I've just come back after a glorious three weeks in the UK visiting family and doing touristy stuff.
It has been an eye-opening experience for me, not least because I was fraught with a lot of anxiety in the weeks leading up to the visit. We hadn't gotten together with family for almost seven years, a lengthy period of time during which the world turned upside down, at both the personal and global levels.
This visit opened my eyes to the very humanness of our lives and ourselves.
1. We will be OK no matter what.
Before leaving for the UK, I spent days feeling anxious about how I'd react (or not) if a certain situation were to crop up. Needless to say, much of this preparation was needless because people didn't behave the way I was worried they would, and this included me.
The future is a vast open space and the possibilities are endless. By constantly worrying about what could go wrong, we easily fall into the pit of self-sabotage.
Case in point. I worry I'd never make a full-time living as an author, and that keeps me from getting to the writing desk on most days. Whereas, I'd be much better off in the long run if I were to hold a more optimistic view and motivate myself any which way to keep persevering.
2. No choice is better for us than the ones we make. And no matter what choice we make, we'll always run into pain.
If you've been reading my writings for any length of time, you'd be familiar with my frequent forays into that wistful quagmire of something-elseness. That twisted belief I use to convince myself that I'd have been better off had I been a different person, doing something else, somewhere else.
I've now come to see that no matter what choices we make, there's always going to be issues.
There will be times when we feel frustrated and angry.
There will be times when we'll keep doubting ourselves, worry we've made the wrong choice, and wish we had made other choices instead.
That's only life messing with our heads, because we allow it to.
Because the truth is this: No matter what path we take, there will be pain along the way.
We can either face the pain and plough through it, or run away and set out on another path, which may appear easier and more enticing at first but will soon prove to be just as painful, just as difficult at times, and demanding just as much courage and perseverance from us.
Life would not have been any easier or more fulfilling had we made different choices than the ones we did. We'd still have had to learn the same old lessons the hard way.
My bro-in-law's lovely wife, M, bought two designer satchels and asked me to choose one.
I went for the one that appealed to me the most. It was a lovely dark blue satchel with just enough space for the items I need – my wallet, sunglasses, reading glasses, phone, and keys.
I had been meaning to buy something like that for myself anyway. So when I saw it, my heart immediately chose it and my hands reached out for it.
The other one was a brown shoulder bag of a slightly different design. I had had something shaped like that several years ago and it didn't appeal to me at the time.
That evening we all went out to a 500-year-old pub for a drink and pizza. M was using the other purse and it looked absolutely awesome on her. She took great delight in it and was very happy with it.
After we came back home, I started doubting my choice and wished I had chosen the other purse instead.
It took me a while and a conversation with KrA to understand that it wasn't the purse that was making M happy, she was choosing to be happy with her new purse and was taking great delight in it.
And had I chosen the other purse, I'd have still felt as if I had made a wrong choice and would have wanted a way to get away from the consequences of the choice I made.
The instant I realized this, I began to take great delight in my new blue purse. And I've been loving it ever since!
3. Self-responsibility is the ultimate sign of a grown-up.
When we've grown up, we take responsibility for our choices and actions.
All these years, I found it convenient to blame family for my life circumstances.
I kept believing in a fantasy that if only I had more help or moral support from family when D was younger, I would have reached the pinnacle of my author career by now.
I can finally call BS on that now!
Instead of taking stock of my life as it was and doing what I could within that framework, I was busy looking at all the could-have-beens and should-have-beens and blamed what-was-not for my perceived lack of progress and success.
4. Everything else is a distraction.
My real anxieties pertain to my creative work.
In his DailyOm course titled Overcoming Creative Anxiety, American psychotherapist Eric Maisel explains this beautifully.
Anxiety is a feature of the human condition. It is a much larger feature than most people realize.
A great deal of what we do in life we do in order to reduce our experience of anxiety or in order to avoid anxiety altogether. Our very human defensiveness is one of the primary ways that we try to avoid experiencing anxiety.
If something is about to make us anxious, we deny that it is happening, make ourselves sick so that we can concentrate on our sickness, get angry at our mate so as to have something else to focus on, and so on.
We are very tricky creatures in this regard.
When I open my manuscript, I worry that this story makes no sense and that when I write stories like this, I'd never be able to get closer to that dream of earning a livelihood from my writings.
Needless to say, such thinking keeps me stalled. I end up adding no words and I wonder how days can go by without me making any progress on the manuscript.
The trouble is compounded by the fact that some of the most prolific writers in the industry today keep talking about the 'fun' aspect of writing. Keep it fun, they say. There is nothing more fun than sitting in a room and making things up and writing them down, they insist.
Writing is fun, I agree.
Writing is also challenging at times.
Sometimes I'm stuck. Sometimes I worry. Sometimes I worry that my worry will kill all the joy in my writing.
I fear I'm doing this wrong. I fear I'll never figure this out. I fear I'd have spent ten years on this writing thing and still not earned a penny from it.
These are very normal human emotions. These are all very valid fears.
These fears are the reason I hesitate to open the manuscript and choose to check email or Whatsapp 20 times a day instead.
These fears are the reason I choose to blame KrA or family for my troubles instead of looking inward and acknowledging that yes, I'm struggling with this, yes, I'm having a hard time in this part of the manuscript, so let's sit down with it and see what's working and what's not and what can be done about it.
These fears are the reason I focus too much on life issues — such as what's going on in the neighbourhood and in the wider world, what's going on with AI in the publishing industry, what's going on Dean Wesley Smith's ongoing Kickstarter (which is really awesome, by the way) — issues that have no relevance whatsoever to my life right now.
I don't feel happy when I'm not creating. And then I get caught up in all sorts of anxieties that keep me from writing.
These fears are only masks that conceal my true fear — that I may never earn a full-time income from writing fiction.
The truth is this:
No one can tell what the future holds. There is no alternate universe in which a desirable future can be guaranteed.
If I were to take up a job for the safety of a steady income, well, guess what? I'd be only a layoff away from that financial security. There is no certainty or guarantee in that either.
(Not to mention that I've been applying to jobs for the better part of the last two years but haven't managed to get a response from any place. Surely I must take this as a sign and stick to my path!)
Making peace with the choices I made
I chose to be a stay-at-home mother when little D was born.
I chose to try and make a living from writing fiction.
It hasn't been an easy ride. It has been very difficult at times.
But one thing I know for certain: Even if I had made different choices, life would have thrown curveballs my way to teach me these invaluable lessons.
- There will always be some pain to endure, some obstacle to overcome, some difficulty to tackle no matter which path I choose.
- Wishing things and people were otherwise will not help the situation. I can only focus on myself, what I value, and where I choose to spend my time, attention and energy on.
My choices now are no different than the ones I made all those years ago.
- To be a conscious parent to D and enjoy a wonderful relationship with KrA
- To write entertaining and soul-stirring fiction and make a full-time living from it
- To stay focused on these two areas and ruthlessly choose to stay away from every other distraction
Here's to choosing what matters, and sticking to our choices no matter how difficult the path becomes!