So here we are – just you and me, birthday #39.
I tend to get especially pensive at b-day time. I guess that’s not uncommon at the conclusion of one personal year and the beginning of another. Of course, I’m also a very big fan of the examined life – regardless of time of year. I can’t imagine a life lived without intense introspection, questioning, realigning, shifting – all in pursuit of a life lived not just happily (as fairy tales would have it) but with intention, purpose, and above all, authenticity.
I’ve talked a lot about authenticity in this blog, in conversations with many of you, even in last year’s holiday letter. It’s also been an on-fire topic in popular culture, almost to the point of annoyance. Personally, I feel I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on it – coming to understand what’s important to me in this life, what I feel called to do as opposed to what outside influences would like to see me do, what family, friends, religious doctrine, and group associations would likely lay as my path. So lately I’ve been shifting my thinking more to intentions – why do we do what we do? And how pure are the intentions behind our choices and behaviors?
Over the past 12 months, I’ve come across a good deal of questionable intentions that gnaw at me. People who have said, “I just want to make a lot of money and not work that hard.” Or, “I need to make a lot of money so I can pay off all my credit card debt.” Or, “How come <enter any celebrity name here> is famous and I’m not?”
You have no idea how hard it is for me to choke back my judgmental tendencies to keep from responding: “I wouldn’t expect much with such a shitty attitude.”
YECH. I hate the fact that this thought even crosses my mind, so I don’t dare let it cross my lips. But there’s truth to it. When your intentions are fame, fortune, attention, making people like you, and trying to get others to cover the consequences of your past irresponsible behaviors, I gotta tell ya – it’s gonna be a bumpy road.
To some degree, I speak from personal experience. I spent a lot of years (seven, to be exact) locked in a “reward mindset.” (This revelation courtesy of the Greatest Therapist Alive, whose services I “graduated” from after ten painful and expensive but completely life-altering months of serious inner grunt work). This means I spent a lot of time moaning about not being given what I felt I rightly deserved – usually in the form of a healthy romantic relationship – because I had “paid my dues.” I’d been through a divorce! I’d uprooted my life to follow a cherished dream! I’d been courageous and conscientious and done my best and started my own business and made a success of it and lived well on my own in New York City and bought my own home in Seattle and, damn it, I’d proved I could do it ALL BY MYSELF! I’d suffered and martyred and thrown myself upon my sword! WTF! Where was my prize?
I shouldn’t have expected much with such a shitty attitude.
The world doesn’t owe me anything. It doesn’t owe you anything. It doesn’t owe ANYONE anything. There’s something to be said for karma but we can all tick off instances of bad things happening to good people, and good things happening to bad people. This doesn’t mean you can’t hope for things, want for things, ask for things. It just means you need to be honest with yourself about where your intentions lie.
I recently had my natal chart read by a lovely, non-cuckaloo astrologer. During the course of our discussion, she asked if I wanted a romantic relationship in my life. I explained to her that, for the first time – and largely in thanks to the Greatest Therapist Alive – I recently arrived at a place where I’m happy and content on my own, AND also want to share my life with someone. In the past, it was always one or the other – I was “happy” on my own (which, in retrospect, was really false bravado under a layer of bitterness) or I was desperately wanting to be with someone. When I was in the former state, I paid no attention to men and probably gave off full-on “I-don’t-need-you-fuck-off” vibes. And in the latter state, a piece of low-hanging fruit would drop into my lap and – believing this was my “reward” for being “happy on my own” – I’d sink my claws into it and try to force the relationship to be something it wasn’t. When I explained this to the astrologer, she asked, “Have you ever said what you want from a relationship? What this person you’re looking for is like?”
I explained that I’d tip-toed around it and even made some lists of what I wanted in a partner, but that I didn’t think my intentions were in the right place when those lists were drawn up. That was the first time I really grasped the meaning of “intentions” and how loosely engaged mine had been – particularly in the romantic realm – for quite some time. When she asked me to tell her what I wanted in someone, what this person “looked like” (in terms of virtues, not physicality), I got a little sheepish. And nervous.
“I’ve never really said it out loud,” I said.
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because.” I paused as tiny tears teased my eyelids. “I’m afraid that it doesn’t exist – so if I say it out loud and then start really searching for that person, I’ll never find them. Or I don’t REALLY know what’s right for me in a partner, so I’ll say it out loud, which will cause me to put blinders on, and then I’ll totally miss this lovely person.”
My astrologer friend smiled. “And how’s that working for you?”
“It’s not!” I laughed. “For seven years, I’ve been telling myself to be ‘open’ and have just dug into everything that’s crossed my path. Completely sunk my teeth into it and gave so much of myself away, and tried to make these people, these relationships, into what I’m afraid to ask for out loud.”
“So do it now.”
And with these few words of encouragement, all sorts of wishes, wants, desires started tumbling out of my mouth at sports car speed. But they weren’t the typical “kind, good job, handsome, funny, blahblah” that people toss out when asked to list what they want in a mate. These were desires about what kind of person he is, what type of life he leads, what’s important to him. Stuff that sits at the meat of the question, “Who ARE you?” Not what do you do, what sorts of activities are you into, who’s your family, your friends, your religion, your group association, your decorating preferences – all that shit that looks great on paper, but really doesn’t matter when it comes to compatibility, much less building a life with someone. Gwyneth Paltrow’s late father, Bruce, said it best, “You have to want the same dreams. One of you can’t plan to walk the streets of Paris while the other wants to work in a coal mine.” (He also added, “You can never want to get divorced at the same time.” Wise man.)
