The Internet is a cesspool of every emotion—meaning I’m a stinking puddle of mixed feelings after I’ve spent some time splashing around there. Honestly, you can find anything you want to fit your mood, which is sometimes nice, but not always altogether good.
For example, when I’m feeling super motivated to conquer my dreams, I notice all those #girlbosses chanting things like, “Follow your dreams!” and “You can do anything!” and “Don’t let the haters get you down!” It’s like a little adrenaline shot of, Damn Straight, Yes I Can! And then you go and you do the thing.
But then there are the online corners that love to champion release and moving on. They’re buzzing with notions of simplicity and space and respite, and, most importantly, submitting to life’s timing. It’s important, they say. It’s self-care, they say. It’s time to close a chapter, they say.
What’s super confusing when you’re surfing for inspiration is when you get a “Don’t Give Up, You’ve Got This!” in the same scroll as a “Learn to Let Go. It’ll Happen If It’s Meant to Be!” SO WHICH ONE IS IT?
I have wanted to be a writer for more of my life than not. In a lot of ways, I’ve made that dream come true. I love sharing in this space and others like it. I love writing for topical and local publications, where I really get to exercise my voice, share my experience. And it’s been a special privilege to be behind-the-scenes on major book projects, business start-ups, and social media wonders with some of my closest friends. It’s important to me to stop and count myself lucky for these opportunities, because they’ve been good to me, and how satisfying it has felt to find a place where passion and work can meet.
Still, a career is one of those areas where you’re not ever supposed to be content, so to speak. Sitting still is often viewed as stagnation, laziness, even. It’s one of those places we use the word striving like it’s a good thing rather than a self-inflicted struggle. And for the last decade, I have been striving to publish a book. I wrote a little bit about that on my own blog, if you’re interested; but the long and the short of it is, well, I haven’t been published. Even though I Worked Hard. Even though I Didn’t Give Up and I Didn’t Let the Haters Get Me Down.
This spring, I relinquished those inspirational quotes back to wherever they came from, and I started focusing on the other side of things. I took a conscious step away from some memoir proposals, from the many (many) novel drafts, from the sketches of short stories I’d pitched to every magazine, from The New Yorker to some obscure college publication only literary junkies would ever find. I thought maybe I was letting go, letting God…lead me to something else? I wasn’t sure what I was doing, just that I had to move away from something that had been a dream for so long, because it no longer felt like solid work ethic and ambition. It felt like graceless floundering at something I maybe wasn’t meant to have. I felt like there were two approaches to the whole thing: Either get out there and do it, or you lay it to rest and admit that it’s not for you.
An amazing thing happened when I quit writing fiction a few months ago. I unwound, considerably. I found the headspace I’d once had for writing essays about life and travel and motherhood. I completed reports or technical blog posts without a frantic race to my deadline. I found joy in the articles I compose about my tiny mountain town. I had been consumed with pressure before—pressure to not only maintain the writing career I’d managed to achieve but also the one I had dreamed about having for so long.
I basked in this freedom for a month or so, and then something else happened. I was flooded with new ideas. I had sparks of inspiration for old storylines, glimmers of characters for new ones. I felt excited to write these things down, to work the puzzle of piecing together a story, to bring something to life with words. My love of the thing, for no other purpose—not for selling a story or publishing a novel, just simply to write something down—was renewed.
I think women especially accept the pressure of accomplishment. We like the rush of achieving and we like quantifiable success. It lets us know we’re on a good path and it gives us a sense of identity and purpose in a world that’s constantly trying to write that story for us. The problem is, we often distract ourselves, creating our own false versions of success and happiness based on what’s measurable. But there is something besides either-or. Sometimes there’s Rest. Sometimes there’s Wait. Sometimes there’s Not Now, But In a Little While.
Maybe you’re not trying to write the next great American novel, but you’ve got a dream of your own. In the midst of career and motherhood and paying the rent and going to school, you’re not finding a lot of “success” in that dream. You’re feeling defeated because you’re not pushing hard enough; you’re feeling like a failure, wondering if it’s time to let go of it all and find a new dream.
What if instead, it was just nap time? What if, like a two-year-old with crazy FOMO who insists she’s not tired and doesn’t want to nap, you tell yourself that you “at least have to lay there and look at a book” and find yourself drifting off into a peaceful, childlike, restorative slumber? Who knows what dreams await you there, and what new life awaits you on the other side.