In times of change it can be easy to blame whatever life event caused that change for knocking us off path–which is exactly what I’ve been doing since the end of March. If only things had stayed the same, I tell myself, I wouldn’t have needed to put everything on hold. Imagine how much farther along I’d be by now. But of course, that’s just an excuse. Because the truth is, I was already floundering. Had been for months. Sure, I talked a good game, especially here on this blog, but some deep part of me knew that something was wrong.
The beautiful thing about a life coming completely undone, is that it forces us to look at every part of everything we do–not to figure out where everything went sideways, but to figure out which projects, people, passions are worth carrying forward into the new life that begins when each old one ends.
Some epiphanies come like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. Others take a village. My clarity arrived through the words and work of others–specifically fellow Questers Marisa Goudy, Brenna Layne, and a Northern Indian man named Jadav “Molai” Payeng. Through them I’ve realized that it’s not what I’ve been doing that’s off, it’s how.
Of course there have been signs–let’s call them breadcrumbs–along the way. Small reminders that where I was wasn’t where I was supposed to be. That I was off course and needed to find my way home. And lately, those reminders have been getting larger. And louder.
Marisa’s post was the one that finally broke through, completing the arrow begun by the other two–pointing me back in the right direction.
When every day you spend as an entrepreneur is measured against some dream of growing beyond yourself when all you really want to do is be who you are, you’re poisoning yourself. — Marisa Goudy
In my case it wasn’t just poisoning myself, it was crippling my work. I had been trying to force my passions into an entrepreneurial mold for years now–years filled with fits and starts, with derailments and roadblocks, with soul searching and second guessing, all because that mold didn’t fit.
The goal of the entrepreneur is to sell out for a lot of money, or to build a long-term profit machine that is steady, stable, and not particularly risky to run. — Seth Godin
Risks make the artist. And I found myself so focused on how to streamline and monetize that is sucked the joy out of the most important part of being an artist–making wild, courageous, meaningful art.
Which pointed me back to Brenna’s post which is outwardly about ambition, but inwardly speaks to why we bother doing anything as insane as creating art in the first place.
But I am ambitious. I want to make a living as a novelist. This is a ridiculously ambitious goal, but it doesn’t stop there. I don’t want to hit the NYT Bestseller List so much as I want to make a difference. I want to write stories that crack people open, that make them laugh-cry, that offer up the moments of transcendence that the best stories have given me. Books saved my life. I want to pay it forward. — Brenna Layne
The point of creation, at least for me, was never about earning a sizable income and gaining notoriety. It was about exactly what Brenna describes–the moments of transcendence that can crack people open in the best and most life-changing ways, the way others have done for me.
Creating work like that doesn’t happen up against a deadline or when driven by revenue goals. It bubbles up from the deep well inside, sometimes after decades of allowing it to rest while it builds effervescence, and sometimes after a lifetime of tiny, daily steps which may have begun with a small glimmer of an idea that built itself into a life’s work.
Which led me back, once again, this time to an article about Majuli islander, Jadav Payeng, who 30 years ago started planting seeds along a barren stretch of beach. Through his dedicated work, it has since grown into a jungle.
Reading the article, watching the film I find myself wondering, like the filmmaker, “what 10 Payengs, or 100, or 1000 Payengs could do.” And more importantly, how can I awaken my own inner Payeng.
One tiny positive act a day, repeated with dedication and persistence, can change everything–be it words or art or trees.
And so from this unexpected clean slate, I will refocus my attention on recognizing and cultivating the one small thing I have to give, with the reminders of those times in the past when I have felt most fully awake, alive, and radiant with purpose to guide me.
Crack open the shell you have
built for yourself.
Follow the path the birds
Not the sodden track
of mildewed bread.
It’s the trail of seeds
scattered by beaks.
Their tiny green sprouts will
show you the way.
Lauren McLean Ayer
What might your one small thing be?