I'd zone out while washing my hands, fixated on this line of text, trying to sort it out. It felt profound but beyond my grasp. When I asked my mom where the placard came from, she told me that when she and my dad were first married, they moved to Kansas for his job as a flight instructor. During that time, mom (who had a nursing background) worked in a psychiatric ward, pouring her big beautiful heart and boundless energy into patients with various forms of dementia. She made a connection with one of them. The placard was a gift from his mother.
I'm so proud of mom for that - she connected with someone who may have been virtually unreachable to most everyone else in the world. And I love that she kept the placard out by the kitchen sink as a daily reminder even years later, after four children, a divorce, a new marriage, many moves and several career changes. Because it's stuck with me my whole life, though I never figured out what it meant to me, until today. What on earth does it mean to bind yourself to yourself?
I've always worked with love - a passion for what I do and for the people around me - but I never paid much attention to developing a bond with myself. I just wanted to please everyone else. I got addicted to winning the approval of my peers and my clients.
I thought I was living for me, because I was doing what I wanted from a career standpoint: using my creative skills to make a living. But I realize now I've always looked to be defined by my job, when really it's supposed to be the other way around. Whether I was a copywriter or owning my own flower shop, I had a tendency to look outward for guidance or recognition, worrying if my copy was cool enough, if I was being judged for overuse of em dashes or ellipses, or if my floral designs and branding were "authentic" enough to get me more instagram followers than my competitors. Oh man did I have it wrong!
It's exhausting to live that way because you're just treading water - there's nothing solid to stand on without a real interior core. I feel like lots of young people get caught up in this situation - especially with social media's influence on literally everything we do today. It's so easy to get swept away with the spiral of superfluous crap and opinions swirling around us, that we forget to plant our feet and look back in on ourselves for direction.
But luckily, when we need it, life seems to have a way of hitting us upside the head with lessons we can't ignore. In my case, it was a veritable tidal wave of changes that crashed down on me at 34, leaving me with an annoying and unexpected clean slate when it came to my career, my relationships, where I was living...just about everything. I remember visiting my parents in Oregon soon after the dust had settled, feeling pretty shell shocked.
On a walk one morning I told them I felt like I used to be a building which had once stood tall and impressive, but which had been demolished by some sort of sudden and terrible explosion. Now I was just a pile of possibilities in a rubble heap, ready to rebuild but not knowing how tall I wanted to be, what color to paint my walls, whether I was Scandinavian design or French Country. They said that sounded exciting, but to me it sounded infuriating. I thought I had it figured out before, now I had to start all over from the foundation up? Ugh.
Finally this September I got fed up with myself and listened to my gut. It wasn't giving me any clear destination, but it was telling me there's a journey yet to take. So I quit my job in flowers and did my best to steel myself against the uncertainty and instability of setting off without a clearly mapped out path. I took a deep breath, plugged my nose and plunged below the surface stuff. I stopped looking to Instagram and Facebook for validation, I shut out all the noise of everybody else's suggestions and judgments, and sat still for a few days with my inner radar on full alert.
And I'll be god damned if just recently, at 36 years old (does it always take this long, or is it just me? Ha!) I am finally coming into my own, loving myself and my actions with abandon. Binding myself to myself.
Suddenly I'm doing all kinds of different writing jobs, taking steps out onto different rocks, timid at first but with steadily increasing confidence, to see what's over the next hill. I'm learning so much about myself and the more I learn and the more I love, the better my work is getting and the more possibilities are opening up to me. I'm connecting with new people and reconnecting with peers from both the advertising and wedding industries, in ways that are fresh, exciting, and making me fall in love with my two creative passions more deeply than I ever thought possible.
It's pretty fucking fantastic.
I've had this blog post rattling around in my head for weeks now, sometimes feeling so lucky and alive that I almost want to cry. But I haven't been able to crystallize these big emotions into concise tidbits and, judging by the length of this post, I still haven't succeeded. Whoops. That's okay though...it's a work in progress and I truly am loving the progress. That's the whole point of all this, isn't it?
I'm not sure what brought the memory of my mom's placard back into my head, but it happened this morning while I was out on a walk with my dog Flint, just out of thin air. It was the one thread I needed to start connecting all of these big, delicious breadcrumbs on my new path.
When I got home from the walk I Googled the placard's inscription for the first time ever. Turns out it's a quote from a work by a turn-of-the-century Lebanese writer named Khalil Gibran. In its entirety, the quote means even more to me at this huge point in my life: