The mess I made of my life


Me, 17, as a magazine intern in 1999.

I’ve had this blog running through my head for weeks now, but every time I’ve sat down to write it, it just feels too – overwhelming. Too honest. Too real.

Too much like a Smiths lyric that’s been circling through me for years – yes, years – now: “And what a terrible mess I’ve made of my life.”

Often, I’ve answered back with another Smiths lyric: “And everybody’s got to live their life / And God knows I’ve got to live mine.”

Except I wasn’t living my life. And that was my mistake. And that was the mess I had made.

This is a long read – longer than I usually post – but I hope you’ll stick with it, and I hope it might help you in some way.

*             *             *

I gave up on a big dream in 2007. I don’t know why. It came out of nowhere, but suddenly I thought: I should have more than this. I should have more ease than this.

I was working as a freelance writer at the time and had just finished my first book.

Truthfully, I was quite burned out from a book that I had worked on every single day (seriously) for over a year, sometimes getting up at three in the morning to write it. I’d wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember.

Freelancing was tough and humbling. There were days everyone would say yes to you, and weeks where no one would even return an email.

I had accomplished a lot, but I was young and impatient. I didn’t know that waiting was part of the strategy, and I didn’t think of what I was doing as building a business, even though I’d wanted to be a freelancer so, so badly. And there I was, making it happen.

I’d been getting published for a while, even before I went to journalism school in 2003, sometimes even getting paid gigs. It was as a student that I actually started making a steady income as a freelancer.

Some of my classmates were highly envious and I knew I was onto something good. When I graduated, I had steady work. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I had what I needed and my name was getting out there and I was having fun.

And then one day, I just decided that it wasn’t working and I gave up. Just like that, I decided that I the freelance hustle wasn’t for me, and I went out and got a full-time job and moved into an apartment that was way over-priced for its level of suckage.

I had neighbours who had massive arguments at four in the morning almost every day. The ventilation pumped in cigarette smoke and cooking smells from other units. Another neighbour worked late shifts and would come home and crank Stevie Wonder in the middle of the night.

Plus, the job I had taken wasn’t right for me. I was miserable in all areas of my life. I didn’t have a place to go home to at the end of the day that felt quiet and calm, and I didn’t have anything to look forward to when I got up in the morning.

Honestly, I wanted to move home with my parents and start over again, and I really wish I had done just that. When the company I was working with closed up six months later, I thanked the owners for my final paycheque. I was so relieved to be let off the hook.

Looking back now, I realize this the out I was looking for. I could have just gone back to freelancing. Or moved home and cleared my head and started another book. Or looked for another apartment. Anything.

But instead, I looked for another job. The work was the same as what I had just been so relieved to leave behind. I took a contract gig and when that finished, I could have again said, “okay, this is it.”

But no. I found another job. This time, I thought, everything will be different. I’d had an office job when I was fresh out of high school that I absolutely loved. Everyone was friends with each other and I’d looked forward to going to work every day. You could wear what you wanted, there was free coffee in the kitchen, and everyone was clear on what was expected of them.

And I thought this new job would be just like that all over again, where I would basically see my friends every day and everything would be sunshine and rainbows.

Of course, it wasn’t even close to that. The woman who had hired me quit three weeks after I started. There were unspoken rules that no one would tell you about until you’d broken them. There were last-minute assignments that came about with huge demands and then would end up dying on someone’s desk with no acknowledgement of the work that had gone into them. In other words, it sucked.

I remember sitting across from my boss during meetings and thinking, “what the hell am I doing here?” That, I know now, was a sign: if you know you don’t belong somewhere, then you don’t, period. So often we look for proof of what we already know from external sources.

We want someone to tell us it’s not right, or to give us permission to believe what we already know. Another sign was that I would often come home and think to myself, “I need to do a re-think about what I’m doing with my life.”

But the biggest sign of all should have been that I wasn’t happy. We don’t need to wait for signs or omens to point us in the right direction. Our feelings are there for that very reason.

And what made it worse was that I was starting to see a lot of my peers move up in the ranks of the media world. People who had started out as interns or emerging freelancers like me were now being offered editorial positions, staff salaries, and their own columns.

