Sometimes life tosses you a hand-grenade and, if you’re lucky, it fragments and shreds all of the paper mâché you’ve propped up as walls.
I take a long walk every day (it’s one of the newest pleasures I’ve discovered about being self-employed.) I walk without headphones — just me, the dog, and the world around me. And I carry a small notebook in my pocket for all the little things that might swirl around in my head while I meander through suburban neighborhoods. It’s great idea generator. Mostly though, I walk to let my mind drift. I walk to find space. It’s become the most important part of my day, to wander and then to come back home feeling refreshed and somehow cleansed. Sure, some of it is the endorphins from 1–2 hours of continuous movement, but as a result of this behavior there’s also something fundamental happening in the way that I think and react. As I explained recently to a friend, “Walking stabilizes you. You’re less jumpy. You’re able to take things in before leaping, claws out, ready to attack everything that moves. You don’t move slower, you just react more effectively.” Little did I know that just days later, those words would be put to the test.
It was nearing 3pm when I ambled in the door, head full of tree-canopied lanes and houses with curled roofs (architecture is a new love as well.) I took the harness off of the dog and he ran off to his water bowl. I took off my shoes, sat in my chair, and opened the email app on my iPad. And there it was, news that the Chinese tariffs had hit me. One of my clients was being forced to “baton-down the hatches and prepare for the the storm ahead.” Part of his financial prepping would mean that he’d need to reduce our business together by 50%. In one short email, my monthly income had just plummeted 40%. Hand-grenade.
I’m not sure how I ended up in the website and marketing business. Obviously, I know the step-by-step story of how it happened, but I’m just not sure how it continued to happen. I don’t remember choosing it. It’s not a field that I enjoy, or have passion for. Some might argue that it’s not even one I have any remarkable skills for. I can do the job. I can follow through. I might even have a few decent ideas, but I’m not going to blow anyone’s socks off. It’s simply a base-level skill that I have, which I’ve been able to leverage into a decent business. Not everybody out there is looking to have their socks blown off. Some people just need a few simple things done. Meat and potatoes. I’m the meat and potatoes. Isn’t that inspiring?
My true passion is the written word. It’s where my actual skills lie. But it isn’t really something that I’ve leveraged much professionally, and because of that I don’t have much of a resume to prove my actual skill. I’ve written pieces for companies like Todoist. They did really well (one being covered by LifeHacker and another republished by The Observer.) But that’s about the extent of it. And to be honest, even that writing isn’t my best. My best is fiction. And the best of the best is my dialogue. I can write stellar conversations. (Someone should honestly pay me to fix TV scripts.)
So, what is Mr. Meat and Potatoes to do when faced with this kind of email? Jump into a bush, sit and quiver, lick my wounds, whine, and then begrudgingly find more clients in the field that I fell into. That’s probably what I was supposed to do, but it’s not what I actually did. In fact, within ten minutes I’d messaged six people for writing work. Just like that. Asking for writing work.
It wasn’t until this morning that I realized the significance of those actions. I mean, it wasn’t a struggling process. I didn’t contemplate what to do. I didn’t debate between the safe work that I didn’t want and the elusive work that I love. I didn’t even complain. Or rage. Or fear. Or wonder what I was going to do. I just acted, decisively. I reached for what I wanted reflexively. Like it was instinct. I don’t even know that I deserve any credit for it. I’ve never done that before. In fact, in the last decade or so, without noticing, I’ve let all of these weak walls of excuses build up around me. “I don’t have the resume.” “I’m not good enough at that kind of writing.” “I can’t deal with deadlines.” “I’ll never make enough money.” “There isn’t enough consistency.” My life had somehow been contained by a toilet paper fort, and then here comes this grenade that spits holes through the white walls and makes them whistle when I breath. I couldn’t help but see them, flimsy flaps huddled around me. I punched my fist forward and tore though them. I didn’t even know what I’d done until an entire day later. A flash and then the sound of the explosion.
When I started, I thought this would be ashort piece about the benefits of small catastrophes; about how we need to be shaken up every so often. But as I move through it, I realize that this is an ode to wandering; praise for perambulation (I just really wanted to use that word;) it’s a thank you note for one hour a walking every day. Without the space that walking created, who knows how long I would have continued crouching in that paper box. Who knows how long I would have continued doing what I’d already done, over and over again. But here I am — broken out, standing in the sun, sweating slightly in the breeze. No more wetting newspaper strips to repair the holes. No more safe and boring. It’s time to stretch. It’s time to challenge myself. It’s time to push another block because I want to see what the houses look like on that side of the street. I want my feet to hurt a little bit every night.
You might be wondering how my email attempts work out. Well, I didn’t land a bunch of writing work right off. The gods didn’t hand down a storybook ending. I snagged a few gigs with okay pay. They aren’t dialogue work…or even fiction. But, all said and done, if they stay consistent, and I continually push myself out of my comfort zone, I’ll be able to make up for about 60% of the lost income. I’m okay with that. I’m not thrilled, but I’m okay with it. Maybe I have to suffer a little for hiding away for so long. Maybe it’s time to learn new skills at writing in different styles. Maybe I’ll be happier as a struggling writer ever so slowly getting better than I ever was at meat and potatoes, emails and websites, paper mâché and unfinished drafts. And maybe it’s better to be underpaid for who you are, then it is to be paid well for cowardice. I guess I’ll find out regardless.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me and the dog to go for a long, long walk.