“If you don’t change direction you may end up where you’re heading.” Lao Tzu
Saw this last week and it stuck in my head. It was good timing. I’ve been rethinking my direction. I had been splitting my time between copywriting and yoga teaching. But a few weeks back I started waking up with a pit in my stomach, which usually happens when something in my life isn’t working out but I’ve yet to acknowledge it. I wanted to ignore that feeling, too, rather than deal with whatever I wasn’t dealing with. But I hate waking up dreading the day. So I decided to listen, though I kind of knew what was going on, that I needed to call it quits on some copywriting work that for various reasons isn’t working out for me. It scares the hell out of me because it’s something I’ve relied on financially for the last couple years and means I really have to leap forward into new work, both teaching and writing. But my reasons for walking away are more than valid and staying is really just my way of avoiding dealing directly with the problem.
I’ve overstayed in places in my life before – relationships, jobs, friendships – and it never works out. Eventually those choices that aren’t right for me bite me in the ass and I only regret that I didn’t walk away sooner. I’ve also ignored the feelings in my body that tell me when something is wrong. I started out of college as a journalist and 1 year in took a job I knew I didn’t want. The night after my interview with the business journal, I laid awake on my aunt’s couch with a knot in my belly and heartburn in my chest. I tried to take my mind off of it by staying up watching TV, keeping my thoughts on anything else. I didn’t want to deal with what I knew. That I didn’t want the job. I knew when I read the back issues they’d given me on the way out the door to familiarize myself with their work that I wouldn’t be doing journalism I believed in or even believed to be true. I read stories written from a business perspective that read as if they’d been sent out by the chamber of commerce’s lobbyist. There was no investigation of key issues with all sides given a say or even a deeper look into the issue and why one side was right. It was this is how this affects businesses and it shouldn’t be this way. And I get it, they’re playing to an audience. But it didn’t line up with what I wanted to be writing about, which was people and life.
But I took the job. It led to other journalism jobs for non-journalism companies. It was always about audience, I learned. Whether the audience I wrote for was the business community, the entertainment business stakeholders, the retailers, it was all the same: write from their point-of-view. Writing from their point-of-view often got twisted to writing as their advocate, not necessarily because of editors or a paper’s audience, sometimes just because it was easier for me to give in than deal with calls from publicists bitching about something the next day. Not what you want in a journalist, not what I wanted to be. In 2010, when magazines were closing and websites were paying pennies if at all, I decided I may as well be paid to be an advocate.
So I switched sides to copywriting. It’s paid the bills, the people are mostly nice. I’m writing about the latest cameras, refrigerators, tablets, iphone cases and on and on. It’s heartless work. And like with journalism these days, content is the least important part. Which means checks don’t always arrive until you start bugging people. I’d like to create a new maxim for businesses: judge a business by how it pays its smallest vendor or customer. But that’s another post for another blog.
I had lunch with a friend the other week who I always end up revealing my fears to. I realized I’ve been afraid of being seen. So, I’ve stayed hidden. But it’s not taking me in the direction I want to go.
I love teaching yoga, I even enjoy writing for companies I believe in who treat their people and the world well. But I also want to start getting back to the writing the scares me, the stuff that forces me to reveal myself. So I’m throwing myself into the two things that will force me to be seen, teaching yoga and writing essays and other pieces that I care about.
That line from the Tao Te Ching reminds me of this idea in yoga philosophy – santosha, one of the niyamas, which are a set of five rules for how we carry ourselves in the world. Santosha is finding contentment with your life. But it goes beyond that. It’s partly accepting responsibility for your life, acknowledging that you’re where you are, to a large extent, based on the choices you made. Even if you’re not where you want to be, you find some contentment and accept your role in it. It doesn’t mean you can’t make changes. The responsibility part is both the burden and the opportunity, I think. It means you can change things. But first you have to acknowledge where you are.
So what about you? Are you happy with the direction you’re heading in?