I’m writing to you from the kitchen counter of a quiet house that isn’t mine. It’s a beautiful house, with gorgeous natural light, and the dog is sunning himself on the back patio. The only sound other than my typing is the steady static coming from the baby monitor next to me: my new boss enjoys white noise while he sleeps. You see, I started a new job this week, nannying for a twelve-week-old baby boy, and I cannot remember the last time I felt this resplendently content in my daily life and routine.
Nothing about what I’m doing makes “sense” by conventional metrics; I’m overqualified for this job according to those measures, I’m deviating from (even sabotaging) my career path, and I don’t have a next logical step for what comes after this. And? I am so damn happy.
Like all meaningful revelations, mine is so dead simple as to be almost laughable when written down. What I did to get here was learn to listen to myself again. And though that premise may sound straightforward enough, the internal pathway to this place took me through some pretty rough terrain. First, I had to realize that I had stopped listening to myself somewhere along the way; that I was ignoring my gut instinct, my still, small voice, and letting other voices crowd in and dominate my thinking, even down to my own opinion-formation about myself. This was not an easy revelation, to say the least, especially because along with it came the realization that my wife’s voice, which I had relied on for so many years, was no longer one I could trust. Birthing this truth took some time and came in stages. I am grateful (that seems a shallow word, really) to the people in my life who walked patiently and lovingly with me through my confusion as I worked to remember myself and untangle what had been from what still was.
There’s a lyric in a Fleet Foxes song, Helplessness Blues, that has always been meaningful to me: “And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf / I’ll come back to you someday soon myself.” This is what my closest orbit of friends and loved ones have done for me in these months – they have shown me to myself, insisted on their knowledge of me and coaxed me back into listening to and trusting my own voice.
I started small, noticing when I would order a dish at a restaurant that I thought I “should” order versus what I wanted to order, and how it felt after I did that. Then I would give myself grace to try again next time and order what I actually wanted to eat. This may sound ridiculously simple, but the rush of gratification I got from giving myself permission to want what I want–game changing.
From there, I began to pay attention to the people around me who seemed to have what I wanted, a kind of freedom in inhabiting both their bodies and the choices they made for their bodies. Mind you, these were not people who had perfect circumstances or whose material situations I envied; when I looked closely (or as close as I could – some of these folks were friends, and others were people I followed at a distance), what they seemed to have in common were a couple of things: willingness to break with convention, a life intentionally centered around their values, and a clear sense of what they really wanted. Not what they had been trained or socialized or programmed to want, not what others wanted for them, but what they really and truly wanted. Also, they were willing to disappoint others – even those closest to them – to get there. If someone didn’t get where they were going or what they were up to, that was okay; but these people I admired were not going to let that stand in their way.
So I tried to learn from them; seek out the tools they used and study them. I did a lot of reading and learning and self-examination. Some of it was not fun! And, as I write this, I want to be clear; living more authentically is a practice I am engaged in ongoingly. Everyone I have tried to emulate in this regard has said the same thing—there’s no arriving. There’s just the work. Work that will continue and shift and change as our lives do.
I’m glad I didn’t wait to start doing that work, or to pick it up from when I was younger (I honestly think my nineteen year old self was living pretty darn authentically, back in the day). I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense to anyone but me, because my relationship with myself is the one that I put first these days. And when I asked myself, before the move back to Houston, What is it that we want to do?, she answered back right away, Get paid to hold a baby. Be of service. Make lots of art.
Thank goodness I listened to her. She is very wise, that self of mine. And I’ll bet yours is, too.