Facebook inspirational memes and yoga blogs will lure you into thinking you should be chasing your dreams or you’re not fully alive.
I get it. I have a habit of quitting it all to run head-over-heels after things that will make me happy, or at least away from things that are making me unhappy.
I quit a full-time job as a journalist at an entertainment trade magazine to work as a freelance writer. Later, I quit L.A. (briefly) and moved to Paris to visit museums and learn French and find a new direction. Then I decided I wanted to be a yoga teacher… You get the idea.
I’ve had a couple friends tell me they wish they could do the same. They’re in their 30s like me and have all of a sudden realized they don’t actually like their jobs, they’re not satisfied with their lives.
There’s a romanticism to dropping it all, as if that will solve it all. To stepping out of careers, relationships, cities, whatever it is that’s sucking the Prana out of you.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman
And then there’s the reality of it. The dedicated learning and practice and work it takes to turn it into a living and not a hobby. The setbacks along the way. The slow realization that doing what you love won’t necessarily give you the life you love.
For proof, read Prozac Nation author Elizabeth Wurtzel’s recent New York Mag piece where she writes proudly (and scattered and whiny) about how she’s only ever done work that she likes, work that is meaningful. She describes her life as the same at 44 as it was at 24. She’s spent her money when she’s had it on Hermes purses and other extravagances leaving herself with no savings, 401k, or friends she can turn to when she gets turned out of her subletted apartment.
Uncompromising, she calls herself.
I preferred Megan Daum’s response imagining what Hannah from HBO’s “Girls” would think of Wurtzel at 44 and her advice that Hannah get a job and write in her off hours.
I saw too much of myself in Wurtzel to not be distressed. I am the girl who is unable to sit under fluorescent lights for 8 hours a day in order to reap the rewards of a full benefits package and paid vacation.
I’ve had that debate with myself: should I get a full-time job and teach yoga or write in my off-hours. It would be responsible in that protestant work ethic way. It would be easier.
I would be a miserable person. I have been that person.
I run in crowds of people who do what they love. Friends have become writers, pilots, accupuncturists, yoga teachers, therapists, doctors, chefs, etc. I’ve learned this: Doing the work you love is not an automatic path to bliss, just as holding a steady job isn’t a one-way ticket to misery.
Reading Wurtzel’s piece made me want to scream the same thing I wanted to scream watching Hannah on Girls: Grow Up.
Maybe I needed to yell it at myself too. I live in a town in a country in an era that doesn’t want to grow up and pays all costs to avoid it. I’ve avoided it. I was thinking it meant giving up on things I cared about. Of not doing the things I love, like moving to Paris, like teaching.
But that’s not it at all. I recently heard yoga described as the process of maturing. Of seeing who you want to be and doing the work to become that person.
“You become mature when you become the authority on your own life.” — Joseph Campbell
It’s accepting your choices. It’s accepting the sacrifices you make for those choices. It’s holding yourself accountable for not only the work you do, but for your life and who you are.
I’m only starting to understand what it means in my life.
I say forget about asking if you should do the work you love. Think broader. Think bigger. Who do you want to be? What do you want your life to be? Who and what connects you to that place that reminds you the world is alive and so are you? Start there.