My Life is a Shadow Love Novel
As Steven Pressfield said, the metaphor of your life will point you towards your true calling.
In the book Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield talks about the concept of “shadow life” (and “shadow career”). You know you’re in a shadow career if you claim that work is an excuse for not following your true calling. For example, getting a PhD in Elizabethian studies, when you could have written all of those tragedies and comedies yourself.
Steven’s shadow career was truck-driving. The long road reminded him of writing. The problem was, he wasn’t writing. He was using his shadow career to run away from creating a novel.
Addiction can be an example of living a shadow life, too. And I am not talking just about drugs; I am talking about all sorts of addictions; social media, distraction, fame, sex, or love.
Since I read the book last fall, I couldn’t stop thinking about what my “shadow life” might be like.
“Take a look at your life. What is your life a metaphor for? That will point you to your true calling.”
Recently I was struck by a sudden realization: my life is nothing but a shadow love novel. It has been like this all the time. It has the plot, characters, sex scenes, and everything else you’ll see in a novel.
I Was Addicted To Love
I never thought I’d admit it.
But growing up, I was like Kevin from This Is Us. I always wanted to be the centre of attention, to have friends around me, and, yes, girls. The more — the better.
As a teenager, I remember jumping chaotically from one relationship to the other. I would have a girlfriend for a while, but then I’d magically fall in love with her friend. So I’d cheat on my girlfriend for a while until she found out (I did everything so that she did as quickly as possible), then she’d dumped me, and I’d get depressed.
Soon, I’d recover and find somebody else to date. Then the story would repeat itself. I was living in a shadow novel. Of course, all of this makes me sound like a complete asshole.
And I was. But I couldn’t help myself.
Like an addict, I loved the thrill. I loved the excitement. I knew that what I was doing was morally wrong — but I was too interested in the drama. I was too curious to find out where the “plot” would lead me.
But of course, life is not a novel. Real lives are at stake.
What Made Me Stop
I tell myself that this all stopped when I met the woman I truly love. We’ve been together for three years now, and it’s been great. I love her dearly.
I have never thought of cheating on her. I’d like to believe I’ve changed and grown a little. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder whether my current “ideal” relationship is nothing but a “happy ending” to my shadow novel.
Sometimes it all seems too unrealistic, like a Hollywood movie:
The guy is an asshole, one day he meets the girl of his dreams at a Starbucks, hopelessly falls in love, and they live happily ever after.
But no — all of this really happened. It’s my life. It’s a happy life, too. Even if it resembles a fictional love story.
I truly enjoy my current relationship. But sometimes, I catch myself thinking, “Is this it?” Is the thrill of my teenage years over at 22?
But then I stop myself. I fear that I’d want to “have fun” and ruin the perfect relationship I have now. So I try not to think about it much, and enjoy my life as is.
The problems in the past were not with the relationships I had, or with my partners. They were all fine. It’s with my inner pull to make my life more interesting.
Steven Pressfield writes:
“Addiction becomes a surrogate for our true calling. We enact the addiction instead of embracing the calling.”
The truth of why I stopped ruining other people’s lives and settled is because I started writing. I started building businesses. I started creating. I pursued my true calling instead of living my “shadow life.” And, of course, because my girlfriend is amazing.
The romantic, novelistic image of a budding creative often involves a lot of drinking and being depressed, perhaps working from a lonesome pension in a Parisian quarter. But these are the traits of an amateur. And so is living the “shadow life”.
When you turn pro, you start living your calling instead of a mere shadow version of it. Instead of living the novel and creating a mess in your love life, you start writing one.
I started by changing my habits. And, like an addict from Alcoholics Anonymous, I took it “one step at a time”, one day at a time. I created a regular writing regimen. I started publishing on Medium daily, and that became my creative outlet.
Then, slowly, I erased the bad habits like smoking and drinking. And, whenever I felt an urge to “make my life more interesting”, I put that energy into writing.
“The difference between the professional and the amateur,” writes Pressfield, “is their habits.”
A professional has professional habits; an amateur has amateur habits. This is not just about writing or creating art. This is about life in general. Turning into a professional is nothing grander than growing up.
It’s the realization that living a “shadow life” and feeding your addictions may be interesting to you, but they might also be harmful to others. And it’s acting on your true calling and fulfilling your true potential.
What is Your Life a Metaphor For?
The Greeks call it daimon. They thought that each person had a hidden force inside of them. Fail to act on this force — and it will kill you.
For me, it was a novel. Or a love story. I don’t know. I am still figuring it out because I’ve never actually written fiction, but recently I experienced a novel urge to try it.
And I should, because otherwise, it might ruin my life.
There are people who are living out shadow screenplays, shadow business industries, and sing karaoke every week (which is a shadow music career). That’s the life of an artistic person:
Either you create art, or it dominates your life.
Fail to act on your inner daimon, and you’ll end up living a shadow life, controlled by a vast range of addictions. Like I did.
Today I have a great relationship with my girlfriend, and our story is a real-life love story. I am also creating all the time to control my addictions and feed my inner daimon.
It’s a never-ending struggle. If I let go of the tight grip on myself, the addictions and the “shadow life” will return.
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