Have you noticed lately that the person you’ve been worshiping isn’t as “perfect” or “together” as they seem?
Take that friend you envy for her freelance writing career, for example. You see her and think, “Someone can make a living as a writer? Awesome!” You might have even been thinking of her when you set up your blog and started posting, or submitted yourself to write for an online paper. But one fateful day, you discover that she has a trust fund in the bank and her writing gigs don’t sustain her. (Record comes to a screeching halt.)
Or what about that role model of yours who was a youth director, leading you to bask in the glow of his admirable values? When he chucked it all to go to law school because he wanted to follow the money, it made you second-guess living by your own values, too. (Mirror shatters into a million pieces.)
I know how it can be. It seems like someone has it all figured out, and you put them on a pedestal. They made it work, so you can too! They define the creative adult you want to be! Until they don’t. (Air gets let out of tires.) And you’re back at Square One, thinking you have to give up the dream of your Creative Career and become a doctor, a lawyer, or (gasp!) an accountant. Something “safe.” Something “traditional.” Something “secure.”
Well, let’s think again.
- Make a chart that consists of three columns. The first is the name of your role model; the second is for the traits you admire; and the third is to mark it with an A for Appearance or a T for Truth. Now list your role models in the left hand column, leaving some space in between ‘em. Don’t be shy—nobody’s lookin’! In the middle column list the things about ‘em that you’re attracted to, and next to that (in the 3rd column) mark whether it could be just appearances with an A. For example, you might write, “Michelle Ward -> Super high energy -> A” because maybe I sleep for eighteen hours a day or do all my high-energy writing from my bed with my husband feeding me grapes. However, you could also write “Michelle Ward -> Extremely hilarious -> T” because that could never be contested. Obviously. When you’re done, take a look at the As. Do they make up the majority of the chart? If so, it might be worth rethinking whether there are shades of gray that you’d like to consider.
- How much do appearances play in having you see someone as a grown-up you want to be like? Most of the time, it’s the outward happiness and/or pride that you’re looking at, leading you to believe that that person is both happy and proud of the life they’re living. What can you talk about that makes you feel happy or proud? Make a topic list of all the things that light you up, whether it’s your dog or the new blog you launched or the volunteer work you’re doing. The next time someone asks what you’ve been up to, you can be the happy, proud grown-up for a change! For even more help working on your answer in regards to your career, click on over to The Dreaded Question.
- Create an inspiration board that represents the grown-up life you want to lead. Start with a pile of magazines and just leaf through ‘em, tearing out anything that belongs in your grown-up land (yup, even crayons and grilled cheese sandwiches, if you want!). Don’t try to find an explanation for any of it—go only with your gut instinct. Once you have a nice pile, glue ‘em down onto posterboard or a heavy card stock in whatever formation you’d like. When you’re done, look deeper. Is there a (hidden?) message in the words and images you selected? A common theme? A brilliant idea? What can you do to bring more of your grown-up utopia to the real world, damn what other people think?
- How do you think you look to the outside world? Look at everything you put out into the world—your website, your twitter feed, your resume, your wedding photos. Now look at them from a stranger’s eyes. What would that stranger have to say about you? What would they take for granted, be impressed by, and/or want to emulate? Now see if you can counteract that with something you’ve been hiding in your closet. Did that high-powered job on your resume come with crying jags in the bathroom? Was your luxurious wedding hair full of extensions? Did the BFA from NYU in acting come without a single NYU acting credit (yup—this one’s mine. I didn’t get cast in a single freakin’ show!)? Once you’ve seen the skeletons that have been sitting in the closet, it might enable you to see that nobody’s perfect, so take the Perfection weight off your shoulders and focus again on the things that you think others admire about you. Make sure that list is easy to get to and ever-expanding!
So, if the ground beneath you continues to shake, check to make sure that your foundation is solid. Your grown-up life is right underneath your feet, after all!