There was this thing I wanted. And I wanted it bad.
Have you ever wanted something really bad? Like, you just keep thinking about how great life will be when you achieve it. And you imagine what you will wear, how you will act, and basically plan your entire future around this thing you really, really want? Anyway, that’s how bad I wanted it. So bad, I quit working towards it about seven years ago.
I know. It makes no sense at all.
But that’s exactly how fear works. When you’re working on something you care a whole lot about, at some point you’ve got to step out of your box and be seen. And when you do that, you open yourself up to criticism and failure. You have to be vulnerable. And being vulnerable doesn’t feel all that great. It’s scary. So scary, you want to run away.
That’s what I did. Quit. Run away. Whatever you want to call it, seven years ago, I took myself out of the arena.
As soon as I did it, I was hit with a huge sense of failure, like I was letting my friends and family down. They had been cheering me on. And I just left them standing there, clapping for nothing.
In order to side-step all those icky feelings, I threw myself into another project: I joined a yoga teacher training cohort and spent the next five years focused on something completely different.
What was that project I gave up all those years ago?
The Great American Novel.
Project Great American Novel got so scary, I decided I needed more time to find my voice and figure out what I wanted to say. So, I took a leave of absence. I just stepped off the path I was on and took a new one – a path a little less treacherous.
The funny thing is, while I was deepening my yoga practice, teaching students, and living the yogi life, I kept writing. I just switched genres. It seemed like a new path, but looking back, my heart was always on the writer path. Yoga distracted me from the truth: I am a writer. Whether I choose to write the great, American novel or not. I cannot escape who I am. There is only one path. And I am on it.
When I stepped away from fiction, I thought I was letting everyone down. Really, the only person I was letting down was myself.
A month and a half ago, I returned to that scary, half-finished piece of fiction, found where I had left off, and sobbed for the lost time. I sobbed as if I were running back to an old love. I sobbed for the pain and joy of creating and for all my foolishness. Writing (and all art) is the ever so important endeavor of being seen, of being exquisitely vulnerable, of standing before an audience and being the most human you can be. And if you do it well, you show others how human they are too. It is a difficult path, yet always a path worth taking.
Here’s what I know now: your path is your path. You can’t trade it for another one. It can shift, the vehicle you take can change, the scenery alters with the seasons, but it will always lead you right back to where you are supposed to be. I don’t regret diving into yoga under the guise of switching paths. In actuality, yoga was simply a new vehicle driving me towards the same endpoint: a writer’s life.
A very wise rabbi I know compares it to driving with GPS. He explains it like this: our GPS apps tell us how to get from point A to point B. We can turn whenever we want and bypass whatever course it has set out for us. But your GPS will always adjust and try to direct you back to point B no matter what detours you make.
Seven years ago I stopped writing fiction. Writing fiction means being seen. And I didn’t want to be seen. A quote by Theodore Roosevelt recently made its way to me and I think it aptly sums up what it means to try, to give something everything you’ve got:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…
What I’ve learned in the past seven years is that we’ve got to get out there and do the uncomfortable, hard, messy stuff. Life and art and love and everything worth a damn in this world is made up of the uncomfortable, hard, messy stuff. Even when it’s super scary, we’ve got to let the world see we’re trying. That’s where all the good stuff is.
And when you think you can just quit the path you’re on, think again. You can change the situation you find yourself in. You can change the people around you. You can move, find a new job, break-up with your fiancé, and dye your hair. But you can’t change your path.
There is only one path. I’m already on it. And so are you.
Other Things to Read