Wake up! You’re sleeping through your waking life (Part 1 of 4).
In his novel The Unnamable Samuel Beckett wrote, “Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
There are times in your life when you feel as if your story has already been written. What’s the point, really, of changing course or going on when you bear witness to your life playing out before you? Beckett, in closing his trilogy, wrote a disjointed novel about the search for one’s identity. We know nothing but we know everything and that groping for, and the pursuit of, one’s self is the hot poker pressed against our backs. It’s what keeps us going. Even in the moments when we’re engulfed in darkness.
But let’s get specific. What does a long-dead writer’s solipsism have to do with the here and the now? I posit, everything.
We live in a time where every day ushers in a new horror. The horror is a constant and it reverberates just beneath the surface of our every day or it plays out in glaring Technicolor or in 280 character counts. We live in an age of inequality, where the color of one’s skin and one’s gender lends a different shape and form to one’s life than if they had been born otherwise. We live in a time where the young — whether they like or not, whether they choose to or not — have to shoulder the burden of decisions made when they were small. Making small fists with their hands. Crying out. Believing the world is a beautiful and good place before they learn all its cruel truths.
Meanwhile, some of us older folk wake from our sleeping life and say, is this really my life? Is this how I choose to live it? Is there something other?
My generation was lead to believe there was one path. There existed no other.
I hate 30 under 30 lists because significance isn’t bound to age. You can make all this money, have the lover, have the life, but still feel hollow and empty. You can feel this at 22 and at 60 — feelings of emptiness or lack of purpose are perhaps one of the few things that don’t discriminate.
All of this is to say that there are still some aspects of your life and self that are under your control. Granted, privilege, wealth, and birthright play a sizable role, but it is possible to wake up and want something other. It is possible to entertain second, third, or fourth acts. The curtain doesn’t fall because when you’ve reached 30, 40, or 50. Quite the opposite — it’s rising up all around it…only if you go on.
For five years I’ve been out on my own as a consultant. I’ve done everything from social media strategy and content creation to copywriting and brand and business strategy. I’ve had the boldface clients and the runts of the litter. I’ve dealt with sexism (strikingly, more so from women) and ageism — most of the isms — and it took me a long time to realize that I don’t have to play the hand dealt with me. I didn’t have to take on projects because I was good at this or that. It was possible to design a life for myself where my work and life could cohere and play harmoniously in the sandbox if I were to pursue the metaphor.
After a string of stressful projects that put my heart on pause and two years of financial instability, in January I sat down and said aloud to myself: THIS CANNOT GO ON.
This life of mine couldn’t go on, but I could. Therein lies a difference.
At first, I had no clear path. I read books, listened to podcasts, took online courses, downloaded e-books, watched films, and listened in on online talks. Mostly, I listened to everyone and then I heard myself.
When you see all that is possible, you can decide what is possible for you.
I could give a fuck about social media. I don’t care about Facebook ads or SEO or currying the favor of the IG influencer of the moment. These are other people’s passions — and while I’m good at those things, I don’t enjoy those things and those things were stopping me from pursuing the work I want to do.
After creating and completing exercises for myself (mind maps, questionnaires, the lot), what I wanted soon became clear. I wanted to principally serve women and the marginalized. I wanted to take my two+ decades of experience and mentor and lift up people who didn’t have the same privilege or opportunity. This is not male bashing of any sort — my most profound mentors, champions, closest friends and loves have been men — I value those relationships, but I wanted to get laser focused (as the kids would have it) with regard to whom I wanted to serve.
I also decided that telling stories would at the heart of my business. Writing comes more easily to me than most. Distilling complexity to simplicity is my gift when it comes to writing novels or brand strategies. I love data, I love analyzing people, and I decided to use those loves and gifts to redefine my business.
Once I got really clear on my wants and my message and made plans on how to communicate them, the work started to flow in. This is not to say that the work isn’t hard and I don’t have my rough patches (I’ve been working 12–14 hour days non-stop for the past two weeks), but the work is fulfilling. I enjoy the fruits. The process is the reward.
I’m not going to remotely sell you on the lives you see on Instagram — millionaire kids who are life coaches who’ve never actually had any real life or business experience, but they sure tell a good story and give good filter. How can I sell you that life if it doesn’t exist for me? My life is filled with constant work, some stress, the struggles most have, but it’s also rife with meaning and purpose. I’m finally proud of the work I do whether it’s a novel or deck writing. I couldn’t say that two years ago. Or even ten.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share, specifically, how I came to my second act. Worksheets I created and used on myself and my peers (I’m 42). Books I read. Plans I made. Risks I took. More importantly, You’ll adapt what I’ve learned, and take some shortcuts to refine your life (at a minimum) or give it significance and purpose (hello, maximum). And I hope to tell you some stories that will make you laugh along the way.
I hope you’re in for the ride.
Update: Read Part 2 in this series!
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