If you can create if from here, what do you want?
I still remember the day the manuscript hit my inbox. It was a personal reflection article on postpartum depression for an issue of my organization’s quarterly newsletter, and one section in particular jolted me out of my post-divorce stupor.
Some days I felt full of rage.
Like a caged animal prowling around the house,
the walls pressing on me to keep me in.
“This isn’t the life I ever thought I would be living.”
“I never wanted this.”
“So what do you want?
If you can create it from here, what do you want?”
After divorce, I raged at the universe. I never wanted to be a single mom. I never expected to lose my life partner. None of it was part of the plan, and I resented having to start over smack in the middle of one of the most intense phases of motherhood.
What saved me was regathering pieces of my identity that I left behind in my early 20s. I asked myself when I was last happy, and then did the things that I did back then. I did all of the things. I moved back to the beach. I surfed. I danced. I grew my hair out. I dated. I reconnected with old friends.
It took me a while to realize the next step—the part where you accept your reality and commit to rebuilding from the bottom up.
About 18 months into my journey, I realized it was time to demand more from life. It was no longer enough to keep my head above water by clinging to a dead-end job, settling for child care that was just okay, and playing out my same old relationship patterns over and over again.
One day I woke up hard and asked myself, “What do you want?”
When I first tried to answer that question, all I could think was “I don’t know.” Holding onto all the wrong things was blocking me from seeing and creating what’s next. Fear did a number on me. It clouded my mind and sent my thoughts into unproductive cycles. But deep down in the recesses of my soul, I knew what I had to do.
Last summer I made some bold moves. I resigned from my job, I ended a longish-term relationship, and I figured out a way to enroll my kids in a Waldorf-inspired public charter school that I had been eyeing for years. It probably looked a little crazy to spectators, and at first I fell apart all over again as I stared at the glaring blank page of my life.
That is where the magic started to happen—right there at rock bottom.
Gradually, my perspective began to shift. Instead of telling myself “I lost everything,” I started realizing “I can create anything.” It was no longer a mandate. I didn’t have to come up with a new life plan. I had the space and freedom to shape my life into whatever I want.
Find Your Vision
Today I have a pretty good idea of what I’m after in life. My vision includes writing creative nonfiction, living at the beach, raising my children to be good humans, and enjoying authentic, nourishing relationships. Finding my vision took a lot of time, patience, and courage. Here are the practices that helped me and continue to help me along the way.
1. Write a letter from your future self. Sit down with a pen and paper. Imagine it’s five years from now, and write a letter to a close friend, filling them in on what your life is like. Go big and don’t hold back. When your inner critic tries to stop you, keep your pen moving and see what comes. (This exercise is from Writing Through Transitions, which I read as part of a Women Writing for (a) Change course.)
2. Create a soul/vision collage. Gather old magazines and a sheet of poster board. As you flip through the magazines, cut out any pictures and text that resonate with you. When you’re done, make a collage by pasting the images and words onto the poster board. What does your completed project tell you about where you want to go and what you want to draw into your life?
3. Make space for your passion. For me, making space for my passion means writing for an hour every day. In the beginning I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write. After about three months of writing in a stream of consciousness style and working on a memoir outline, the vision for WomanSpeak.org came into being.
A word about accepting limitations and knowing when to act.
It’s super challenging to sort out what’s what while waking up, letting go, and finding your vision. Mental chatter, fear, intuition, and trauma make for a confusing, soupy mess. Here’s my advice for making sense of it all.
1. Be realistic. Don’t turn a blind eye to your practical material needs. You need to know where next month’s rent is coming from. You need to feed and clothe your children. If you don’t already have a Fuck Off Fund, you most likely will need to bide your time before making any big moves.
2. Ask for signs. When you get to the point of being able to make a big move but aren’t sure whether it’s prudent, ask God or the universe for a sign. I know. It’s woo-woo. But it worked for me. Leading up to last summer, the universe gave me multiple signs that it was time to resign from my job. In June, I asked for a very specific sign: if you want me to quit, have my ex husband buy me out of the beach house that we’ve been fighting over for almost 2 years. Within a week it happened.
3. Just do it. Ultimately, you have to jump. I got to the point that I was financially stable and still putting up with a high stress, dysfunctional employment situation. There were a million logical reasons for me to hang on longer. It was like ripping off a bandaid when I finally hit the send button for my resignation letter. And it was absolutely the right thing to do.