Goal Disoriented

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It’s been several weeks since I was last employed, having left my job ostensibly to become a writer or at least follow the shallow continuum of being a writer. We won’t talk about the number of days in which I gave up personal hygiene or watched Netflix until my eyes bled. I keep telling myself that I’m in transition. It sounds nice. Like I’m going somewhere. Eventually.

The time has come for me to locate those proverbial bootstraps and pull myself up and out of the shallow end of the pool. I’m a disciplined person until I stop making an effort and then I get a clear visual on my life in the other universe of I-don’t-give-a-shit. It’s a very easy place to live – a place where houses aren’t cleaned, books aren’t written, phone calls are rarely returned.

For most of my life, I’ve held on tightly to structure, routine, focus, multitasking – until I’m this tight little ball of rage and misanthropy and lose my mind over a piece of junk mail or unwanted eye contact. I fall apart and then start all over again, building lists and goals and structure. I’m always going to be better, faster, smarter, stronger this time. It’s a lifetime cycle of reconfiguring and redefining. But I’m older and slightly wiser now. I see the diminishing and exhausting returns and it is a model that is no longer working for me.

So I’m letting myself sit here for a bit longer – no clearly defined goals, no hurrying from one canstockphoto0506045task to the next, no answering until I’m ready.Β  It’s a living meditation, allowing thoughts to pass through, doing tasks that require my presence, but not my focus. I stood at the kitchen window for half an hour this morning watching the birds at the feeder. It’s been a long time since I’ve stood still and observed life around me.

The other morning, I sat down and peeled an orange for breakfast. This seemed like the height of luxury. How quickly, over the years, had I turned breakfast into a necessity so I wouldn’t pass out mid-morning. I would inhale my instant oatmeal or yogurt on the way to another chore. But an orange – that takes time and effort. It was a sweet, slow moment.

It’s hard to be nothing in a world that is constantly striving. I mean this in the context of the party or gathering. What do you do? I’m a writer. Oh, what do you write? Now, at this point I’m tempted to say: Movie scripts for stuffed animal snuff films or stories about my imaginary friends (too close to the truth).

It’s hard not to be defensive, even with the most innocuous questions. Because I haven’t been writing much, either. I’d really like to say nothing with a smile on my face. Instead I mutter something about being in transition and then pretend I’m a piece of furniture in the corner. I’m trying not to be something just for the sake of a good answer.

The other side of the coin is the tremendous sense of guilt. I grew up poor and hardworking. Since the age of 10, delivering newspapers, I’ve rarely been unemployed. And I’ve taken every shitty job on the planet to ensure that I could carry my own. Waste water treatment plant operator? Check. Truck stop waitress? Check. Hotel laundry, cook, corn detasseler (any Iowan will know this one), medical records review (oh, the pictures!), telemarketer and so on.

It’s only been over the last decade or so that I’ve worked cushy office jobs (cushy as in I did not need to wear a hazmat suit or a paper hat at my desk). So what now? Am I a kept woman? Am I in danger of making a mockery of hardworking housewives everywhere with my lackadaisical interest? The panic sets it – the anxiety rolls over me. Breathe, damn it.

And that’s what it comes down to – allowing myself a little room to breathe. What does life on the other side look like to me? What do I wantcanstockphoto9600941 to keep? What do I shed? What am I passionate about? What do I need to do to feel relevant and useful? It is yet another luxury to have time to not only ask, but to think about the answers to these questions. Until I figure it out, I’ll be here, eating oranges and watching the birds.

39 Comments on “Goal Disoriented

  1. Your words resonate with me, for sure. I’ve been in this place you have described so well more than a few times. The lull between, the conflicted emotions, the sense of having to fall completely apart in order to rebuild. And then a door opens and I walk through to the next stage of my life. But you know what is so hard? Even though I’ve had this experience before, I can never be sure that the door will open again or how to get it open. So much of this process dwells in mystery. But peeling oranges slowly and watching birds at the feeder (to say nothing of endless Netflix watching which has to improve a writer’s mind eventually) have to be steps in the right direction.

