Comedian Louis CK has a bit where he talks about boarding a plane, taking his seat in first class, and then seeing a soldier come in the door and head back to coach. He thinks about giving up his seat to the poor grunt who has probably never once in his life sat in first class. In the end, Louis CK does not actually give up his seat, but he does give himself credit for even having the idea. “Wow. I am such a good person to think about giving up my wide cushy seat like that.”
Lately I have been thinking much about follow-through. I am increasingly convinced that follow-through is the single most important thing there is. Like Louis CK, I have spent a lifetime giving myself credit for my good ideas, and, like Louis CK, I generally shouldn’t. I have not written the novels I planned out, I have not written the parenting book I have in me, I do not start my day with 20 minutes of meditation each morning, I don’t put things where they go when I am done with them, I don’t volunteer in the local soup kitchen, and I certainly don’t commit myself wholly to each conversation I find myself in, even though I DO give myself lots of credit for wanting to do these things.
It has become entirely too clear to me that the only real yardstick I can use from this day forward is “doing” rather than “intending.” There are plenty of realms where one’s intent matters a lot—in fact, intent can sometimes be the difference between jail time and exoneration or between sympathy and derision. But, now that I am almost 47 and I have already spent 20+ years in a career, I can no longer go day to day feeling somehow buoyed by all the great things I intended to do. As my grandpa once said, “it’s time to fish or get off the pot.”
This move has really thrown me for a loop. The place I loved to work for eight years is gone from my life and nothing has risen up to fill the void. I have been denying the truth of how important writing is to me for a while and it hit me fully today that writing just might be the thing that becomes the center of my days and my self-worth. It’s what I like to do, it’s what I have always daydreamed about, and it is the thing I envy most in my friends who have succeeded as writers. Building a career as a writer is not something that is going to happen TO me. I need to be at the center, pushing things, getting active, and MAKING it happen. I need to be willing to fail over and over and I am finally ready to do that.
As long as I never actually gave it a try—as long as writing was something I would do in the future—there was no real cost. There was no possibility of failure. Well, it is time for me to quit living in fear of failure and to start doing all the things I have given myself credit for over the years.
The list of things I have always credited myself for is pretty short: writing, volunteering, really connecting with people. The actual amount of time I have spent doing these things is even shorter. I always push the actual start date of my commitment to these things back to some near-but-as-yet-undetermined day. Well, finally this morning I have decided to call “Bullshit” on myself for once and for all and to start doing the things I have already felt good about intending to do for years. To mark the occasion I found several job postings for freelance writers and I have applied to them this morning. I have written this blog post. I have begun to research volunteer possibilities in Ithaca. And I am going to have some actual conversations with people near me today—about things other than the Orioles and politics.
Do me a favor? If you run into me in the next month or two, hold my feet to the fire--ask me how the writing is going.