I had a boss once say to me in her fake English accent, from the other side of her enormous desk, hands folded across her chest, reading glasses at the edge of her nose: Oh Kyra, it’s really very simple. Just pick something and stick with it.
At the time, I was enveloped in the scent of ripe milk on the second floor of a barn on a sheep farm where I worked as a cheese slave. My official title was—wait, I didn’t have an official title. I worked alone in a white-walled room making artisan cheese and yogurt from beautiful, organic sheep’s milk. I listened to NPR all day, laughing, shouting, dancing, singing by myself in my white plastic boots, white lab coat, white hair net, stirring and calibrating and pouring and transporting items from the production table to the incubator and back into boxes to send off to vendors. Once or twice a day, I climbed into a giant metal vat to scrub it clean it with a brush on a stick, like white-washing a picket fence only not.
I had just given my notice and she, Joan, my boss, refused to accept it. She was charming and smart, intimidating and impressive. I wanted her to like me. I wanted her to want me there even as I didn’t want to be there. Such has been my work story.
Want me. Even though I don’t want you. Make me stay, even as I ask to go. Collude with me to keep me where I don’t want to be.
I have no fucking clue.
I know we carry stuff from our childhood. We internalize the messages from our parents, our caretakers, the important adults in our lives. We do that because it’s what we’re taught, it’s familiar, it feels safe though tight, like a turtleneck that belongs to your younger brother. It pinches it the armpit, chokes you a bit, itches and bunches up in the sleeves but you can wear it, move through your day, your week, even your whole life feeling cramped and agitated, just on the cusp of collapsing or ripping it off to run topless through the streets.
We learn to do the things or not to do those things so that we can recreate that safety, even though it doesn’t make a lick of sense. I read about people growing up with undermining, abandoning parents who climb out of that hole and stride over to a whole new landscape. They’re like, fuck you, that’s not me. THIS is me. Yet I know they have those voices somewhere. We’re all shocked to hear celebrated and accomplished people speak of their imposter syndrome, convinced any minute they will be outed for the fraud they fear they are.
Most people I know struggle with the fear that owning their power means they’ll end up alone. People they love will be mad at them, feel jealous, feel left behind and will pull out all the stops (without realizing what they’re doing) to get you back to your old, familiar self (so they can keep being their old familiar self. DON’T ROCK THE BOAT THOUGH I HATE THIS BOAT SOMEONE PLEASE TIP IT OVER SO I CAN SWIM FREE).
In order to have the life you crave you have to become someone new. You can’t get the new thing by doing what you’ve always done. It’s going to mean growing, an upgrade, a modification, and that’s going to be scary and painful. And you’re going to face ginormous resistance to it, resistant that is a shape shifter–sneaky, smart, wily, chameleon.
It will say That’s too hard, You’re not fill-in-the-blank-enough: good enough, smart enough, funny enough, wise enough, thin enough, young enough, rich enough; You don’t know enough, haven’t read enough, haven’t accomplished or amassed enough. When that doesn’t stop you, it will move into confusion: Well, I’m not sure anymore, or That’s not quite it. Or pack and distract: I’m totally going to do that but first I need to (fill in the blank with something impossibly hard or just plain impossible) write my book, declutter my house, make my sister/husband/son/best friend happy. But worst of all is the slither and hiss of regret, sliding around your feet, wrapping itself around your ankles.
So back to Joan, my old boss at the sheep cheese farm.
She talked me into staying that day. Then I quit again a few months later, for the third time, and it stuck. I marched off to another job that was wrong for me—what, I don’t know–another job where I was wearing another turtleneck.
I’m writing this for me. I’m writing this for you, for anyone who thinks it’s too late for them, to create a life they really love. I’m writing it for myself to reclaim my creative fire, to astonish myself, to find a way to live large in these later years of my life. Not LARGE as in grandiose or flashy or famous or some other thing we’ve associated with STATUS, like needing to have a killer body or have a pile of cash or be on Oprah. I’m talking about living large in our creative fire center, the seat of our vitality, feeling free and curious and authentic.
I realized fairly recently that I have been wanting to feel that way for years and years. And if this thread extends back to my 20s, when I was sleek and smooth and had gobs of time on my life clock, and it’s still in me, it doesn’t have anything to do with age. It’s not about regret that I didn’t make a movie or write a book or audition for SNL or fly to Paris to drag giant canvases to the attic and paint until I passed out. It’s about something else, and if so, what is it? And will it help you too?
I don’t know. But honestly? If it helps me and ONE OTHER PERSON, then writing about it matters because it will mean that regret doesn’t have to be bad. It can be embers or the fire that burns the past to the ground where it can become the primordial ash pool of creation. In fact, when I look up reclamation, the word itself means to transform flooded fallow ground to something useable, fertile, and new.
So. Stop waiting for perfect conditions (they don’t exist) or absolution (for mistakes made) or guarantees (that it will work out the way you want) or permission (no one has it and you don’t need it).
Take Joan’s advice. Pick something and stick with it.