A good friend of mine once told me something that has stuck with me over the years. He told me, “Do what you love to do, and then find someone crazy enough to pay you to do it.”
‘Could you be any more cliché?’ I thought. Because I mean, let’s be realistic here. Just because you enjoy something, or just because you take pleasure in a hobby, doesn’t automatically mean that you should make a career out of it. Nor does it mean that it’s a viable option to do so either, right? I mean, I love to drink tequila sunrises from a nice sunny patch in the sand on a Mexican beach. I also love parking myself on the rocks at The Wreck in Byron, counting the wave sets crashing in and watching the surfers glide along a pristine coastline accompanied by dolphins. Do I love those things? Yes! Profitable career move? Maybe not so much. My friend was clearly crazy. He obviously knew nothing about life.
I’ve had inspiration all my life, that little calling you hear within the depths of your being, the little voice that whispers in your ear that you can do anything, be anything. But as most of us are aware, life often has other plans for us. It trials us. It tricks us into thinking we’re not good enough, not smart enough. It makes us believe this atrocious lie so strongly that we let go of the child that dwells within us, makes us quiet the small voice of hope in our heart. And sadly, for so many of us, it makes us give up on hope altogether. We find ourselves settling for a mindless mediocre job, settling into unhappy and unhealthy lifestyles, and in some tragic cases, we settle for the one we’re with instead of the one we love.
Settling… just say the word out loud. Go ahead! Feel it form in your mind, and the uncomfortable presence it demands. Feel it as it leaves your brain and rolls off your tongue; taste the bitterness of the letters, the combination of them tangibly offensive. Settling… The word stings, and even now as I write this, I want to spit the word out, as though the essence of it lingering in my brain somehow creates a toxin that pulses throughout my blood, poisoning my body. The sharpness of it, the punch of it resounds in the air where it lingers, displaced only by time and the existence of other words.
Now, try this one: “I’m settling.” The addition of that one little word sure puts a curve on it now, doesn’t it? Say it again. If you can say it aloud in a room all to yourself and be truly- and I mean truly– satisfied and peaceful within, then I commend you. Kudos to you because if you say it and that tiny voice in your head pipes up (the little voice that you can’t ignore, no matter how hard you try) then maybe it’s time you pulled back the lens a bit. That voice doesn’t lie. It doesn’t know how to.
Whichever of the above you are, I don’t know. What I can tell you is this. That right here, right now, I said it aloud and my little voice started screaming at me… Goddamn. I’m settling.
I’ll be honest, it isn’t a great feeling. If you’re one of those who heard- or felt- that voice light up deep down in your gut, then you probably know what I’m talking about.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m not happy. I have a whole lot of great and wonderful things to be thankful for in this life. Sure, there’s been many a bump and bruise along the way, but a lot of those troubles have led me to some pretty awesome outcomes. Because see, life is all about perspective when you think about it. How we view a situation causes us to change our approach, change our decisions. And if we decide to be happy despite all the hardships, then life doesn’t seem so big and tough and unmanageable as it used to.
The reasons as to why we settle are as varied as the people who claim them. And although I cannot make any assumptions as to the causes why others have settled, I can call upon my own.
Before I delve too deep into it however, let me first reiterate the fact that I am a generally happy person. I enjoy my job, I’m content with my relationships beyond work in the friendship realm and I absolutely cherish my family ties. What I am not happy with are the aspects of my life where I have discovered that I have settled.
I’ve settled into a city which holds little to no future for me. I’ve allowed myself to settle into a situation financially where I am more content to just shrug my shoulders and say something along the lines of “I don’t know anything about investing/retirement planning/shares, etc…” and casually claim no responsibility for those things. And most importantly- and thusly most frustrating- I have settled into a mindset now that has slowly been causing me to push my dreams aside, to give up on the “what could be’s” in my life. To ignore the memory of my friend’s wise words from such a long time ago when dreaming was alive and well and encouraged. When life was about living and it was ok to dance in the rain and embrace the roses along the way. It has caused me to blur the line between being a realist and being a pessimist.
Writing has always been my passion. It has unchained me, allowed me to look at the world through different eyes, different lenses. It has created a calmness within me and has acted as a life raft in some otherwise unmanageable situations. It has allowed me to escape the world around me and sometimes, even my own mind. It is what I’ve always loved, and it’s what I will always love.
There was a point in my life where I thought- no, I knew– that I was not meant for an ordinary life. I wasn’t going to be a 9-5 worker, slaving away for the Man. Not me. I was 5 years old, and I was singing my heart out with my dog, Copper in our front yard on our acreage. I remember so vividly the thought that I had in my head at that moment, that I was going to be famous. It was as though I had my own personal Yoda sitting in my brain, ‘Do or do not, there is no try’. There was simply no other option.
Now, looking back on that memory that the 5 year old version of me held with such conviction, I can rationalize it in my “grown-up” brain that it was just the ignorant dreamings of a child who sang to her dog every night and wrote stories about Yoshi the Dinosaur in her bedroom. 25 years later, my heart breaks for that 5 year old. What happened to her? If she was here in this room with me right now, I don’t think I could bear to look in her eyes. The quiet disappointment reflected in them would be unendurable.
Sometimes all it takes is the wrong criticism, the wrong seed of doubt to make that dream spiral away. I settled for not pursuing my dream of being a writer. I settled by not following my heart. I settled by not doing what I truly love to do. I settled for what was expected of me, rather than what made me happy.
There’s a beautiful yellow orchid sitting in front of me right now. When my roommate first brought it home, we put it in the kitchen and followed explicitly the orchid-specific caring directions. Every day, we would inspect it: is it getting too much sunlight? Is it not getting enough? Every day we would check the soil for water levels. My roommate named her Martha. We watched Martha meticulously every day for her hopeful little buds to blossom into the beauty that was sure to come. She took forever to bloom, but one day I came home from work and there she was- a majestic symphony of soft petals placed divinely around an orange center, reaching up and out towards the soft sunlight falling through the nearby window. It was then that I took a moment to appreciate the miracle of it, and I thought to myself, ‘You know what? I need to be more like that flower’.
Martha had no say in what happened to her or where she wound up. But yet, she used what she was given, and she flourished. That radiant flower didn’t settle for just being a little seed in the dirt. It knew it was destined to become something beautiful, and so it did.
At the risk of sounding cliché, I suppose we all have that proverbial little seed buried deep down within us. We just need to give it the nurturing it needs to grow and blossom into something greater. Something fascinating. With this divine little inspiration sitting in front of me, and with the support of all those who matter behind me, I finally felt ready for what’s next.
And so I decided, I begin NOW. I refuse to no longer follow my heart. I will make the changes in my life that I’ve been so desperate to have. I refuse to remain a seed in the dirt.
I’m crawling slowly out of the “settled” rut and I’m beginning to see things differently… the way I want them to be.
I don’t know what will do it for you, but for me, it was something as humble as my roommate’s orchid plant and the innocent and daring dream of a 5 year old quietly teaching me yet another loud life lesson. I feel the inspiration begin to return and even now, in this moment, I’m surprised at how quickly it flows back. Maybe it’s never left. Maybe it was just overshadowed for a while. It’s only the first step, but the decision has been made. And damn, that’s half the battle.
It’s taken a while to learn, but if 30 years of existence has taught me anything, it’s that life isn’t about what’s fair, what’s expected of you, or what you think you should be. It’s about who you are, what you aspire to be, and about being happy doing so. And, as a very wise friend once so eloquently put, it’s about doing what you love to do… and then finding someone crazy enough to pay you to do it.