's a long-term project, which means approaching it differently than the time-delimited ones I'd been used to up until then. Establish a desire. Muse. Reflect. Seek counsel. Research. Lather/rinse/repeat as often as necessary before moving on to action. Even if you're loaded. Especially you're loaded. But if not...

2. Get your financial ducks in a row

One thing that shocked me years later was going through tax receipts for the last full year I worked before I decided to make the change. I was appalled, physically sick, at the amount of money I'd spent on nothing. Dinners out. Trips. Stuff. And that's what it is when you're not fulfilled: things you're stuffing down a hole to try to fill it.

Figure out what you're spending and where. Figure out how much you can cut your expenses and still "pass" as a normal person in your socioeconomic station. Do it and sock the rest away. Figure out where your holes are and plug them. For me, it was learning how to cook. (That was a rough two years, and I will be forever grateful to the Chief Atheist for eating my mistakes.) Start learning that money is freedom, money is choices, and save accordingly.

And remember, unless you are part of an incredibly slender (and ever-decreasing) slice of the population, you were once happy with far less. Even if you were born to that top 5%, there was a time where you were as happy or happier playing with the box as you were the toy it encased. So we're clear.

3. Consume and explore

Some possible good books to read: Po Bronson's What Should I Do with My Life? and Julia Cameron's Artist's Way. Yes, even if you don't want to do something artsy. It's just a good internal excavation process.

I also heard of a good-sounding new book via Pam Slim (Escape From Cubicle Nation) called How'd You Score that Gig?. The author did a pretty hefty amount of intake interviews and research on personality types, and came up with not only stories of interesting jobs, but the types of people who'd do well in them and the actionable steps to take to acquire those jobs.

Observe. Start carrying a notebook, like you're a reporter. When you feel a tug, at anything, however small, write it down. Hate something? Write it down. Feel a stirring of joy? Write it down. You're looking for clues, and they come up everywhere.

4. Engage professional help

I would not be where I am were it not for my first shrink/astrologer and my current therapist (who has no nickname, but who should probably be called "The Saint").

If you can find the right person, your "predicament" (in quotes b/c really, it's just a stage you're in) might be well addressed by the application of adroit personal coaching. It's great for the goal-oriented, and brother, you've got a goal.

Friends are good, but in my case, the friends I had then weren't equipped to help me make the transition. (Of course, the friends I have now are brilliant with it. What can I say, my life is an O. Henry story.) You may have a rogue uncle or old, old grammar school friend who's living authentically and knows you and can both call you on your shit and do it in a nice way.

If not, pay someone. This does not mean you're weak; it means you're brave.

5. Give yourself time and patience and love

Please note: I was very bad at #5. Still struggling with it, although I'm getting better.

These big shifts? They don't happen on your timetable. They require thought, digestion, exploration, more thought. They need room to breathe, your epiphanies. (Or room so you can notice them.)

Wander in bookstores with hours to spare. Walk on the beach. Take up yoga or meditation. Volunteer for a meaningful yet mindless and repetitive task. Knit. Whatever.

Create space for the new thing to make itself known. Yeah, it's all woowoo and shit. You're a reader of this blog, aren't you? You were expecting maybe science?

The bottom line? Just because you can't imagine it right now doesn't mean there isn't something out there for you that you're equally as good, if not better, at, and that you will actually love.

I swear, this is true.

I was a pretty good copywriter. I was an okay actor. I made a decent living at both. I'm not where I need to be financially yet with The Communicatrix and may never be, but I've found the thing(s) I'm good at, that the world needs, and that I love to do. If, for some reason, the money does not follow in the numbers I need it to, I'm confident I can deal with it, either by reducing my standard of living or going back to a Stupid Day Job or both. But I will never again know that profound unhappiness that comes with feeling utterly adrift, mainly unfulfilled, and thinking that choice lies outside of me.

It doesn't. Not in this part of the world, anyway, not yet. Maybe never. Maybe nowhere.

The one thing I do know about stopping the suck? Not knowing how to restart is not an excuse. The world needs you to find your passion and realize it as much as you do. Maybe more.

What one thing can you do today to start?

xxx c

Image by Kruggg6 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.