There was a time in my early forties when I once spent the better part of a day shopping for a soap dish and toothbrush holder that would perfectly match the brushed nickel faucets in my newly remodeled spa bathroom. Back then, I was extremely proud of my just-spicy-enough jambalaya and how well it paired with dry Gewurtztraminer. I loved, in no particular order, plug-in vanilla-scented room fresheners, colorful cookbooks with detailed instructions, and dimmer switches.
Cooking and home decor—these things mattered to me, and I compulsively pursued both activities because they resulted in visible proof my life was working. A woman with such perfect throw pillows must have it all together, right?
Oh, how I wish that had been the case.
At some point or another many of us are summoned to cast aside the things we thought were important in order to live a life filled with more meaning and purpose.
The summons, which typically comes after we’ve been a grown-up for a while, a long while in some cases, arrives in many forms. Depression. Rage. Boredom. The summons typically comes when we no longer have the energy to pretend our life is great. Really! Thank you for asking! The summons typically comes when the pain of pretending our life is wonderful has grown larger than the fear of changing our life to make it that way. The summons typically comes when the voices that have whispered in our ear for years about who we really are start commanding us to pay attention.
If not now, they insist, then when?
But it’s one thing to hear the summons.
It’s another thing entirely to begin to take full responsibility for all the bullshit we’ve been telling ourselves about who we are and what we need to feel fulfilled.
And by “we,” of course, I mean “me.”
Longing has been a frequent visitor in my life and over the years, I’ve learned the many ways it speaks. Longing doesn’t always look like daydreaming out the window on a long car trip. Instead, it often arrives in camouflage, hiding out behind other more familiar energies and emotions. Chief among them: envy.
I never envied anyone else’s brushed nickel faucets, for example, but I did envy other writers. God, how I envied other writers.
When I first started working at a business magazine in my early thirties, there was a writer named Charlene whose articles were consistently featured as cover stories. Each month when the magazine arrived in the mail, I would tear open the plastic wrapping to see if Charlene’s story was on the cover. Seven times out of ten it was.
Sure, she’d been with the magazine longer than I had. But her success at finding and reporting on topics editors chose to feature on the cover drove me a tiny bit insane. I plowed through her stories looking for things to criticize so I could feel better.
It took me a while to realize, but I eventually learned my envy was a sign of deep yearning. I yearned to be the kind of writer who understood what made a great story. I yearned to be chosen to report and write on complicated issues. I yearned to be really really good at what I was doing. But I didn’t see any of this at the time. All I could see was Charlene and her stupid cover stories and how crushed I felt every time another one appeared.
If you’re longing for a change, a change that feels elusive and ill-defined, notice what—and who–you envy, including or perhaps especially, other writers. Then, study them.
What are they writing? How do they write? Why do you admire them? What is it about their work that the mere mention of their name makes you crazy with the feeling, “Dammit. I can do that!?”
Dig into the answers and you’ll likely have a clear sense what your longing is calling you toward.
After all… if not now, then when???
Thanks for this, Shari. I so agree.
I did what you said about studying the writers I envy. It worked! I’m still studying Lorrie Moore and it’s leading me somewhere deep