And this is the fine line I walk as a writer undertaking an anonymous project like this: I am not a therapist or a guru, and I don't have all the answers; nevertheless, I still feel as though I have to have something "worthwhile" to say in order to justify saying it. And, because I have decided to be wholly anonymous -- a decision I still stand by and do not regret -- there are only so many details that I can give you without jeopardizing that. This makes the writings of people like Sugar (at The Rumpus) even more impressive.
I cannot, for instance, in good faith tell you many details about the grieving process Mr. Wonderful is in the middle of, though it deeply affects my life on a daily basis. It's very personal, even from an anonymous standpoint. I have tried to approach his grieving through the lens of how it has affected our relationship and how I've learned to cope with the changes that have accompanied it (including the notion that I am responsible for creating my own happiness). But when Mr. Wonderful's mother actually passed away the context of that changed, and I have tried my best to adapt to it. In short, it's not about how it affects me anymore; it's about the sense of loss than engulfs him. In that sense, it also goes beyond the issue of anonymity to the issue of self-centeredness. But the fact that I can't write about the specifics doesn't mean that I can't share with you the fact that I am so unspeakably grateful that he is a part of my life and that his loss has humbled me as nothing else ever has (including unemployment). It just means that what I have to share in that respect is limited.
Likewise, I can't share with you the specifics of how my career has in some ways evolved and in other ways stalled over the last seven-and-a-half-month period. I can't tell you where I used to work, and even if I could, I still don't have a lot of answers as to why my employment ended. I can only tell you that I didn't enjoy working there on a personal or professional level, and that I struggled with it every day but had convinced myself that I had to suffer through it, as the job I had before it was far worse in both respects. I also can tell you that, nine months after losing my job, I can say with confidence and humility that going from bad job #1 to bad job #2 was like going from an abusive relationship to an angry-but-not-violent and loveless marriage: you are so happy to escape the former that at first you don't realize you have been sold a bad bill of goods in the latter; and because you don't see yourself as a person who changes partners like underwear, you try to make it work in the latter. My unemployment was, in that respect, a blessing that I would come to be thankful for much later.
But I can't tell you where I work or whom I work for. I can only tell you that it's not doing what I expected, but the people are fantastic -- of national renown, kind and generous, interested in my professional development, and lavish with their praises. My day-to-day experiences have changed manifold times for the better. But my experiences at bad job #1 and bad job #2 left me with an uncertainty about where my career was headed, and the job I have today (at which I think I will indefinitely remain) is not what I envisioned doing a year and a half after having completed my Masters, no matter where I work or whom I work for, and I haven't entirely figured out a way to reconcile that.
It did, however, become clear to me early on that this position is exactly what I need: somewhere I feel safe and happy, doing something I'm good at and at which I can add meaningful value, and working with people who can teach me things; and yet somewhere that allows me to focus on my writing (which I believe ultimately will be my career and, more importantly, will serve as my way to change the world and the reason I went grad school), permits me to focus on other areas of my life, and encourages me to give back to the community. That is a tall, tall task for employment, and it's impressive that I've managed to obtain it -- particularly in the middle of a recession. (No, it's not over; and, yes, it may get worse before it gets better again.)
That isn't to say, though, that I feel currently "fulfilled." I still have no idea what to write a book about or how to start it, and I feel paralyzed by that lack of knowledge. I still wonder how things will shape out with Mr. Wonderful in the end (I mean, sure, we end up together; but how and when?). And I still wonder if my day-to-day life is leading me closer to those goals or further from them. I guess what I'm trying to say is: I'm not sure how to be authentic, and I'm not sure if I am even headed in the right direction. And how can I accept and be proud of where I am or love myself if I still can't answer those basic questions?
I talked to my therapist about this last week. I told her that I feel untethered and paralyzed, simultaneously unfulfilled and pulled in a million different directions. And her advice was to take action to write and, therefore, be fulfilled. But she was only saying that based on partial understanding; I hadn't realized exactly what I've been struggling with, and so I hadn't given her that information. Rather, it has taken me pondering this over the last week and encountering some rather unusual circumstances to see that in order to take a step forward, I need to take a step back.
My primary obstacle to being authentic is feeling an overwhelming need to prove myself -- personally, professionally, romantically, financially, etc. I know this is counterproductive, and I know that I don't need to do this. But my drive to do this is on a subconscious level. I don't recognize it until I feel uncomfortable after it's happened. And I don't always know how to prevent it. The only way I know how to stop doing this and to get in touch with myself is to let myself off the hook for a specified time period.
My theory is that if I tell myself that I can think about broader and deeper things, but not until the specified time period has ended, I will stop navel-gazing and, instead, just be myself. I'll stop feeling pulled in many different directions but none for very long, and I'll figure out what it is that comes next. I'll have a better idea of who I am, and I'll be comfortable with and proud of it. But I will also be clear-headed and in a better place physically, financially and psychologically to decipher how to start the book I want to start and how to be in a relationship without knowing the destination. These things are absolutely critical to my personal development. I have to learn how to "just be" without working toward something.
It's taken me a few months solid to figure out that this doesn't mean inevitable defeat. It doesn't mean that I've said my relationship with Mr. Wonderful means nothing or that I'm not going to write a book and change the world. In fact, this period of mental relaxation, financial stability and physical rejuvenation is necessary to success. So, for the next three months (that is, until February 22nd; my 30th birthday), I am not working on anything long-term, whatsoever. I'm simply getting healthy and in shape, getting my finances in order and learning how to relax.
I'll be honest: the thought of spending even 90 days doing nothing to prove myself romantically or professionally and not trying to figure out what everything means is daunting. It requires that I not seek to control what happens or make sure that I'm headed in the right direction. It means just living. Which is important, because being authentic is not a luxury.