This started out as a post about writer’s block. But the deeper I got into the post the more evident it became that what I really want to address here is not creative blockage as much as self-doubt.
From time to time I hear from creative friends who can’t get that shot they’ve been waiting for, they can’t get the right words to tell their story, they can’t find the melody they want to sing to.
It’s like that scene from Donnie Darko when Patrick Swayze is doing his motivational speaker thing. Donnie steps up to the mic and tells the confused kid on stage “Nobody knows what they’re going to be when they grow up!”
When I graduated from U of T with a degree in Anthropology I figured that teaching english in Japan was going to be my next stop. Not because I had necessarily dreamed of teaching english my whole life, I just thought it could be a cool way to stall while I figured out what came next.
I didn’t go to Japan, I got a “job” instead, working in a call centre. I hated it.
I was lucky to have a mentor — and not a medalling, judgy person who spent my teenage years harping on me not to try drugs, but one of the good ones — who gave me some serious professional guidance. She helped me get a few meetings, I landed a couple of interviews, and suddenly just-like-THAT I found myself working for one of the biggest publishers in Canada. Ok, interning. But I’m not hating.
They say that internships are formative. Hells yes, they are. I imagine that it’s a lot like being in the army: they beat you down, break you down, humiliate and starve you. But they teach you how to fire a gun. I did some mind-numbing things — data entry, mail-outs, copying, copying, and more copying. But within a few weeks I was doing some really cool things, learning some really important things — not just skills, but life lessons.
This is where things got confusing. Because I had worked for a publisher and enjoyed it so much, I was convinced that I was meant to work in publishing. I was so convinced of this that I took a job at a literary event just to see the industry from a different angle. That was a crazy job — it was fantastic because I learned SO MUCH, but it killed me because I felt like the better I became at coordinating events the further I got from publishing. How did I nip that in the bud?
I quit my job and went back to school.
This is a shining example of what my dad calls “Making the right decisions for the wrong reasons.” I won’t say that was the most brilliant idea, but I can’t say it was a terrible idea either. I will say this, in the wake of losing my mom to cancer, I felt uncertain about everything and school felt like a safe haven. In my mind, school could be a place where I could screw up (or succeed, sure) and no one would hold it against me.
Life is what it is. It’s confusing, it’s distracting, it presents you with a million options but you can only take one at a time. Life can be a real pain in the arse.
I got into a program for those interested in publishing, but the further I went through my program, the greater my desire to plan an event. It became plain that the industry I thought I was born for was in fact not my best fit. There are dozens of reasons why, none of which are important. My guts gurgled with truth.
Right about then is when I bought a one-way plane ticket from Toronto to Vancouver.
The story from that point is long and twisty — it was a year and a half until I found the home and life I have now. I can tell you this much: it takes a certain glutton for punishment to enjoy events; it takes someone who likes lists, who likes pressure, who likes the taste of fear. Yes folks, when you come into something you love, it’s bliss.
If you’re putting pressure on yourself because you feel like by the time you graduate, by the time you turn 25, by the time you turn 30, by the time you step out the door you have to have your mind made up and your heart committed – you’re stressing yourself out unnecessarily. Donnie was right – no one knows what they’re going to do when they grow up. It’s only once you’re “grown-up” that you look back at your life and see in context what you were.
So, to my sister, to my best friends, to the creative people I’ve been lucky enough to meet, to any of you out there who are at a cross-roads and sh*t-scared because you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life, or the rest of your day: relax, no one else does either.