Meta note: I’ve decided to move away from block quotes as they become less legible for longer letters. Hopefully the salutations and
<hr> are sufficient to make reading these easy.
I am incredibly excited to see what comes of our month of writing and also your project at large.
I had wanted to give you a quick bit of info about myself to start out this first letter but it turns out the “about me” isn’t just an intro - it’s the capital T Thing at this moment of life so I figured I’d run with it.
Always involved with something, always moving, I have spent my entire life proving my worth by doing. I defined myself by my work. I’ve had quite the array of jobs, too - auto insurance sales (while I worked on my masters degree), library technology projects, technology consultant, public speaker, web designer, adjunct professor, board member, etc… and then 9 years ago and basically out of nowhere, I started a cookie company for no particular reason beyond it felt fun and “next.” (And. It. Was. Awesome.)
But then this past December I closed that business. It was a hard but right choice in this phase of life. As for what was next up, I planned to pivot to things that matched my Q1 2023 motto: “Passive Income!” I’d just spent nearly a decade needing a human present to deliver on every single sale I’d ever made and I was looking forward to creating something once and letting it sell and deliver itself. Think online self-paced classes, downloadables, and maybe even some designed home merchandise (that someone else printed and shipped).
And then I sat down one rainy day and realized how exhausted I was. With the exception of a few one-off events, I’ve basically not stopped moving since high school. And now, a 40-something pandemic mom of a (wonderful and gorgeous) two year old, I am staring at an unknown future for the second half (?!) of my life. I think my not-yet-midlife existential moment stems from all that doing and not a lot of sitting with myself and just existing for a while. There are a few key conversations with friends that keep popping up for me illustrating the point that I could be wishy washy with who I was and what I wanted. The 1961 essay of the late Joan Didion entitled, “On Self Respect” comes to mind. Or maybe some people are just like that - not as laser focused on one or another thing for great lengths of time.
Some have called me a Renaissance soul but that’s never felt right to me. In my mind, Renaissance souls have worked for NGOs and have a kiln in their backyard. I’ve just gone where the wind blew me; flying by the seat of my pants, following whims and never really planning deliberately for the long-haul. (Thankfully, it’s generally worked out.)
Now, I feel like I am in a strange place and space in time meant to reclaim (uncover?) who I am. (And by extension be able to make more deliberate decisions as to what life could be going forward.) The first important piece of this huge puzzle was to reclaim space in our home.
We turned my home office into a nursery back in early 2020 and everything in that office went scattered around the house. But as of two weekends ago, I once again have a home for my stuff. Think unfinished art projects, a pile of things that need fixing, books that overflow the rest of the house bookshelves, and boxes and boxes of relics of people I used to be. The student, boss, geek, writer, daughter, creator, friend, etc. But this is also a place I can exist alone for a short while and that will be the most valuable in this time of unknowing.
Yet, I understand deep in my bones that the mental and physical space I currently inhabit and the time and space I can take up is the ultimate human luxury. And I don’t want to waste it.
So here I stand, probably on the downswing of life’s bell curve, asking really strange questions like “do I really not like shrimp or did i just have a bad day once and it became part of my being?”
How does one begin to know who they are? How does one get reacquainted with themselves after years of doing for and listening to others? If you woke up one day and realized you were waaaay off the path you’d envisioned - do you hop back on? How? Can a person deprogram their American capitalist mindset long enough to do things for fun (and not profit)?
Can you stop at any point and re-evaluate what you can do or be for your “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver)? Can people be vastly different humans in different stages in their lives or are there always common threads? What if someone finally calls you out on your shit? (Being a parent is a GREAT WAY to uncover all manner of things about yourself you were blind to -perhaps purposefully- before.)
At the risk of guiding where we go from here, I’d love to hear your thoughts, ponderances, or even stories if you’ve found yourself in similar fork-in-the-road moments in your life.
Here’s to adventure,
Ps - If you’re interested, I was in the process of creating a new online presence for myself but it seems I need to fix a thing or two before it’s back up. My cookie biz site exists in a new form and has some recipes and a free baking guide available.
I think a lot of us, at some point in the last couple of years, got hit with all of the tension of the pandemic rushing out and looked around and wondered, “Who am I? Where am I?” In some ways, I feel like I’ve been living in y “not-yet-midlife existential moment” pretty much from the start. Nothing has been to plan, and I’m a person who likes a plan. But the strain of making it through the heights of the pandemic, when uncertainty was pushed beyond any familiar bounds, took things past some cutesy follow-where-life-leads and be-open-to-the-universe. The utter lack of control and loss of all foresight pushed me toward craving intentionality.