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    • Since I’m an impatient person, I’ve either built the door or knocked a hole in the wall. The difference this time is I am trying to see what unfolds – going against my nature to constantly make things happen. I have some sense of curiosity about what kind of writer and person I will be without my usual “to do” list.
      The dilemma you describe of never being sure the door will open again has to be the most common stages of a creative person’s life. And maybe that anxiety is really part and parcel of the process. Who knows? You are right to say that much of it dwells in mystery. I need to leave some room for that mystery, instead of demanding that I know everything right now. We’ll see how long I last before I lose my mind!

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  2. Good for you! Having done something similar myself I can tell you there is no danger you will become a sloth. So enjoy it. It is good for you.

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    • That really is a fear for me – no joke! I am secretly afraid that I’ll end up on some reality show for having devolved into gelatinous pile of sloth-dom. There is always fear when a control freak decides to let a few things go. I just have to ride it out! Did you go through a similar phase when deciding to make a life change?

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      • I know, that’s why I said you have nothing to fear. I did it when we decided to close our agency. I realized the world wouldn’t be a better place if my ads helped IBM sell another computer or Chrysler sell another car. I just couldn’t do it any more. I wanted to concentrate on writing and was willing to support myself as a freelance writer/strategic consultant but on my terms. I would only work for clients I enjoyed on projects where I could add value. I wanted some balance in my life. This happened not long after my mother died. I had no idea how exhausted I was, mentally, physically and emotionally, until I stopped. I took a trip to India and came back a changed person in some ways. I decided to follow my heart. And the first day I didn’t have to go to an office any more I suddenly realized I had no energy or desire to do anything. I listened to my body and mind and my soul and I lounged and read and watched movies and day dreamed and went for long walks and did pilates and restorative yoga and gave my brain and my body a rest. I just gave into it. And one day I just turned the TV off and turned my computer on. I think it is a very healthy thing to do.

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        • I hope so. You mentioned the restorative things, which I am also trying to do in between bouts of sheer lethargy. I started sleeping better and my attention span is getting longer. I’m just not willing to be busy right now, but I know that leading a creative life that pays is going to require a lot of work. Maybe knowing that means I’m gathering strength now. I can rationalize just about anything!

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        • I think you are gathering strength. And clearing your mind. Probably de-toxing too. Easier said than done, I know, but you have to let go of the fear and the guilt. You are entitled to pursue your dream.

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  3. I am sort of in the same place right now, but for different reasons. It’s been almost two months, and I’m just now beginning to feel refreshed and recharged. Not getting up at the crack of dawn to go to work feels decadent even though it’s because I’m unable to work at the moment. And when I retire for real in February, I’ll have had lots of practice.

    Only you can know what’s right for you, so don’t sweat it, and go at your own pace.

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    • Decadent is a good word for how it feels. I imagine for you, it’s exactly what you need. Although, it may be what I need as well, regardless of the reason. I was thinking about how having time to observe details is critical to being able to write details. My first novel was bereft of descriptive detail but barreled ahead on the plot alone (novel as life?). This respite might be what I need as a writer as well. I do know that I never want to live my life juggling at a frenetic pace again.

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  4. Oh my goodness, Michelle… I could have written this about myself, but not as well. You so eloquently describe what I feel when I am “in transition” (as I also am now). I also grew up poor and hardworking and I think that has a lot to do with who I am (and you, too?).

    When I am not feeling productive enough, my internal dialogue is one of constant degradation. I tell myself what a piece of crap I am until I believe it and just want to crawl into a hole. I thought “THE BIG C” would free me from these feelings and this self-deprecation and self-loathing. Sometimes I pretend it has. But it has not.

    Hmm, how do I end this comment on a positive note? Haha, don’t think I can without scrapping it altogether. πŸ™‚ Just want you to know you are not alone. Not at all! And I think you should be proud of who you are. And I agree with Fransi and the other commenters above — try to enjoy the transition period. You deserve it. And everything will be okay.

