on feeling lost + writing your way back

We are taught that when we’re young there is so much possibility. You spent your whole life wanting to be older, desperate to be legal, to be an adult, to get out, and when you finally get to the age you desire, you pause, turn every which way, and wonder if this is actually it. {The bills, cramped apartments, roommates and their nocturnal habits, visions of stapling things to employer’s heads, money and how there’s never enough of it, the bone-crushing commute — we wanted this?} If all the rushing to get out of your childhood, out of the house was worth this, shouldn’t we have enjoyed all the days that came before, more? Shouldn’t we have wanted to linger in bed a little longer, cling to the days a little harder?

Why is it always that the young race to press time forward to only find that we spend our whole adult life trying to rewind the clock back? I wonder about the age when we’re actually present, 25, 26? Does this age actually exist, or are we forever oscillating from one extreme to the other — the provenance that comes with being being older or the magic in climbing our way back to childhood?

If we set aside the talk of generation, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think of work, of a singular vocation that promised prosperity. Born in the halcyon 70s, raised in the greed-stricken 80s, our plan was written right out of the womb: college, job, marriage, kids, house, retirement — in that order. While girls were giggling about condoms in grade school, I clung to my books {yes, I lugged around a backpack of at least six library books} and even asked the janitor at my elementary school to let me in early so I could study. My “sex” talk consisted of my mother telling me that sex got you pregnant or “VD,” and pregnant women don’t go to college. In retrospect, I find it at turns amusing and sad that my first idea of sex, an act of pleasure and love, was inextricably tied to punishment. So I kept to myself, kept away from the boys, and worked.

When my childhood consisted of summers subsisting on a bag of potatoes and a stick of butter, it’s no wonder that I saw money as the salve to every ache and need. In college, I remember watching Wall Street, pointing to the screen and saying, I want that. I want Wall Street. For the whole of my life, I operated under two masks: a woman whose sole purpose was to procure a job that would pay vast sums of money, and a woman who wrote.

So I got my fancy job at a merchant bank {right when Glass-Steagall was being repealed}, got recruited by an even fancier investment bank, and I finally made this money, finally had the DSPP, ESPP, and every money-related acronym you could imagine, but I was miserable. I worked through school, endured countless accounting and finance classes in college when I could have been reading books, for THIS. FOR THIS. To wear suits that fell just below the knee and crunch numbers in a spreadsheet all day. To this day, I hate Microsoft Excel.

While employed, I applied to MFA programs because I was curious if this other half of me, this writer, was someone worth meeting. When I resigned, my managing directors were baffled. First, they thought MFA was a finance degree of some sort {these are the same people who penned my letters of recommendation} and more horrifying was this: writers don’t make money.

Felicia, writers don’t make money, they said.

I was 24, and thought I had been found. I spent the next decade trying to reconcile my two selves: the writer and the person who found herself becoming fond of marketing. While it’s true that writing won’t pay my enormous amount of graduate loan debt, I never thought I’d like marketing as much as I did. Back then I saw it as another way to tell a story. And while I couldn’t use literary allusions or devices, telling brand stories comes with its own kind of, eh-hem, creativity.

Then I found a job I thought I loved, and after nearly four years, I left it in pursuit of something other. I’m 38 now and my generation was taught that we were supposed to stick to the plan. We were supposed to tick off those markers of achievement and retreat quietly into the dark. But I’m 38 and I don’t want to go quietly. I don’t want children. I don’t want to wake to the same tedium every day. While I’m privileged in the sense that I can return to a company and do the sort of thing I’d been doing for the past four years, the very idea of it breaks my heart. I can already see the atrophy, the signs of decay. It took me a year after having resigned from my last job to write, read, and see again.

When I left the idea of financial security and comfort last year, I felt triumphant. And then I was so terribly lost. But I had rent and bills to pay, so I took on projects while I navigated through this forest of my own making, simply because up until now I never asked myself the simple question: what do you want to do? Instead, I did what was expected, what I thought I should be doing as an unmarried woman at 38. It’s easy for me to create organizational staff and growth plans. It’s easy for me to look at a brand and determine what the story the brand should tell, how and where they should tell it. The things that are often difficult for others come easy to me, but that knowledge doesn’t necessarily make me happy. Just because I’m good at what I do doesn’t mean I’m meant to do it.

Last week I sat down with my accountant, who’s known me for the greater part of a decade. He handed me my returns and I noticed my vocation, for the past decade, remained unchanged. It read: Writer. I tried to correct my accountant, every year, without fail, that I’m not a writer. I’m a marketer, I’m a consultant, I’m a partner in a company, to which he responded without emotion or doubt, You’re a writer.

While under the covers recovering from a horrible flu, I gave this some thought and realized that over the past year I’ve done an extreme amount of writing: on this space and for others. The writing took on various forms: a novel, a marketing plan, an organizational roadmap, a blog post, a cookbook review. I’ve shifted styles, forms and voices, but this year I’ve done nothing short of create and compose using words.

Right now, I’m not aching to be young and I’m certainly not racing to the casket, I’m determined to be present in every moment I’m living my life, even if the days living it are sometimes difficult to bear. As I type this, I’m still wrapping my head around the word writer, and how many ways in which I can define and redefine it.

So, I’m feeling a little less lost.

Lately, I’ve read some tremendous pieces that have brought my days a little more light, wonder and encouragement:

My dear friend Alex gets real about what it means to be a freelancer | A tremendous piece on being at the crossroads of a “Should” and “Must” life | This podcast really made me think about pausing before I speak, and the power of chosing words wisely | Two terrific blog posts on navigating being lost {kindred spirits} | Some common sense reality as it relates to loving what you do for a living.

{Image, via}

freelance life + careers