I was starting to wonder what might have happened for me if I had just stuck it out another year or two like they had.

Finally, my first book was published. “This is it,” I told myself. “Once this book comes out, I’m outta here.”

I gave my resignation to my boss and she laughed and said, “This is crazy! Why would you leave? Why don’t you just take a leave of absence instead?”

She offered to give me three months off. It was unpaid, of course, but it meant I would have enough time to tour my book, promote the hell out of it, and then come back to the treacherously comfortable security of my day job.

It was another sign – another turning point. I could have stuck to my guns. I could have stood in my decision to leave and lived with the consequences. Instead, I gave in and accepted the offer.

What might have changed for me if I’d handed in my resignation instead? I would have launched a new book and then my heart and mind would have started working on what I needed to do next. Or what I wanted to do next.

And who knows what might have shown up for me to fill the space my job had left behind? But instead, I’d sent a message out into the universe that said, “No thanks, I’m fine. I don’t need rescuing at all.” But I did.

Because I was sabotaging myself, big time. Why keep moving in the direction you know you don’t want to be? Sometimes it’s security. Sometimes it’s safety in knowing what you’ll get. There is danger in risk.

Sometimes, too, you’re just on a hamster wheel and you can’t figure out how to get off. I went back to my job after three months and the first day back pretty much foreshadowed how the rest of my time there would go.

They had arranged a welcome back lunch for me. Half an hour before, my boss sent me out to fetch newspapers for her because she wanted to see an ad they had purchased in that day’s edition. She told me to expense it.

The first store I went to was sold out of papers. So was the second. And the third. Finally, I found a store that had papers. When I got back, everyone was already heading out to my lunch – without me. They didn’t even wait. I also never got reimbursed.

Six months later, I left for another job. It was a job I thought I really wanted, and I believed that finally – finally – things would truly be different. I’d also moved after staying way too long in that loud, bad apartment.

Unfortunately, my new apartment was even louder. While there were no angry neighbours this time around, I lived under constant noise as the person upstairs dropped heavy objects for hours – seriously. The building, I would also find out later, was infested with moths.

Signs again, all saying, “Run! Why would you work so hard for this? Why would you sacrifice your sleep? Your security? Your happiness?”

Because I dreaded coming home, and I constantly questioned what I was working so hard to maintain. My new job started off well enough, but within a few months things took a turn. A new leader came in and suddenly, nothing seemed to go right again.

I felt it in my body first, developing sharp, nagging pains in my left shoulder. I’d never, ever had back issues before and suddenly I was seeking out massage therapy, acupuncture, and x-rays. (Your body always knows what’s up. Listen to it.)

I started feeling trapped in a lot of ways in that job, believing, for some reason, that there would never be an end to it.

There were other things, too. In the mornings, I’d started to wake up asking myself, “How much longer can I do this?” Something about the routine of this job felt unsustainable. Making lunch the night before would give me such anxiety I sometimes I had pain in my chest.

I worked there, somehow, for four and a half years. My journals from that time are filled with entries where I talk about how stuck I felt, how badly I wanted to find a way out but couldn’t figure out what was next, how much of a mistake I’d made to throw away my freelance career so soon and how I’d let so much time slip away for work that made me feel demeaned, tired, and unfulfilled.

It wasn’t worth it. But then, in all that time, I’d been practicing Tarot. I’d picked it up in 2008 out of a genuine pull to learn it. I didn’t know it would become a spiritual practice for me. I didn’t know at the time that you could use it for daily guidance, or as a tool to deepen your own self-awareness.

Sometimes we find ourselves going through phases or stages or patterns that we know are mistakes, but somehow they bring us to where we are supposed to be. And so that always leaves us with the question of what would have happened without those mistakes.

Would I be where I am now if I hadn’t have spent so much time in the wrong line of work? What did those jobs afford me in terms of focus and direction and opportunities to learn? Maybe I wouldn’t have been so inspired to work with Tarot without that conflict.

