So many are in transition right now, the groping in-between place. I wanted to help you remember that it’s a launch pad, not a black hole, death sentence, or a bad hair day for the rest of your life.
The following is a book excerpt from THIS TIME I DANCE! Creating the Work You Love (How One Harvard Lawyer Left It All to Have It All!) by Tama J. Kieves (www.ThisTimeIDance.com)
When I first dropped out of my lawyer life, I sometimes walked downtown on weekdays like some wayward ghost haunting a former territory. I’d stare at the office high-rises with fountains gushing in plazas and geometric murals in cool lobbies. Then I’d gaze in the windows of trendy boutiques dangling smart black leather bags, silk shirts, tweed blazers, the fashion of validity. I found myself envious of the women, like the woman I used to be, who could sit at outdoor cafes sipping iced tea in the easy security of a crowd just like them. They ate Cobb salads, wore linen suits, and consulted their bulky daytimers just bulging with appointments. After lunch, they rushed back to meetings, matters, and materiality, smart black leather bags by their side.
Meanwhile, I walked, invisible, past sidewalk vendors and lawyers, accountants, and secretaries in line for automated bank machines. After lunch hour, the streets would begin to thin out, the remains of life still tingling in the air. I’d find myself missing what I hated, only because that bustle and busyness felt substantial and I did not. I didn’t want to practice law. And I didn’t want to return to the sleek oppression of an office on the thirtieth floor. Yet I longed for the coherence of a world. I wanted places to go and hats to wear and the easy well being of knowing just where you belonged. Dangling on the sidelines, I longed for a part in the play.
Just months before, I’d had a business card, letterhead, people who recognized me in the mirrored elevator, and a set of circumstances that met with immediate acceptability instead of eyebrows raised, throats cleared, and, usually, poor advice offered. In contrast, my new transition status attracted interrogations, opinions, advice, jealousy, distaste, and lots of face-scrunching, strained looks. I so wished I’d had a word or term that could have passed for an identity. “I’m a creative entrepreneur, an explorer, a dabbler.” I would have given anything for a pigeonhole to hide in instead of parading my great, big, wide-open soul—or this silent, default characterization: “I’m a screw up.” “ I’m a lost soul.”
For example, I remember standing around at a former colleague’s baby shower, of course in her newly remodeled, gawk-worthy home with her happy, rich husband and all their well-appointed friends. Like always, the inevitable nightmare question came up, either as, “So what are you doing now?” or “What do you do for a living?” My face would turn plum and my fingers would strum my sweater, as I’d aim for some slick reply and end up sounding like a flower child gone to seed. There I’d go, babbling about Buddhism’s theory of right livelihood, how Joseph Campbell trusted the universe, how this society just didn’t get artists, and what my therapist thought of me and my relationship to my critical father figure this week. Just a little more than anyone at a baby shower ever wanted to know.
Conversations about careers often degenerated that way. The more I tried to convince someone how sane and evolved I was, or how safe and loving my journey, the more we both felt like I was flying in a balloon created from chicken feathers and finger paint. My free-flowing, see-what-happens career plan all made so much sense until I offered it in defense. Then the psychic glue came undone and so did my tongue. Everyone stared at the bean dip.
So I learned the hard way, the embarrassing, painful, sheepish way, to shut up, eat more olives, stop going to parties and stop trying to explain an inexplicable, soul-filled odyssey in an eat- some-peanuts-and-have-some-small-talk kind of way. At this amazing point in my life, I did not have an identity or role. I had a gap in my life that was just plain off the map, and it actually felt better when I didn’t try to cover it up like a great big stain on the rug. It was there. I was there. And I was definitely out there, in process land, the territory between safe places.
Many of us don’t seem to know what to do with ourselves when we’re in process. It’s almost like we see process as failure instead of promise. It will be like this for you perhaps. It’s like everyone else out there is walking around like a finished product while meanwhile our Jell-O hasn’t jelled, and we haven’t even found one of those tinny molds of a dolphin or a rose to hold us. But that’s okay because Jell-O without a mold is Jell-O genesis that can become absolutely any Jell-O creation it wants to be.
And gradually process became a good thing, a desirable thing, even an enviable position. Because I came to the realization that, while I no longer had a label, I did have a ticket, a ticket to anywhere I wanted to go with my life. I didn’t just have a blank hole on my resume. I had a blank canvas. I could say yes to any desire, dance partner, sunbeam, hope, heartthrob, divine invitation, or adventure that crossed my path. Something would come. And meanwhile, I stood in an open field with all the stars above my head and my brazen arms wide open, unconditional, and I knew that I stood in exactly the right place where magic could find me. My vulnerability was the secret to my flexibility, and flexibility meant that I could move like tumbleweed on the wings of a heaven-sent wind. That wind would blow. And meanwhile, I stood stripped of former commitments, poised to flow.
So it’s up to you how you see this time. You are either on the verge of an adventure that will lead to gleaming paths that materialize beneath your feet or you’re lost and just too damn old for this kind of precariousness and uncertainty. You can tingle with anticipation or anxiety. Either way, you’re probably in for some tingling, some reshaping of your energy. If you choose to embrace your process instead of fight it, it’s less likely to throw you from one side of the room to the other.
Trade in that label for a ticket. One explains you properly and makes you a perfectly conventional guest at a cocktail party. The other is the price of admission to a dance of no regret and no turning back. Sure, the place between places is awkward and different and people may look at you funny. But freedom always enters ordinary rooms flaunting exotic robes.
These days, I’ll take inspiration over definition any day of the week. And someday soon, I will find the nerve to answer, “What do you do for a living?” with the simple reply, “I live.”
Maybe you will, too.