Some time in late November, my publisher advertised a webinar focused on preparing authors to give a TED Talk or TED Talk-like speech.
“I want to give a TED Talk!” I thought. Why not? My book is interesting; talking about mental health is very timely; and I have ten years of public speaking experience.
The problem was…I wasn’t really living my imaginary TED Talk. With my memoir and various articles and podcasts I’ve told a compelling beginning and middle of a story, but I find myself further from the end (or a picturesque “happy ending”) than I thought I’d be.
The thing they don’t tell you about publishing a book is the bleak depression that could follow coupled with crushing comparison anxiety, and, to put it more colloquially, Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
I should have seen it coming. My publisher often likened the publishing process to a long pregnancy. She didn’t mention the postpartum book depression, but it hit me hard. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’m prone to depression anyway. To add to my malaise, I’ve felt blah with my day job and am still mired in the daily drudgery of ACL recovery.
I’ve had to snooze, silence, and unfollow people because I couldn’t stand the daily, sometimes hourly updates of someone winning this book award or that one or snagging a coveted op-ed gig on popular writing sites. I’m happy for them but have a harder time being happier for myself. Seething with longing and envy, I pictured the people who write full-time (unlike a corporate suit like me) going to the gym whenever they want, writing for hours on end, not getting the Sunday Evening Blues.
The grass was not only greener on the other side; it was the g-ddamn Emerald City.
I’m so proud of the work I’ve created, and yet find myself looking around slightly stunned, wondering what’s going to happen next.
Meanwhile I’ve gone from hating my day job to speaking up for what I need to lamenting my dissatisfaction to coming to a more relaxed, slightly detached truce with it.
I am not “passionate” about my day job, and that’s fine. I give my best, and for the most part, I like it. I’m passionate about the money it brings me (much more than a medical library job would) and the life I’m able to live with said money and comfortable job. I do miss the desire I felt for medical librarianship, which I discovered around 2002, and that took me to a short-lived but mostly happy career in something I thought I’d do for a much longer time.
I’ve had moments of really enjoying certain aspects of my current job, but ultimately I can’t see myself doing this for another twenty years. it’s time for a change….but to what?
I haven’t had that knowing-what-I-want-to-do-for-work-without-a-shadow-of-a-doubt feeling in decades. I hunger for it. I ache for it. I want so badly to know what to do next. As I said in a previous post (well, Jimi Hendrix said), “I know what I want, but I just don’t know.”
If 2020 was a year-long manic cycle, 2021 has been the longest consistently depressive phase I’ve ever experienced despite very happy events like meeting my baby niece and publishing a book.
In one of my lowest moments during the summer, I told my therapist I was going to treat the rest of 2021 and 2022 as the “gap year” I never had: no goals, no ambitions, nothing new. I thought back to my article on healthy complacency –perhaps that would be good enough.
I could just do my day job and appreciate the stability it gives me (plus build my savings back up after a lengthy publishing process and many medical bills). I could stop resenting it for keeping me from doing creative work I haven’t had the energy to do for much of the year anyway. Tap the brakes, ease up on everything. Go to Taekwondo class, go to work, enjoy my hobbies, and just chill. Write when and if I feel like it. Stop chasing opportunities (or escapes) unless I feel truly inspired and good about them. Stop TRYING to be happy and just let it happen.
As my depression waned near the end of August, I tentatively searched current book awards online. I couldn’t even think about that during the late spring and midsummer. Going into fall I continued my counseling sessions feeling a sense of hope. I started writing for Martial Journal, and appeared on more podcasts.
On the day job front, I discovered the concept of liminality on a career shifters site: the space of the unknown between making one move to the next. I wrote a note that I’ve kept on my desk:
“Lean into liminality.”
I don’t need to make any big jumps right now. I’ll just sit in the liminal phase of knowing I don’t want to do what I’m doing now forever but not knowing what to do next. Sometimes sitting on the dock of a quiet lake waiting for a fish to bite is more fun than pulling in a fighting whopper.
Who knows, if I ease the pressure off my day job to make me happy I may find myself enjoying it again.
Back to my true passion, my writing career: I’m starting to re-think a complete gap year of NOTHING.
In mid-December, on a whim, I wrote three goals on a sticky note:
“1. Pitch myself to podcasts
2. Pitch my memoir for audiobook recordings and film/TV adaptations
3. Finish one draft of a novel.”
Nothing is set in stone, like I MUST secure a film adaptation or have a completed manuscript ready to shop to publishers. I just want to try a few things. I just want to poke around and see what happens.
I’m going to guess many of those hustlers who encouraged (or in some cases, harassed) people to go into and come out of lockdown blazing with goals and accomplishments burned out as quickly as I did a few weeks into the pandemic.
Nearly two years later, we’re all still figuring out how to navigate this new reality and sense of “normal.”
In martial arts, a sparring match can be that liminal space. Sparring is a combination of the known and unknown. All that’s really true is you must adapt to the situation. The situation is constantly changing. There is a moment between an action from an an opponent and your own reaction. A frozen moment in time represents the shift from unknown to known.
Eventually the match ends, but in the meantime you can have some fun learning and growing along the way.