In Seth Godin’s latest book What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn) he talks about how the radical cultural and economic changes of the past 10-20 years have created room for a very different type of work to emerge. With increased access to tools that once didn’t exist, we artists and dreamers have more opportunities to shine while also making a living.
But with increased digital resources, why do so few of us actually commit to living out these dreams? And I mean REALLY commit to it.
Sure there are the hangers on to days gone by, the ones who refuse to flex to history’s flow and stay rigidly rooted in their ruts, but what about the rest of us?
As with most limitations I think it comes back to fear, fear of the unknown, of failure, or even fear of success. However, there’s another facet: what it actually means to live in a state of tension.
When I think about it, there’s one thing we often run from in our modern society, it’s tension.
We don’t want to endure the tension of waiting to find out if we got likes on that Facebook post so we open the app for the fifteenth time today; we don’t want to wait for the finale of our favorite TV show so we binge watch, and we don’t want to sit through the news to hear the key headlines so we go online and consume, consume, consume.
Seth asks the question, “What happens to your work if you’re able to wait a little longer?”
Think of the last great novel you read or movie you saw, do they work because the tension is relieved in the first chapter, or scene, or because it builds throughout and resolves only near the end?
I’m totally guilty of avoiding tension, or at least I have been historically. I’m the type of person who decides, then does, and wants immediate results. It’s in my nature, or the very least my habit, and it’s part of what makes me a go-getter. But it’s also hurt me when I’m too impatient to see something through. Sometimes I need to pace myself, or remind myself that there’s also value in the in between.
In fact, most of our lives are lived in the in between.
So I ask, what might we miss out on if we only ever take the easier, more immediately rewarding path, or grasp at only low-hanging fruit?
When I was pregnant with my first child (my son) a nurse gave me the news that pregnancy isn’t really nine months like everyone says, it’s really more like ten–if you think about the fact that it’s 40 whole weeks, that is. Of course this is wonky math, but when you’re headed down a road where this being inside you hijacks your digestive, hormone, endocrine, and immune system for almost a year, you start counting weeks.
I was seventeen, newly married, and living in BFE—or rather Michigan—far from my family in California trying to imagine just how long nine months would feel. During my first trimester, I was barfing around three times a day and could barely keep the occasional saltine down. I was also working full-time as a preschool teacher, while my then husband went to school and also worked.
At my one of my first checkups, I sat on the crinkly paper atop the table waiting for my midwife to step into the exam room. I studied a nearby poster with illustrated renderings of each month of pregnancy.
At ten weeks along, I learned that my baby now had the beginnings of little feet and hands and even a heartbeat, though he was the size of a bean. The largest illustration on the poster was a cross-section of a uterus containing a baby so big that it seemed to defy physical probability. I wondered where the heck would my intestines and bladder go once this monster baby took over my torso.
I was excited about my baby, but worried about how this long journey, and feats of internal physical contortion would pan out. The thought that grounded me was this: women and babies had been partnering in this dance for tens of thousands of years. We would both be okay.
With a knock on the door, my midwife walked popped her head in. She was a kind-eyed black woman who just exuded the feeling of calm. I felt better just seeing her face. She had this maternal way of being that helped the lonely seventeen-year old me relax a bit.
Asking how I was feeling she pulled out a heart monitor device out, rubbed it against her hand to warm it up and placed it low on my belly. I heard my heartbeat first and then a faster, lighter beat. To that point, having a baby felt mostly like sore boobs and round the clock nausea and not much else. But in that moment, it got real. My baby was real. That was the moment I became a mother.
In the coming months, I worried a lot. About things I had no control over, like first whether he would form correctly, until the ultrasound confirmed everything was normal, then I worried about whether he’d have a giant birthmark across his face or something awful the ultrasound couldn’t detect.
I felt kind of helpless but also in awe that my body and my baby’s body knew what to do. Even if I didn’t.
Of course, I could control what I put in my body and what I exposed myself to, which I did, with vigilance. But everything else was up to the workings of two bodies partnering in a dance that nature itself had perfected.
As much as I yearned to hold my baby boy in my arms and see his little face, I knew nature must run its course. I knew he had to stay in until he was done baking. And he did, even stayed in an extra week for good measure. Lucky me. Then he emerged fully formed, perfect. Indeed, lucky us.
Maybe our dreams, our goals, the good work we aim to do in this life can be viewed through a pregnancy analogy. Things mature in their own time, or become fully realized as they’re meant to. The problem is, we don’t always know when the appointed time of our dreams birthing. Sometimes you have to push hard at the right time, but there’s also a beauty in the expectation and tension of something truly wonderful materializing through perseverance.
Life is anything but predictable, and sadly just like pregnancy, things don’t always go the way we want. Sometimes, we do our best and things still don’t work. Sometimes, it does.
The truth is we don’t have control over outcomes, only the grit and work we put in. At a certain point we must dust off our hands and acknowledge when we’ve done our best. We’ve honored our calling. And leave the rest to nature, or the Universe, or God, or whatever you believe in.
I try to bring myself back to this when I feel myself vibrating at light-speed, revving for action right away, or when I’m down on myself, feeling like I’ve failed yet again. Tension isn’t necessarily comfortable, but I’m working on allowing it to move through me as opposed to allowing it to knock me down.
Sometimes it’s better to just take action and get shit done. Other times its worth it to work on something for as long as it takes to get it where it needs to be. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or a loser, or lazy. It’s one of those mysteries of life that we must hold with open hands.
As I set my intentions each day, I’m going to be working on being more at peace with the natural tension it takes to create something worthwhile. I hope this idea helps you right at the moment you might need it.