    I’m off to peel an orange! Big Hugs xx

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    • I know it is intellectually easy to say “don’t be so hard on yourself”, but it’s hard to change a lifetime of habitual thoughts. You have wrecked any illusions I might have believed that life-threatening illness might give one clearer vision. But we are who we are, regardless of circumstances. On the other hand, if we imagined saying the things we say to ourselves to a friend instead, it is pretty jarring. And there’s no reason not to treat yourself more kindly in this moment. You have enough on your plate. Enjoy an orange, read a good book, rest a little longer. And now, I should take some of that advice myself…

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      • I’m sorry for shattering your illusions about life-threatening illness! I’m sure for some people, cancer is enough to make one treat oneself better. But I just haven’t been able to shake a lifetime of conditioning and low, low self esteem. You are so right, we are who we are. And I agree completely with your statement that if we imagined saying the things we say to ourselves to a friend instead, it would be jarring. If only we could be as kind to ourselves as we are to others!

        Yes, you should take your own advice! I’ll try if you will! πŸ˜‰ I hope you can learn to be kind to yourself & to take the time you need without feeling guilty. You deserve at least this much!!

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  5. Terrific write and wonderful comments. There were so many places where I found myself thinking, “That’s me! I do that!” or smiling at the familiar feelings and transitions. I’m not from another planet, after all. Thanks πŸ™‚

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    • Thank you for reading and commenting. That’s one of the great benefits of having a blog – I am always reminded how universal our experiences and feelings are – it’s always nice to know that we’re not alone!

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  6. I think you’re just in the right place. Three years ago one of my friends did very much the same thing, although she’s into visual art. Last month she told me that it took her about two years to completely let go of all the “other stuff” so that her creativity could flow. Now it’s like opening a faucet and it all pours out (her words), she produces amazing art and is doing really well. AND she’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her.

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    • I think in my heart of hearts, I know I’m headed in the right direction. It’s just a meandering way of getting there. I feel like I need to clear so many energy-sucking things from my mental landscape in order to have a clear vision of where I’m going. Thanks for sharing your friend’s story – I love hearing about artists who find their way!

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  7. I did what you are doing about three years ago – quit my job, etc. I love the flexibility of making my own schedule. But I do have to remain focused and motivated or slide into the decadence of wasting too much time. I purposely always have a couple of deadlines to help me remain on track. But do not be too hard on yourself – enjoy the down time and when you are ready to plunge ahead, you will be great!

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    • I will definitely have to come up with goals at some point, along with structure and deadlines. The trick for me is to not become so rigid as to stifle a creative life – I have a lot to learn yet. Which is, in itself, a delightful discovery. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  8. I’m thinking as I read the post that I could comment that I could identify with most of what you said. Then I read the comments and figured out that line was well taken. Fascinating to see so much common ground. Here’s a few things that I learned, I am learning or I am relearning. Decompressing takes a surprising amount of time. Being honest with the dreaded question of what are you doing is the simplest and least painful way to respond in the long run. There is no utopian steady state since life is a journey that is constantly changing and evolving so I need to accept that. It’s actually hard to really live in the moment (with or without oranges or birds). All the things I’m learning seem to point that there really is nothing new under the sun or maybe it’s that the simple things really aren’t that simple for me.

    It sounds like you’ve worked your way through a lot in a short few weeks. Breathing is good.

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    • I think you’re right, Lyle, when it comes to decompressing taking a lot of time – or at least more time than one expects. As simple as things can sound, each person has to find their own way to those universal, core lessons in order to really learn them. I find myself having to relearn basic ideas over and over in terms of choices and balance. I have structure and discipline as part of my core, but balance, compassion (for self and others) and patience are lessons I return to repeatedly. Being results-oriented, I have to really work to enjoy the process and the journey, since that is where most of our time is spent.

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  9. I think that this is what I’ll go through when I finally retire. Though I long to quit the job and have my days back, I’m a little worried about the day after my last day at work. It helped to read your post and the comments. Productive people feel at a loss when everything comes to a halt. I have a few years to wrap my head around a life away from the job I have, but I know enough to start getting ready for it.

