Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of showing up and what that means. I’ve been thinking about it for years--writing about it, too--but suddenly I can’t stop thinking about it. Mostly because I thought I knew, and I thought I was doing it, and then I quit my job.
I left my job on the third day of November, 2016; I haven’t looked back once.
I finished work on a Wednesday, emails disappearing--as if by magic--five minutes past five. And then I flew west from New York City the next morning. I remember thinking, as the plane took off, the city sprawling and flat beneath me, the past is finally that.
When your life is built on a thousand and one small concessions you have made because things didn’t go as planned, then life itself is tethered to what happened before. I couldn’t leave the past behind because I was living some flimsy, upside-down version of it.
I have a girlfriend who is recovering from surgery as she does battle against breast cancer. She is a brilliant actor, an incredible writer, and a fucking whirlwind of a woman. She wrote recently that recovery takes the time it takes. If you borrow from the beginning, you pay in the end.
Which, well, is a good lesson for life.
I tried to settle. To get a standard job, to shrink. I thought it would make everything easier. I thought it meant I would be more likely to find a man, have a baby, get the white-picket-fence. Those things seemed worth the sacrifice. What did it matter if I lost a little of myself in the process? But the more I shrunk--tried to take a shortcut--the further away life seemed to move. I didn’t get any of those things. Which may very well prove the great blessing of my life. Because it wouldn’t have been me getting them--it would have been the flimsier version of me, and I would have payed in the end. Many times over, I imagine.
When the plane took off that Thursday morning I looked down at the city below and thought: My life is my own. For the first time in ten years, my life is my own. I didn’t know in that moment what the future would bring, but I also knew in ways that were not wholly clear, that it didn’t matter--I would figure it out.
There was a plan, of course. A tenuous safety net. A small amount of money in my savings account. I would finish the book and apply to grad school; I would not look back. I would pursue that which had meaning. I would gather my rosebuds--as it were--and show up in my own life. I worried I was a little late to the party, but better late than never.
Showing up is a funky concept because it means different things to different people, and also because it means different things at different points in our lives. Some days--or years--showing up is/was getting out of bed. But last year, it was for me, uprooting stability in pursuit of risk.
I want to be clear here. I’m not saying that a traditional job is not good. I’m not saying that a husband, and a kid, and a house on a hill are not exceptional goals--they absolutely are if that's your jam, and for the most part, it's mine. But for as much as I talk about the importance of actions lining up with values, I was not living my life in that way. I was cashing in my core beliefs for a paycheck, a salary, a year-end bonus, and I was miserable. And I wasn’t any closer to any of those things I actually wanted.
So I left.
(And yes, the ability to walk away from a salaried position was only possible because I was--and still am--in an incredibly privileged position; I get that and I will own that--most people do not have that same luxury, but also, and this is important to say: staying served no one).
It’s also important to say that I was pretty afraid of failing. Afraid I would write something no one liked. Afraid the schools would look at my applications and laugh. But there has not been one moment since that third day in November that I have feared I made the wrong decision. Success or failure mattered little compared to the risk itself. The leap was the thing. And then the work.
Writing a book is no joke. Sitting with words and fear and self-doubt is not for the faint of heart. But here’s the good that came from it, I found a gear not previously know to me. It’s the gear where metaphorical four-wheel-drive meets metaphorical snow-tires--I think other people call it grit. It’s that moment when the process becomes so uncomfortable that you want to walk-away or shut-down, but you know you have. to. get. shit. done. and so you lean ever harder into the feeling of discomfort and you keep. going. That is showing up. I’d not done that before, not really. But once you have--one you’ve experienced it--there is no going back.
Here’s the thing. Historically, I have been a person easily discouraged by life. When something doesn’t go as expected, or desired, I tend to recoil--to retreat--so as to avoid risk and exposure. But that action cut off the potential for any of the good things I wanted to to happen, to you know...actually happen. And not for nothing, the recoil was inadvertently sending an energy into the world that pushed away the very things I most wanted (Newton’s Third Law). One doesn’t get to pursue success without risking failure; it’s just not possible.
Here’s what I’m learning. The more uncomfortable I am, the more I need to lean into that feeling (and I’m not talking about the sort of discomfort that is walking down a dark alley at two in the morning; don’t do that. Seriously, don’t do that). I’m talking about a discomfort that points to things that have meaning. Which means, sending the email, making the phone call, checking-off the to-do list. Trying. And then trying again. Refusing to settle or make yourself small. Believing in a perpetual once-more. An if not this, something else. That love is possible, as is joy, and that it’s never too late to uproot your life and begin again.
Because here’s the thing, your job is to show up. To show up as an authentic and true version of yourself. To take up space. The universe tends to handle the rest.
There is tremendous power in doing everything you can and then handing it over to forces outside of yourself. And not for nothing, but there’s also tremendous empathy there. Because it tends to dismantle the narrative of the self-made-man. What I mean by this is, when you cease to take credit for all of your success, you cease to judge others for all of their failures. And I think we can all agree the world needs a bit more empathy now, right?
I’ve come to learn that discomfort in service of forward movement usually means I’m doing something right. And movement is good, which means discomfort, the very thing I avoided for so long, is a sort of fuel for the future. The story is never really finished and judging it as such serves no one.
Recovery takes the time it takes. As it turns out, so does life.