Sometimes I think that intentionality gets a bad wrap. It seems to some it means that things are structured and instrumental, all telos. But intentionality can also come in the form of choosing to be loose, to feel, or to be lost. When I say I crave intentionality, I mean that if I am not doing something I love, I want it to be because I chose to let it go. I want to remove the illusion that I have passively constructed my life and take responsibility and agency for the choices I am making. Especially when choices are important, they deserve my foresight and attention. For a long time, I don’t think I respected my own choices.
That’s the struggle that led me to try and read more fiction. I was in my sophomore year of college. I was depressed and overwhelmed. I was taking far too heavy a course load and paralyzed into inaction by the seemingness endless, but routine grind. Something kicked in the back of my mind, and I realized that I hadn’t read fiction for fun in two years. I was never without a book practically from the time I knew how to read. Yet here I was, two years or so into college, and I"m no longer reading. I spent a week off from my classes devouring several books, and I felt significantly recovered. My grades probably suffered a little, but I neither remember them now, 15 years on, nor did it have any impact on my life. But reading for that week had a huge impact.
Just the same, this year I’ve not even finished two books. I normally read 35-40 books a year, so this is beyond unusual. I find myself not wanting to read. But what’s new for me now versus 5 years ago is I am guiltless in this. What’s new for me now versus 15 years ago is I am quite aware of what’s happening. I know that I do not feel like reading or that it feels that important to me right now. I accept that, and I’m choosing to allow other things to be important.
I don’t know how we begin to know who we are. I am asking myself that question all the time, and I never seem to respond with a satisfying, stable answer. Who I was is dead. Who I will be is unknown. And who I am now is, at best, when I work at it, someone I’m actively choosing to be.
Sitting with yourself in the unknown and finding some comfort there, in my mind, is a way to quiet the stories you already know about yourself. You have to let who you’ve been quiet down so you can freshly tune into the signals of who you are right now. There’s really two tricks to intentional change. Step one, you have to actually be able to listen to yourself and know the change that you want. Step two is you have to pretend to already be the person you want to be.
What’s the difference between pretending to be a good person and being a good person? Practice and then habit.
Here are some things I’ve figured out about myself:
- I love great TV and movies, and I love media criticism and participating in it. But I get almost no joy out of passive media consumption at all. Watching, listening, and reading always has to be some thing I am choosing to do rather than something I do to fill time and space.
- I love communal physical activity. A hike alone is sometimes just what I need– but that sometimes is maybe one in every twenty. The gym alone is ok, but in a small group environment is energizing. And recreational sports are the best shot of endorphins in the world– being with people, working hard toward a goal, in an environment that permits thought about little else but the now is something I love. In short, it’s boring, but there’s a reason I loved gym class.
- There are things that I used to love that don’t move me like they used to. I have to let go of the idea of being great at guitar, because I’m just not willing to put in the work the way I was in high school. I have to let go of the idea of writing fiction, because I’m just not willing to put in the work the way I never have. People, art, and activities can move and inspire me but not generate the drive or creative force to emulate them.
- The perfect day is not one that I plan the night before, but instead, one where I listen to myself each moment and adjust as needed.
- There is a lot of the time that I don’t like myself very much, and I need to listen to that voice. Not because self-loathing is good or anything, but if I’m not liking myself I need to understand why and put the work into being more like someone I do like. And sometimes, because if I try to find a why and can’t, I need to realize that I am choosing to feel a certain way for no reason and it’s making me feel bad and that’s trash I need to throw away.
Maybe you like always moving, or maybe that’s something you did because you liked the story it told to others. Maybe you need to figure out what that story is and make a choice about how you’re going to tell it. Or maybe you need to accept that you’re not being wishy-washy about what you want, but instead, that what you want is to be wishy-washy. It could just be that you enjoy the chaos of five half choices without having to commit. You can commit to not committing.
That’s where I’m at along a similar journey of some kind of self-reflection. I still don’t know if I professionally identify as a product manager, data analyst, manager, entrepreneur, policy wonk, or something else entirely. I keep wanting to write a new resume or some new story about who I am and what I’m doing here and the kinds of things people should want me on their panel or talk about or on their team working on, but I can’t seem to choose. I am a Jason-shaped Jason, and I seem allergic to coherent branding. I still don’t know who I am personally. But I’m trying to listen, and I’m trying to make choices.