First of all, welcome to the new subscribers from this past week. Many of you I know and some of you I don’t. All of you, I appreciate and I’m thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day.
Oh, what’s that? Some of you aren’t subscribers yet? Umm, what are you waiting for then?
Oh, you just want to read my damn post first? Okay, gotcha. No worries, I’ll put another one of these button thingies at the bottom for ya.
It’s hard to find something to be thankful for this year which has been one of the worst years for so many people in the world. Here’s the thing though, in a way I’m actually thankful for the pandemic. Wait, not the pandemic, exactly. More like thankful for quarantine. I know that still sounds insensitive because so many people have lost loved ones or lost jobs or lost basically everything, but hear me out.
You wouldn’t be reading these words if it wasn’t for the pandemic.
I wrote this paragraph a couple of weeks ago in a piece about my experience when the pandemic started to feel more real:
When we went into quarantine, Allison and I shrugged at each other and thought, welp, just add it to the pile of crap we have to deal with every day already. It meant I wouldn’t need to commute anymore and Sara’s school would need to figure out how to do her classes remotely. That’s about it. Otherwise, our days weren’t all that different.
This is true. But it doesn’t tell the whole truth about my life in quarantine. I underestimated how much removing my commute would change things, beyond saving at least an hour and a half of driving every weekday. It gave me more time to reflect on how I spend my time and how I want to spend it in the future.
For years, I’ve felt stuck. I’ve felt like I’m capable of doing great things. Capable of creating work that moves people. But I haven’t felt like I’ve accomplished anything remotely like that since writing, recording, and performing music nearly twenty years ago. I remember playing live shows and seeing people in the crowd crying as they sang along, literally moved to tears.
It saddens me to think of all the time I’ve wasted since then by not creating and sharing something—anything—with the world.
Too often, I would find myself getting sucked into a show on Netflix or going down a rabbit hole on YouTube. It’s much easier to consume than to create. Creating is hard work and doesn’t pay much (if anything) in the short term.
There were times when I would get on a music production kick. Watching videos, taking an online course, practicing, and trying to get better. But I would ultimately never finish a track and I wouldn’t release anything. Yet I would still fantasize about being on stage in front of a crowd again.
I fantasized about all sorts of endeavors, such as starting businesses, launching side projects, recording podcasts, performing stand-up comedy, writing screenplays, and who knows how many other ideas. What did I ultimately do? Zilch. Thinking about doing hard things is a lot easier than actually doing those hard things.
The road to success is lined with failures and daydreamers. But at least the failures gave it a shot.
Being quarantined at home provided me with space and perspective to rethink my future. I asked myself questions like these: Where do I want to be in a year? In two years? In five years, or ten? How do I want to be spending my time? Who do I want to be?
That last question was the most profound to me. “Who do I want to be?” was a much different question to consider than “What do I want to be?” because it forced me to think intentionally about my identity.
I can’t take full credit for challenging myself with that question. Back in the summer, I stumbled on a brand new book called Personality Isn’t Permanent by Benjamin Hardy, Ph.D. I remember I saw it on the exact release date, June 16th, 2020, and I ordered it immediately. When it arrived, I dove into it that evening with a pen ready to take notes in the margins. Nearly every page was filled with actionable quotes, question prompts, and passages that had me nodding in agreement thinking, Did he write this book specifically about me?!
The first few chapters felt like receiving a mother’s warm embrace and her saying, “It’s okay. I understand what you’re going through.” It was validating. I’m not the only one who is searching for more meaning. I’m not the only one who wants to do something bold. I’m not the only one who wants to be a different person.
The book got progressively more challenging and the question prompts became more difficult to answer. But I was hooked and determined to finish it. There was only one problem. That nagging question from before: Who do I want to be? It’s the crux of the whole book and I couldn’t answer it. My mind was darting from thought to thought and doubt to doubt.
I knew I didn’t need one exact answer to the question because identity is multifaceted. I knew first and foremost I’m a father, a stepfather, a husband, a son, a brother, and a friend. I’m also a total golf nerd, but I’ll spare you the details on that one.
My job title is Director of Account Management, but I don’t think of myself as an account manager per se. In other words, I’m not tied to it as part of my identity.
As I wrote above, I was a professional musician years ago. I still consider myself a musician now. Is that who I want to be? I love music and it’s been an important part of my life, so in a way, it’s still part of my identity. But when I thought deeply about it, it didn’t feel like I would be able to express myself fully through music (and not only because I can’t sing to save my life).
Every night, I would read a bit more of the book. Often I would need to re-read pages because I found myself thinking about that question: Who do I want to be? It was like an earworm I couldn’t get out of my head, playing on repeat throughout my days.
Okay, I thought, what do I know I want?
I knew I wanted to be in control of my own time. I knew I wanted to be respected by my peers. I knew I wanted to be successful.
Wait a second, how do I define success, anyway?
Late one night, I was feeling frustrated, down, and stuck. When I’m feeling that way, I usually write in a journaling app, but for some reason which escapes me now, I opened a new Google doc. I started writing about success. Actually, it wasn’t so much writing as it was venting. I started it off with this paragraph (full piece here):
What does success mean anyway? It’s so subjective. Some people look at the size of their bank accounts, while others look at what their progeny are able to achieve. There are lots of different ways to look at it. But if I’m being honest, I’m not asking for anyone else. I’m asking for me. I’m statistically over halfway through my life and I still can’t define what success means for me.
I essentially did a free-writing, stream-of-consciousness session until about 1:00 am. It felt good to get the thoughts racing through my head onto the page. I was exhausted yet I went to bed feeling excited about what I had created out of thin air.
The following morning I shared it with Allison.
“This is really good. You should publish this right now!” she said.
I was taken aback by her enthusiasm. I could tell she genuinely thought it was good and she wasn’t only saying that to be a supportive partner. It felt great and I couldn’t help but smile.
That’s when it hit me.
Writing! That’s my new identity. I’m a Writer. It’s perfect. I can express myself and tell my story. I can create something and share it with the world. From my mind to theirs.
That night, I went back to the question prompts from the book that I had struggled with before. Suddenly they were easier to answer. I could see a path to my new identity as a writer.
I know the path will be long and filled with peaks and valleys. But I’m committed to it and it feels great. I’m glad you’re with me on this journey.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the pandemic...err, quarantine. You know what I mean.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope this piece moved or inspired you in some way. Perhaps you know someone else it could move or inspire?
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I’d love to hear your story too. How has life in quarantine been for you? What are you thankful for during this crazy year? Leave a comment below.
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