Maybe I wouldn’t have felt I needed it in my life, and so I wouldn’t have the knowledge I have of it today. I think we all have these questions, but if anything, the clarity and new directions we do get from difficult situations.

Everything connects, and it all leads us to where we need to be eventually, though some of us take longer to get there than we might like to.

“Everybody, to some extent, backs away from their authenticity, settles for less, hobbles their own power, doesn’t speak when spoken to in dreams,” Gregg Levoy writes in Callings (which I highly recommend, by the way). “Everybody occasionally ignores the promptings of the soul and then the discontent that ensues, trying to distract themselves by counting their blessings, all the reasons they ought to be happy with their lot in life, content with things as they are…”

My mother never liked the idea of me being a writer. “Poets never make any money until they’re dead,” she’d first said when I was 13 and thought I’d found my true calling in poetry. It stuck with me, for sure.

When I quit freelancing and found a job, her answer was, “Good for you.” I wish she – or someone, anyone – had taken me aside instead and asked, “Are you sure you want to give this up already?”

It might have made me think twice. If only I’d been able to do that for myself, even. If only I’d stopped for a second and asked if I was really ready for this.

I was still working full-time when I’d decided I wanted to start my own Tarot business. The day I wrote it down as a goal for myself, things started to happen that affirmed my decision.

I decided not to mention it to my mom at all and to only pay attention to whatever sounded like a YES to me. The hard thing about breaking away from old patterns is that we need to also reconcile the fact that we let things go for as long as they did.

Lately, I’ve been wishing that I could look back and see that my story unfolded differently, that I could say that I corrected my mistakes so much sooner than I did, rather than letting years go by fully knowing that things were not leading me to where I wanted to be.

But that’s not how my story goes, and so I need to trust the lessons that come from it. I guess that’s why I’m writing this all down now.

Because it’s been on my mind, and because I know I’m not the only one with a story like this.

Standing in your truth after pushing it aside for so long can feel uncomfortable at times because it puts you face to face with all of your own insecurities and doubts and poor decisions. It makes you look back and ask, “What was I thinking?”

But now, my history is giving me a new story to tell about how all of these experiences have allowed me to help others, how it all brought me to finally recognize that signs are always showing up for us, helping to show us the way out, or the way in.

*             *             *

This summer, I was offered an opportunity to work with a friend on a part-time basis. The idea seemed great at first: I would still have time to run my business, but it would give me an opportunity to do some extra work on the side in an area I would like to learn more about.

But within the first week, I knew something wasn’t right. I was experiencing deep anxiety at night, worrying that I wasn’t giving enough time to my business, or to the novel I have been working on for the last two years.

It’s my goal to finish my next book by November, and I’m launching two new programs through my business within the next six months. I realized I was giving up valuable time to meet my own goals to pursue an opportunity I hadn’t been looking for in the first place.

And while it was a great idea, and would have been a lot of fun, I knew I would regret not taking the time I know I need to focus on my writing and my Tarot practice. I felt like I was practically throwing away my own ideas, saying, “Yeah, I have the time I need to make these things happen, but instead, I’m going to fill it up with a part-time job.”

Which felt an awful lot like the pattern I’ve needed to break out of for the past eight years. So I quit the job. It wasn’t easy, but it was right, and I didn’t waver in my decision to quit immediately. And you know what?

That anxiety lifted right away. My writing picked up. The ideas I needed for my book and my business started flowing because I created space for them. I was putting out a clear message that these are the things I want in my life, and this is what I’m willing to work for.

The problem, though, with getting caught up in bad patterns is that it creates a low-level of expectation. You get used to things feeling hard.

You get used to things feeling like they aren’t going your way – which they won’t when you are off your path, because that’s a sign on its own.

And that’s hard, too, to look back and realize you allowed yourself to be unhappy for so long, and you start to wonder, “Will I ever feel differently?”

But this is all part of the process, and we need to trust that the answer is yes, everything will be different because everything is always changing anyway.

So if you find yourself breaking away from your own rut or pattern these days, know that it’s a journey like anything else, and that there are days when everything feels like it’s coming together and others where you need to reflect and really examine why and how you got to where you are.

Just don’t let yourself go back.


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