thriving beyond the cubicle or kitchen

In my first post for this blog, I wrote about following whims.

I felt nervous about this because “whim” sounded too light for the things I contemplated at the time:  concluding my 15-year teaching career without any other plan or idea in place, for example.

Every new career I named deflated when I said it aloud.  I realize now that this happened because what I said aloud wasn’t what I really wanted to do; it just sounded like the realistic option.  Fear keeps me from admitting what I really want to do or taking it seriously — it’s just a whim.

Then, while reading through Facebook one day, I read a post from Diana Abu-Jaber a writer I admire (especially Crescent and Birds of Paradise).  She said:

… came across this old letter from Spalding Gray telling me “you will get no richer & end with regret if you don’t act on these impulses.”

Aren’t whims and impulses irresponsible? Or are we really good at relegating our dreams and creativity to the category of “whim,” as in: I’ll get to it when I retire; or, when I have time; or, if only I had time …

You’ve heard that compelling question — if you knew you would not fail, what would you do with your life?

Although thought-provoking, the question bugs me because I’ve yet to meet anyone who can guarantee that I won’t fail.  It’s like how I tried to learn to long-board a couple of years ago.  I quickly realized that if I wanted to really learn how to do this, I would fall.  I would fall more than once. I feared dropping my 40-year-old bones on hard concrete more than I liked the woosh of rumbling on four small wheels. I didn’t want it enough to risk injury.

Whims and impulses mean risk, not irresponsibility.

In the novel Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, a rebel general listens to one of his young soldiers discover that he has a spellbinding singing voice.  The general says:

“It makes you wonder. All the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how.”

I’ve always loved this because the structure of the sentence suggests that we already have talents and skills — we already have the skills to sing or sew, convince or persuade –we simply don’t yet know what we know.  We haven’t yet suspected that we can sing, paint, manage, direct, or thrive beyond our cubicle or kitchen.

What are all the brilliant things you would do with your life if only you suspected you knew how?  What might you already know how to do but you just haven’t realized it yet?


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8 Responses to thriving beyond the cubicle or kitchen

  1. Laurene says:

    I just saw a quote that said–don’t listen to others’ opinions because only you know what you’re capable of. And that, I think, is only true if we are willing to find out.

    • TRISTA says:

      I like this quote. It makes me realize once again how lucky I am — friends, colleagues, and family keep telling me what I am capable of, and it’s so lovely! They have such faith in me, and I think their confidence is finally starting to rub off onto me. Because I’m so hesitant to believe I am capable of “brilliance,” I can imagine just how deeply damaging a negative statement from someone I respect could be.

      Although, I also discussed this once with a group of students, survivor students, ones recovering from poverty, addiction, and abuse. THEY said “bring it” when we discussed negative comments about them because that judgement inspired them to work harder and to prove everyone wrong. I admire that kind of fight and determination.

      Thanks for reading, Laurene!

  2. jaimerwood says:

    The quotes you shared in this post were incredibly moving…moved me to tears. Maybe because I feel like I’m in a place of transition right now, unsure of where I’m going next. This question in particular got me: “if you knew you would not fail, what would you do with your life?” The thing I thought was, not living is really the only failure, not trying at least. Who can be blamed for falling down, for moving toward newness in ignorance? It’s all we can do really. Great post, Trista!

  3. Kristin says:

    If you are following your dreams, how can you fail? There is no failure only learning, growing, developing. Follow your dreams, your soul, your heart, your guts, your instincts. If you trust them, they will guide you.

  4. Rose L. says:

    Gosh, my “whim” is to make photography my job as I so enjoy it. But quitting my present one, which is reliable income, is too scary. What if no one buys my stuff? How would I get started? How could I afford the “dive” into it? Would it break me if I failed (emotionally, spiritually and financially)? Oh, I do sell some here and there but not enough to live on it! And another “whim” is to have people want my poetry. Many I know say they like it but would they pay? I do not think very many make a good income just with their poetry–Robert Service may be the only successful one.

    • tristac says:

      THAT’S the enormous frustration — how to do what you love and still pay the bills. And, trying to make money from what we love (selling your photos for example) risks taking the joy out of it if it becomes all business. There’s got to be a “sweet spot,” however. We’ll find it!

      • Rose L. says:

        Yea, it is frustrating. Maybe when I am settled after my home sells I can ponder ideas. I have a hard time handling more than one big project at a time!

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