“If tomorrow morning, by some stroke of magic, every dazed and benighted soul woke up with power to take the first step toward pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the directory would be out of business.” –Steven Pressfield
The truth is, this manifesto was written for me. It is something I wrote to myself at the heart of my journey, when I had no way of knowing exactly how close I was to accomplishing my dream. This story will not tell you that your dream is easy to follow, but it will give you a dose of inspiration to find, chase, and live yours. I put everything I believed into words, and I followed it through all the chaos. I made it out alive. Hopefully, it will help you, too
Life Out of College
In 2009, I was living out my post-undergraduate life in the most unfulfilling way possible…in a cubical. Somewhere along the way, I had slipped through the cracks. Throughout my childhood, I was beyond imaginative. I was that kid who could run around in my backyard with a sword for a week and half. There were times I would invest five hours in a bathtub with one GI Joe and my wrinkly hands. My mind stretched and stretched to places and worlds that even Pixar couldn’t conjure up, crazy worlds with fictitious cities, animals, and monsters, laid out on detailed maps with super unrealistic topography. I loved nothing more than creating and utilizing my imagination to weave these creations together and to share them with my parents and classmates.
I was born to be creative.
And somewhere along the line I lost that spark.
I grew up and entered into a world where success is defined in numbers and creativity is second to results. So between the scantrons and the testing and the fear of standing out, I forgot to start things. I was rewarded when I achieved academic success, scolded when I did things differently. I became afraid of failing, scared of what people would say, and I lost my ability to create worlds, to think without limitations. My identity became attached to success in school, and my calling, my mission, my dream, my purpose, went dormant.
Cue theatrical noise when the main character is in despair.
I think it was in the fourth grade when I realized my life revolved around the red letter they put on my tests, papers, and homework. I got straight As and, year after year, I grew obsessed with the thousands of multiple choice questions, fill-in-the-blanks, honor roll student stickers for my mom’s car, and on and on. Here is a short list of the goals that I focused on:
- AP Scores: 3 or above
- Standardized testing
- GPA: 3.8+
- SAT: 1200+
- Top 5%
- Review questions
- Credit requirements
- Course requirements
- Major requirements
Eventually, I did make my way to college, not by choice, but because it was expected. The first inclination that I didn’t know why I was there was the undeclared major I’d opted for. Oh yeah, and four years of debauchery at UCSB ensued.
But I continued, course after course, falling asleep, taking notes, taking Adderall right before a final just so I could put everything into a blue book and get my B+ and move on to the next requirement.
Finally, I settled for a law major. A LAW MAJOR. As a kid, all I wanted to do was create limitless worlds and share those stories with others, and now, there I was…a Law Major! So I drank and partied and did whatever I could to distract myself from a passionless and purposeless reality.
I remember graduating and looking at the diploma and wondering, WHAT THE HELL DID I ACCOMPLISH?
Unfortunately, this piece of paper I was holding gave me no sense of accomplishment and would not be a big enough epiphany to awaken me from my creative slumber. I was in too deep at that point, too scared of what people thought, too insecure to find that “other” voice that once dreamed big, too worried about failing.
Professionally, I was working my first job out of college in one of the most uncreative places possible, the United States Government, which actually made sense. Having blindly followed my path in school, I continued to do what was expected, safe, and secure, with good pay and good benefits. So with my degree in hand, I became a federal investigator for an agency that conducted background investigations for the Department of Defense. I had a badge, a government car, and business cards that said, Special Agent. Oh yeah, seems pretty bad ass, right?
On my first day of work, I met up with the new investigative team. I was pumped—new job, just graduated, new adventure, BRING IT ON, SUCKERS. At the beginning of the meeting, we all went around the room and introduced ourselves. Obviously, I was anxious to give off a great first impression, so I tried to come up with something awesome and clever to impress everyone. But as I watched everyone talk, my mouth hit the floor.
“Hi, I’m Jake. I have five years left to retirement.”
“Hi, I’m Marty. I have two years left to retirement.”
“Hi, I’m Bob. Unfortunately, I have ten years left.”
This was my new life. This was my first day, and I had thirty-five years left until retirement. Thirty-five years! Suddenly, my brand new job felt more like a life sentence than an opportunity.
All day I interviewed people about the shitty things that happened in their past—bankruptcy, divorce, and drug use. Soooo depressing. Then I regurgitated those notes into detailed report templates to deem suitability for security clearances. You asleep yet?
As the year went on, I fell into a groove. I didn’t hate my job, but I didn’t like it. It was completely contradictory to my personality and who I was. I enjoyed my coworkers, but not what I did. I wore this awful suit I’d purchased at Men’s Wearhouse, and I picked up the habit of drinking Kirkland Coffee four times a day to get me through the long days.
There was no creativity in my job. I got home from work, exhausted, plopping my ass into the deep cushions and grabbing the remote. What’s up DVR recorded shows, don’t mind if I watch four hours of you. Fall asleep. Do it again. No passion and completely contrary to what made my heart tick.
As the year went by, I was confused, anxious, unfulfilled—only able to find any sort of pleasure in the form of distractions, i.e. tequila, girls, Facebook, cable. Then suddenly, I heard a voice. To this day, I still think it was the voice of my less-conformed, eight-year-old self, telling me I’d sold out. Whoever it was, it came from something very instinctual, but still very unrecognizable. It was a faint voice and it said, “You are supposed to create things. Go write.”
Trust me, at the time I didn’t want that voice. It was a pain in my ass. What the hell am I going to write? I wanted to just keep doing my job and live my life with routines and safety. That was what I was used to. I was fine with my path, direct deposit paychecks, open tabs at bars, and not having to put myself out there, not having to fail or be seen as unsuccessful. People responded well to my title, my business card, and people thought I had a pretty bad ass job. My Linkedin account was AWESOME.
But the voice persisted and kept nagging me day in and day out. Eventually, I sat down and started writing. I didn’t tell anybody, but I sat there and wrote. As a result, I have two novels that will likely never see the light of day, because, well, they are part of my learning curve. But what I did learn from the process was this: storytelling and creating was my passion. When I sat down at the computer, I lost myself. I was fully engaged, just like when I was a kid creating worlds out of nothing more than my imagination. It excited me. It scared me. It enveloped every overpowering emotion that a dream and passion carries with it. But after years of not stepping out of line or being true to myself, I was overwhelmed with fear, riddled with doubt and worry. I was easily swayed by criticism and everyone else’s opinion of me.
At that time, there were three things that kept me stuck. Number one: I was overwhelmed and anxious by the conflicting voices. Number two: I had no way of combatting the fear. Number three: I took self-doubt at face value, because I had no idea that this resistance was normal for everyone, and its duty is to oppose your true self. For two years, I’d stayed at my job, even though a voice deep down was yelling at me, “Stop doing something that isn’t you.” It was almost like that voice in Jim Carrey’s The Grinch that yelled back at him, “You’re an idiot.”
GO DO WHAT YOU LOVE (CONT….)