I’m not sleeping much. I lay awake at night, wondering how I’m going to make a dent in my eternally long to-do list, how to keep the many people in my life from getting too upset with me, how to keep perspective.
I drift off to sleep around 3 or 4am, none the wiser.
For two years since I’ve started this blog, it’s probably been obvious I’ve been on a kind of quest. A seeking of a better self? A digging and clawing from the depths of an unhealthy lifestyle to one that resembles normalcy? Even better than normalcy to something that could be (lord help me) like self-actualization?
I think I’ve done pretty well, all things considered. I eat vegetables now, I exercise regularly, I am carrying out days that probably seem — from the outside — idyllic. I get to write and draw and sew every day. I’m publishing a book! These are all unquestionably amazing.
You see, I’m terrified.
Grateful, but scared out of my wits. And I had a little meltdown last week, the kind K gets when she’s had too much sugar and too little sleep.
A few weeks prior, I had lunch with a friend that I hadn’t seen in months. Technically, she was my old boss from my most recent corporate job. You know, the one I got fired from. Ironically, she asked me if I would consider coming back. Not on a full-time basis or anything, but short-term. The money would be fantastic. The project, she assured me, would be easy. This was actually the second time they’ve asked me. The first outreach was about a year ago and back then I couldn’t say no fast enough. This time, I hesitated to decline, even though I knew that the project would turn out to be crazy-making and time-sucking and soul-draining.
I get to do what I love every day. But in exchange, I open myself up in uncomfortable ways, and I risk face-planting in a big pile of humiliation. My blog isn’t hugely popular, and that’s fine with me because I realized early on that professional blogging is clearly not my cup of tea. I’m quirky and what I have to offer is not for everyone, and I spend hours crafting these posts because I find it fulfilling. I can’t claim that what I’m currently doing is considered a career — books are notoriously hard to sell. I don’t have a lot of illustration clients. I make less money than an average textile worker in Bangladesh (book advances don’t amount to much when you’re an unknown first-time writer/illustrator). And I probably work about the same hours as the Bangladeshi though my working conditions are luxe in comparison. We’re not rolling around in mountains of dollar bills (we often joke that we hope to be hundredaires one day, because we’ll never get a shot at becoming millionaires), and M’s job situation is one of instability.
I worry that I’m being selfish by not getting a “real” job. I know that I want K to see that it’s possible and more than okay to strive for meaningful work that lights you up, regardless of what others say. But as I’ve been pondering lately, I don’t want her to feel entitled and unrealistic either. I know that I’m beyond fortunate to have this time to pursue what feels right. Then the practical side of living rears itself toward me. Bills, food, shelter, fabric. The essentials, obviously.
Two years ago, when I found myself with no job and too much time, I made a list. On it I wrote down everything I wanted to do, things I thought I might enjoy as a “career” — no one was going to see it, so I went all out, tossing reality out the window. I found the list a couple of months ago, and had forgotten all about it. The main items on my list included the following:
- Start a blog
- Write and illustrate a children’s book
- Contribute to magazines
- Teach a sewing workshop
- Have an art show
- Get illustration clients
- Design clothes
I’ve accomplished almost everything on my list in 24 months. I’ve learned so so much. The positives have far outweighed any negatives, but here’s the thing: some aspects are heart-breaking and hard, no matter how many goals I achieve. I’ve been surprised by people who became resentful or competitive or distant; disappointed by the disproportionately meager monetary rewards; embarrassed about feeling like I’m bragging when I’m just so shocked and delighted that my list is materializing; wondering about getting paid to do what I love — would I start feeling like it’s drudgery? And I’ve been side-swiped by the crushing self-doubt and emotions of fraudulence. That’s probably the biggest one…that feeling of “who do I think I am to publish a book? to cast out my ramblings in a public realm like a blog?” I get sad that we have crappy health insurance and that M and I have the same anxious money discussions over and over and over. That job offer was so tempting — maybe I can do the project while maintaining everything else, I thought. But I know myself, and I would get immersed in the corporate world again, become unhappy and unhealthy and push out all the wonderful things I’ve painstakingly and slowly built these last two years.
So I’m a little overwhelmed these days. Maybe it was that lunch that reminded me of the bad days. Or maybe it’s because I’ve crossed off one more thing from my list, which I’ll share soon and I fear I may have bitten off more than I can chew and there will be even more uncertainty. Or, and this is probably the best explanation, maybe it’s because I’m not sleeping. I always have to remember that I have a health condition that responds in toxic ways to excessive stress. I’ve kept it in check for quite some time now, and I try to be diligent about taking care of myself, but sleep has never come easily to me.
After giving it a lot of thought, I decided not to accept the job offer even though it might make things easier (or not, who knows). It’s funny, one of M’s favorite books is The 50th Law. Whenever I get discouraged and tell M that maybe I should just go and get a regular job, he vehemently tells me, “No, you gotta go for it, this is definitely your thing. You’re the 50 Cent of the sewing world — you have to see it through.” I’m not sure that the drug-lord-turned-rapper analogy works, but I’ll take it. I’ll continue to figure out edible dishes from canned tuna, and I’ll hold onto the supportive people and ride out the discomforts of change and the evolution that comes with it, and I will see if I can continue to show K that yes, this whole making-dreams-come-true business is possible. It’s not easy, it’s messy, and a lot of sacrifices may be required. And often, it doesn’t feel exactly the way I thought it would. But it feels real. Like I’m being the most genuine version of myself. And for me, that is worth everything.