You know the drill. When you have to kill what you eat, you've got to hustle to get your next meal. Haul ass using the skills you were born with because there is no net to save you. No promise of a sweet fraction of a salary every other week. No guarantee that you will actually pay all of those bill collectors on time as you promised, like you really want to, like you have already planned to do, like your heart aches to do. For the last few weeks I was getting back to basics, like figuring out how to pay rent, finding ways to eat, and paying off a bevy of contributors who believed in me. I could forget that vacation...
Without losing sight of why I made the decision to go indie because independence is absolutely a beautiful thing, I had to figure some things out for myself. I had to throw some plans out the door and get my life! But who knew that making the decision to finally leave after all of those years moaning and complaining about what I would do differently if I were in charge, then I would absolutely be a wreck? Here I was, strong, having mustered up the nerve to bet on my own dreams, but a part of me was still so very comfortable in the payday promise. I had to reorganize my thoughts. Even though I was now unemployed, with my own media business in its baby stages, I had come to expect a check. And realistically speaking, how was I going to survive (government shutdowns aside) when my weekly unemployment checks were not cutting to the thick of my dreams?
A few months ago, I grew tired of the political rigmarole that corporate life was offering. The nepotism, the deceit and backstabbing, the projects that didn't speak to my spirit, the lack of know-how by the people who were supposed to be leading -- all of it had become a tad bit overwhelming. But to be fair, I always enjoyed working for smaller shops, boutique experiences where everyone worked together as a unit regardless of differences, like a family. And there was always so much more to learn in start up-like environments because you always had to hit the ground running or you were in the field gathering resources yourself, which is very different from: How many assholes does it take to screw in this lightbulb?
So after I decided to jump ship, albeit for a second time, this go around I was older. The stakes are higher when you're 34 going on 35, versus 32 and thinking like an newbie to the game. Two years made all the difference, and I promised myself that I would not go around this mountain again. So what did I do? I started creating a list of the things that worked the last time I decided to pursue my soul urges, plus the new things as I was learning along the way.
Tune Everyone Out
First things first, unless you're a Buddhist monk living on the outskirts of Tibet and your best friend is the Dalai Lamai, you can't listen to the voice within with all the noise going on out there. You have to train yourself to do this first, which means quieting down the racket inside and out by pulling yourself back. Yes, this means less parties for a while. This means turning off the hateful messages you keep on repeat in your head from various epochs, people and influences in our lives (including yourself). It means trusting your gut. It means checking in with yourself to see what it is you truly want, and then waiting for the universe to hear you and comply.
Sidebar: I totally didn't recognize how my wants and needs were in conflict, and I was totally sending mixed messages. What was happening in my life was proving this again and again, until I wised up months later. The tuning out process eventually became a lesson in trial and error, tweaking my wants to match my needs, wrestling with self as to why heart, mind and soul had to be on the same page about that, and then walking down a path as it was being revealed step by baby step.
Don't Go Crazy
Which brings me to the next very important thing I had to learn: maintaining my sanity by any means necessary. The independent life is not an easy road. Flying solo is hella lonely, scary, and earth-shattering because you have to face yourself, your fears and that big old bag of issues you've been trying to escape via self-medicating and escapism, but still carrying around like today's mail.
What worked for me? One lazy Soul Sunday as I was watching Oprah interview Michael A. Singer, I remembered an exercise I read in his book The Untethered Soul many moons ago. It was about the art of watching and observing yourself in your day to day life. As I did this, I became more aware of the unspoken fears and what triggered them, so whenever they appeared I would simply tell myself in my loudest inside voice (no matter where I was like a crazy woman): Keep Your peace regardless.
When I first pulled back from "my life" as it was, I realized how much time I wasted being "busy." It was an exercise in futility to just be busy and go nowhere. No one wants to be stuck in a rat race going through the motions, or even in a self-created hamster wheel with a Destiny's Child tune on loop. I want to survive, sure, but I also want to win. My very talkative, but extremely wise friend Pardeep had the best suggestion. He said, "Work smarter, not harder," but what did that mean when I had nothing but time on my hands and I had a habit of filling my time with other people's stuff?
I did nothing at first, until nothing led to playing. I did the things I loved and enjoyed until it became a permanent part of my everyday existence. I freelanced in every single area that I was competent in, offered consulting services to others. I exercised those skills, sharpened my set of tools, and rediscovered passions I had long rested on the side of the road just for the sake of having fun. (I'm trying really hard not to type #YOLO) For me, this was also about learning how to balance my quality of life with work. No sense dying for a passion that you can't enjoy doing because you're dead from overworking, right?
This one is simple, but probably the hardest one to master (and you will try for the rest of your life). But you'll win, if you remember that (and I'm still working on this):
- 1)Their truly is only one you, so be your best every day.
- 2) The world needs what is you came to bring otherwise you wouldn't be here, so do your best every day.
- 3) You're infinitely perfect in your imperfection, and so is everyone else.
And that following the pack or the trends will only :
- 1) Serve to make you just like everyone else.
- 2) Cause your focus to skew towards lack, because you end up comparing yourself to others.
- 3) Lead you completely off-track into doing what your heart actually doesn't want to do at all.
Go Where You've Been
The theme song from Cheers comes to mind. Go where you are known and be honest about where you are on your journey because they will appreciate you and your art. Don't sleep on the kindness of those in your circle, or the wealth of opportunities they may have for you to participate in. Retrace your steps, figure out what you like about the things you've done in the past, and those you would rather do away with. Reach out to family, and ask for advice (yes, put your pride aside). Reconnect with former colleagues, collaborate and pool your resources like you were in college again. Share what you're learning, and rebuild your community of supporters and network of possible jobs because this will raise all of you up.
I was never one for the minimalist lifestyle. I bought the things I liked. Filled my apartment with things I thought mattered, and kept useless things that were just taking up space. My life was cluttered in so many ways. It was that same "busy" energy that kept me preoccupied with what things looked like on the outside as opposed to how happy I really was. And it was time to take the ax to my life.
So over the course of a month, I went through everything I had in my possession and in my mind. I purged old ideas that were no longer serving me. I gave away books that I thought could help others. I packed loads and loads of clothes into suitcases and dragged them down to Beacon's Closet (totally made a couple of dollars too...) I got rid of everything that I didn't need on the next leg of my journey. I created space to create the new, and to allow fresh energy and insights to come in.
Reinvest In Yourself
Okay, so imagine even after all that you're barely making it. I had to cut back not just on expenses (like what is the point of cable when you can watch everything online?). I got back in the kitchen and cooked for a change. Made better choices about what I was eating, how much I was paying for it and where I bought it from. I invited friends over instead of always heading out. I took the little money that was coming in to chip away at the stack of bills little by little, while reinvesting a portion into where my future was directing me. I had to say no to outside distractions, and fully invest in the present. I reinvested in myself by choosing to live in the now.
And while my journey is hardly over, what I'm learning so far is that, feeding the starving artist is not just about paying the bills. It's about creating the foundation on all levels -- mental, emotional, spiritual and financial-- that will afford you to create holistically so that you can live more comfortably in your own skin. It's a process that is changing me, so much so that I'm finally starting to see the light and make bread the way my heart has been urging me to do, forever.
This story appears as part of a collection of stories, entitled Saturn's Return by Amy Andrieux, Editorial Director at TheStarkLife.com. The series sees Amy documenting her 35th, while reflecting on moments past and how to move forward, for the Huffington Post. Each piece is inspired by real life happenings, few with exaggeration and embellishment, or change of name to protect the innocent.
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