So as the clock flips to October 19, 2011 and I look at what’s ahead in this last year of what has been a very challenging and transforming decade, I’m eyeball-deep in life examination. And when I look at what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and what’s left to do, where I have yet to go, I realize there are two things I want more than anything in life. And that, sadly – particularly over the past couple of years – I’ve done little to nothing to get them. The funny thing is that I want them both so badly, I’m terrified. Both will force me to put myself, my gifts, my capacity to love fully out into the world. And that means there’s a risk of rejection and failure. Or, possibly worse – a risk of acceptance and success. Because sometimes the idea of getting what we most want in life – that which comes from a pure, authentic place – is really scary. It’s scary to imagine getting something because then there’s nothing to hope for. When things are ahead of you on the path of life, there’s possibility. You can think, “Oh I’ll write my book someday, get married someday, quit my job someday, start a company someday.” And there’s always the fear that, if you succeed – at a job, a relationship, as an artist or entrepreneur – the bar will be raised. And you won’t be able to scale it.
But here’s what I know: Whatever it is that scares the living shit out of you is what you’re called to do and who you’re meant to be. And that whatever-it-is-whoever-you-are comes from a place of pure intention. It’s your calling, your soul purpose, and it peels back your layers and leaves you raw and exposed. That’s why it’s so fucking horrifying.
So. I’ll tell you my plan and you can tell me yours. Maybe that way, we’ll hold each other accountable – because Lord (and the Beatles) knows we all get by with a little help from our friends. I’ll go first:
#1: Write and publish my essays. A LOT. I’m tired of giving my life to internal communications work. I’m exceptional at it, I have a great reputation in this field, it’s the heart of this entrepreneurial venture I’ve built and am immensely proud of. Also, it certainly pays the bills – and pays them well – so I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to say goodbye to it forever. But I’m sure as fuck going to try. I’ve just shipped my last projects for 2011 and, after I take two weeks of vacation for the first time in eight years (Maui, baby!), I’ll have a very limited workload for 2012. Again – enough to pay the bills. But that’s it. I’ve taken myself on as a client (albeit a pro bono one). I’ve even put myself on my project plan so I can track progress and deliverables.
Here’s what’s up: in January, a new nicolechristie.com will launch (for realz this time – my exceptionally talented designer friend Amy is working on it now and even launched a temporary site just to get that horrific lime green circa-1999 FrontPage-created site off the internet). Also in January, I’ll launch a new blog on nicolechristie.com where I’ll write one essay per week. If you subscribe, you’ll get each essay, which I hope will move you in some way – make you laugh, cry, get pissed off, and alwaysalwaysalways think. My intent is to entertain you with my stories and give myself the accountability of a “public” deadline and an audience hopefully anticipating the latest weekly installment. I’ll also be entering the world of Twitter and will tweet my essays and related posts, so I hope you’ll follow me come January as well. Details on the blog, subscription, and Twitter account coming soon. 🙂
The second part of this project is that I’ll pitch my essays twice a month – something HAS to at least get sent to some editor somewhere, no matter what. Of course all of this means I’m scared shitless of writer’s block, my work not being good enough, rejection, and even taunting from the Twittersphere. I’m even terrified of losing my privacy, to whatever small degree. But if I were to channel Oprah and tell you “what I know for sure,” it would be this – I was put on this earth to tell stories and make people think and feel. That’s my gift. It’s time for me to put my effort where my intentions lie.
#2: Be in a healthy, committed relationship. I’m serious. I’m not turning 40 without a great man in my life. One who has a strong sense of self and makes me – and US – a priority. Enough of these flip-floppy emotional entanglements. This is not a codependent thing, nor is it a desperation thing, though you may have thought that a few sentences ago. This is me realizing it’s been a great run of building this incredible life for myself in my thirties and wanting to share it with someone else in my forties and beyond. It’s about balance and realizing that solo time and girlfriend time is and always will be a big part of my life, but there’s something to be said for the benefits of a healthy, committed relationship. I had one for 15 years and – for at least 13 of them – it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. So bring it, people – I’m going balls to the wall and am prepared to do a lot of wheat-from-chaff sorting that I’ve never been up for. I simply didn’t have the emotional resilience over the past seven years. But I no longer believe that failed relationships and weird dudes reflect on me or my judgment – nor do they mean I’m an unworthy, unlovable person. (You’re damn straight I thought this for a very long time – and just the thought these days makes me weepy. Again, one of many painful revelations that occurred on the office couch of the Greatest Therapist Alive).
Finally, I give you this: there is nothing, nothing, NOTHING I hold off on in life because I’m waiting for a man. But this – THIS is the one thing I’m waiting to experience with an incredible guy:
How about for the big 4-0? Say it with me: “Next year in Paris. With published essays and fabulous dude.”
I have every intention.