I’m going through a huge change in my career this month, and even though it’s a good change in every way, it’s triggered a mental inventory of all the things I’ve done wrong over the years and wishing I could go back and tweak my life. After wallowing in that for a few days, I had to admit that there are things I just couldn’t have known until now, or known only in a theoretical way:
1. There will always be a cool crowd that you’re not part of. I’ve felt on the outside a lot of my life, and it was a lonely place to be because I constantly compared myself to the shiny people and always came up lacking. But being on the outside was the exact right place for me to be given my personality and past. Being underestimated and invisible while I did my work was a blessing instead of a handicap.
2. You might not get the relationship you want — ever. Maybe you’ve been wounded too often and too deeply or maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, but it’s a fact of life that there are always going to be men and women who don’t meet their match. The thing I couldn’t accept when I was younger is that you can have a butter-luscious, full-fat life in spite of that if you just allow it. I wish I had realized that when I was battering my heart against elusive men who were all wrong for me. I don’t regret the difficult relationships in my past because love is never wasted, but obsessing about a Happy-Ever-After made me miss so much Right Now.
3. Your calling can break your heart. It’s a rare gift to be driven, to have a passion that sinks its teeth into you and won’t let go until you cry uncle. The magazine I started was my alter ego, my voice in the world, my lover until it became a millstone around my neck. Now that I’m in the process of leaving, I feel weightless but also bereft. I invested so much in being Nikki-Who-Started-Skirt (the way I am ALWAYS introduced–as if that’s the only thing that makes me worth knowing) that I lost of sight of the Nikki who didn’t need props to walk through the world. I started to wonder if that was all I was in the eyes of other people. Who am I without a title or a purpose? Where do I go from here? What will I answer when people ask what I do? Will people still like the me without a title or job? I wish I could have realized that this day would come and been more prepared for it, but you probably can’t prepare yourself for divorcing your calling while you’re still in love with it. The thing I couldn’t have known until now is that you can read all about how growth is the result of change, but being between the past me and the future me is like being stuck in the birth canal. I need to be both the baby and the forceps and launch myself into some brave new world.
What I think about more and more is how our lives are all about unfolding from one stage of growth into another, world without end. How apt is it that the tattoo I got on my wrist 10 years ago is based on the koru, a Maori symbol of unfolding and creation? I thought I would reach this age and be content with my life, that all the striving, angst and self-doubt would be over. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m just failing in new and improved ways. I still have a passion to create something. I’m still searching for the meaning in life. I’m still in the process of becoming. I’m doing 70, and I hope it will be a hell of a ride.
[Painting by Matt Overend, which hangs in my house to remind me of the outer journey as my tattoo does of the inner journey]