Photo: Kathryn Schledwitz
Cutting a perfectly straight line across a blank piece of paper without a ruler or guide is no easy task. In fact, in my experience, I’ve found it to be nearly impossible. You start out confident, eyes focused entirely on the end point. Slowly yet assuredly, you begin to slice the paper. Eventually, and often without realizing it, your gaze inevitably falls to each tiny cut. Before long you look up to find that you’re no longer on that perfect path you visualized so intently. Somehow, you’ve managed to wind up two or three inches to the left.
About two months ago, I looked up from my keyboard at my 9-5 job and realized that I was in exactly that place. Two or three inches to the left of where I originally had meant to be. In all honesty, I was aware that I had been veering off in a different direction for quite some time. Upon graduating from college the plan was to cut my way to working on an organic farm somewhere in Thailand. Snip, snip, snip and I’d ended up moving out, quickly picking up a job in my college town instead.
The first year of my post-college life consisted of a lot of personal doubt, conflicting thoughts, pressure to succeed and plenty of other self-inflicted woes we twenty-somethings tend to pile upon ourselves. Though I no longer felt compelled to travel the depths of some foreign land, I wasn’t entirely pleased with punching away at a keyboard all day either. And so I bore the big question mark upon my chest and became quite familiar with a scrambled parade of “W’s” stumbling through my head. What am I doing with my life? Who do I want to be? Where should I live? Why do I have this degree?
Instead of answers I came up with excuses. More specifically, excuses as to why I would stay at my job for just a few months longer. First, I was waiting for summer. But then the summer got to be too busy and I didn’t really save up enough money so I figured I’d wait for a fresh start in the fall. Of course, the warm breeze turned to a crisp chill, and guess what? I quietly made friends with a new group of excuses.
All the while, sitting resolute in a tiny corner of my mind was the thing I wanted to do most. It waited ever so patiently for me to break ties with excuses and finally face it. I was dying to leave my day job and give this unpredictable, irrational thing called a writing career a shot. And I don’t mean the practical, come-up-with-three-hundred-words-to-effectively-sell-this-nice-refrigerator, ad copy kind of writing career. I was already on that path. I’m talking about its passionate, erratic, creative, might-not-actually-make-money-for-a-while twin. The kind of writing career that, if the stars align and the right person miraculously happens upon a particularly stellar piece of your work, results in your name stamped upon a best-selling novel or the by-line of an incredibly provocative New York Times story.
For a long time I walked along somewhat-consciously picking up excuse after excuse on the way. And then it happened. On a Tuesday morning of no particular importance. When nothing out of the ordinary was taking place. Around 10:30 a.m. a gentle little voice inside my head whispered, “Enough.” I dropped all of my excuses and listened.
A handful of weeks, a few honest conversations with beloved confidants, and a big old sigh of relief later, I quit my job. Some might call it a “leap of faith” because I don’t have another one lined up, don’t have $10,000 cushioning my bank account, and don’t have a clue as to whether or not this whole writing thing will work out.
But it doesn’t feel like a leap. And it doesn’t feel like I’m blindly stumbling into my future. It feels like for the first time since those self-assured days of college, I’m taking control of my life. I’m saying no to something that wasn’t making me very happy and giving myself the time and grace to figure out what I was put on this earth to do.
I have no idea which direction I’ll move next. Maybe I’ll slide a few more inches to the left. Perhaps I’ll zigzag and uncover a path six inches to the right. For all I know I could wind up going backwards. But no matter where I end up, the important thing is that my path be carved, ever so consciously, by my very own hand.