Earlier this month, my friend Sarah McMurray published a manifesto for living a life worth writing about. The phrase immediately attached itself to me, chasing me through my days like a tiny tail curled into the shape of a question mark.
Am I living a life worth writing about?
Just a few weeks before Sarah’s manifesto hit my radar, I met up with an extended circle of friends for a girl’s night out, and over the course of dinner I struck up a conversation with a new acquaintance. We covered off on the usual small talk: Where are you from? What do you do for work?
But as fate would have it, my new acquaintance was an HR manager, so she followed up with a question people don’t usually ask me. “Is marketing your passion? Something you really love to do?” she asked.
I gave her the open mouthed goldfish stare for a few blinks of an eye, and then I found myself answering honestly, “Uhmm, actually not at all. It’s just something I kind of ended up doing.”
“What do you really WANT to be doing?”
“Writing. Traveling and writing, actually, although I have no idea how to make a living doing that.”
And there it was: the gaping chasm between the wild-eyed gypsy adventurer in my heart, and the 30-something marketing professional who’s biggest decision all week was how best to time my commute in order to avoid rush hour traffic.
As fate would also have it, a seat at our table that night was left empty by a friend of a friend, who had cancelled her plans to join us last minute due to a crushing headache she’d been fighting all week. We didn’t know it at the time, but the pain that kept her from joining us that night was not a passing migraine, it was a symptom of an undiagnosed brain tumor that would take her life just two days later.
The thing about losing someone on the periphery of your life is that, when you are not stricken by the weight of intimate grief, but you are too close to dismiss the loss as an abstraction, you are left to inhabit a curiously philosophical space. I experienced the death of Afifa Ahmed-Shafi as a profoundly humbling event, one that snapped into focus for me how intensely fragile and uncertain our lives are, and propelled me to confront the many ways I take the future for granted.
I’ve known now for years that marketing was really not my passion. And yet I’ve invested month after month, dollar after dollar, into the goal of building a marketing agency. In spite of making a break for freedom several times, I only got a few feet out the door before I started to “should” on myself until turning back. Now here I am once again, living somebody else’s suburban American Dream.
My moment of honesty over dinner last month was like a little fissure in the wall — not enough to send the whole thing tumbling down, but enough to warn me that big things were starting to shift. The loss of Afifa a few days later was the first shockwave in a summer full of re-evaluation and re-imagination.
In the time since then, I have made several serious decisions, and now I am publishing them here as a way of keeping myself accountable to them:
Decision #1: It’s time to stop building a marketing business
Let’s be real, I still need to eat food and pay my bills. Correspondingly, I will still take on enough freelance work to keep myself afloat financially, but I’m letting go of my vision for building Bijou Collective into an agency once and for all — and I am re-committing myself to only saying yes to the truly awesome clients that I feel passionate about contributing to.
Decision #2: If I want to be a writer, then I have to start making time to write
I know that all I have to do is show up for writing, and inevitably some sassy opinion, playful vignette, or overly cerebral reflection comes tumbling out of me, for better or for worse. I’m not sure everything my crazy little fingers want to type is going to be worth reading, but how better to perfect my craft than actually publishing something and seeing how people react?
Decision #3: I need to get on an international flight before year’s end
Travel is essential to my soul. Banging around town with this restless, caged animal feeling is not doing anyone any favors.
Decision #4: As I step into my power, it’s time to help other women do the same
This is a big one. I can (and I will, I’m sure) write a whole blog post on just this one issue. But for now, here’s the 50,000 foot view…
The heart-breaking truth is that so many of my life’s decisions, especially the decisions that have kept me from stepping into my power, from living my dream on a grand scale or even exploring my joy in the day to day scheme of things, have all come from a place of deep wounding around my body image and corresponding lack of self worth. Travel, adventure, love, passion, success, anything that involves attention or being in public view, all of these are things I put into deferment until some mythical time in the future when I would achieve weight loss and by extension “beauty”, which I somehow made synonymous with each other and with being a person worthy of my own heart’s desires.
I am not the only woman who has stumbled into this trap. There are armies of women who would be out there kicking the shit out of injustice and turning the world upside down with their outrageous love, if only they were not so pre-occupied with insecurity about their appearances. The sheer volume of brain space that is consumed by self criticism is enough to keep most women from plotting a revolution, whether the internal or global variety.
So I am stepping once again into a big unknown, sure of nothing other than the fact that adventure awaits, and that I am determined to make this a life worth writing about!