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    • The kind of productivity I need to learn how to implement now is so inherently different from what I’ve done in the past. It actually requires some mental free association time in order to do the kind of writing I’d like to do. It’s uncomfortable and I feel anxious, but I sense that I’m on the right path and that if I let things unfold, I’ll re-orient myself and find my way. Or at least that is what I’m telling myself until I get it figured out! Time does take on a whole different meaning, though, when one is not constantly scheduled. I’m enjoying that quite a bit.

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  10. I like how you say it’s hard to be “nothing.” In doing the hardest things – being yourself – we find what we value. I think when we make our job or our kids *who* we are it’s easier to relate to society, but not ourselves. Enjoy the oranges and the birds — worthy moments of mindfulness and acceptance.

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    • People are always more comfortable with labels, categories, job titles. It really speaks to my own discomfort of not feeling like enough to just be honest and say “I don’t really know, but this is what I’d like to be…”. I feel hungry for mindfulness, for things to slow down, to just stand still – even though I feel the urge to go, go, go.

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      • ‘Hungry for mindfulness’ is probably how most of society feels. Enjoying and slowly savoring your orange may help. It sounds like you are already on your way given how insightful and aware you are of how you feel.

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  11. Thank you for sharing – it brought back memories of 8 years ago when I made a conscious choice to leave the “corporate world” to do my own thing…and the time it took to transition to that new reality. Give yourself patience & space to adjust – we are so programmed to go one way that we need to honour the time required to ‘de-program’ to move into the other…I now can’t even imagine going back to that old life πŸ™‚

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    • It is a luxury to be able to make that conscious choice and I feel a sense of responsibility to run with it, but deprogramming is definitely needed! Thanks for sharing your experience – always good to hear a no regrets story!

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  12. Yaay! The only way to do it different is to do it different. It will be the hardest not-doing you’ve every done.

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  13. While this time period sounds like it’s confusing and murky, most new waters are. Considering you’ve spent most of your life busy, working hard, etc., hell, you deserve that Netflix time! You deserve to take an hour to peel an orange and enjoy breakfast without a morning commute. While this new life may feel strange now, I have a feeling you’ll grow into it and flourish once again. Rooting for you!

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  14. I am so here with you – former workaholic who finds herself lost now there isn’t a job to go to…. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. πŸ™‚

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  15. Hi.just read your blog. I’m 23 and i think im going through the same process. Im a very active individual, i have joined almost any activity at school and really challenged myself to do much better. Until i had my first job. I enjoy my job but part of me thinks that im enjoying the wrong things. I feel like I am being motivated with things that dont give much self worth. My world got smaller. I feel like im losing greater opportunities. I have said a lot of times that i would quit but things just dont fall into that idea… maybe because i always tell myself things like “this is just normal”, “give it a chance”, “it will happen soon”, and i end up still working at the same job. But i know i dont give it my best shot. I want a new environment. An environment wherein things would not be that easy but everyone gives you a room for mistakes and a room to learn from your mistakes. Im searching for it and im praying for it…

    When your thinking too much about complicated things you learn to appreciate the simple ones. πŸ™‚

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    • I was going to comment that being 23 is a nice age to contemplate “what do I really want to do?”, but I’m not sure if that comes across as patronizing. It took me a couple of extra decades to do that, so you’re ahead of the game! I have tendency to hang in there far longer than I should, staying in situations or jobs that aren’t the best options for me. It’s really a tough call, determining how much time you should you should give to something before trying something new.
      It’s hard to step back and figure out if the situation is something that you personally can improve or if it is systemically not able to bring out your best skills or attitude. Sometimes being analytical about it helps. Are the people around you happy and/or feeling successful? Is there room for growth and learning? What do you like best about it or least about it? Sometimes it’s hard to make the right choice, but I figure that if I have a lot of doubt, standing still rarely makes the situation better.
      Good luck as you explore your choices and options. Thanks, too, for reading and commenting!

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