Where to even begin…
Although there’s still two months to go in 2017, I feel pretty confident declaring that it’s been the most difficult year of my life. The perpetually swirling controversies of the Trump administration have provided a fitting backdrop for a year marked by ongoing personal, professional, and creative struggles. Every time I feel like I’m about to get myself back on track, some new situation always seems to get in the way and leaves me scrambling for answers. I’ve found myself second-guessing every decision and constantly reassessing the goals I’m working towards at any given time. Time slips away in the process, leaving me exhausted by day’s end and desperately hopeful that maybe, possibly, if I’m lucky, I’ll “get something done” tomorrow.
But “tomorrow” doesn’t exist. Not really. “Tomorrow” is a fantasy, a mystical and indefinite period of time in which the concerns of day-to-day life will melt away and leave me free to pursue the things I “really want to do.” You can always think about “tomorrow”, think about how it will be different from all the other days, but the problem is you never actually get there. You only have “today.” And if you can’t figure out what you’re doing about “today”, thinking about “tomorrow” won’t do anything more than drive you crazy.
I once wrote an article on my old website about the importance of keeping to a schedule. Some of us need an arbitrarily imposed structure to help us work towards the goals we value in the time available to us. But this concept of “tomorrow” is something different. It’s the belief that, in the absence of any conscious efforts to bring about change, the future will somehow embody a reality unlike the one you’re experiencing now. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting things in your life to be different. The problem arises when you spend all your time wishing things were different rather than thinking about how to make them different.
Obviously, this isn’t a revolutionary idea. We all understand this intuitively even without reading a badly written motivational book, so it should be an easy problem to fix. But there’s another layer to the puzzle: honesty. When we think about what we don’t like about “today”, are we REALLY being honest with ourselves? Are we identifying things we actually want to change or are we tinkering around the margins to avoid dealing with bigger, perhaps even unpleasant truths about our lives? Anyone who’s ever tried to fix a problem knows that even the best efforts are a complete waste of time if you don’t accurately identify the source of the problem.
Again, this probably seems obvious, but being honest with yourself is a hard thing, especially when you realize you’ve spent a long time not being honest with yourself and, by extension, others. For someone like me, a person strongly motivated by feelings of obligation and guilt, honesty can be difficult to embrace. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this difficult year, it’s that you have to find a way to be honest with yourself about who you are and what you want out of life. If you can’t do that, nothing else really matters. Sure, you can fake your way through life trying to be someone you’re not, but you can’t fool people forever. Sooner or later, your façade will crack and expose the truth lurking beneath. You might not notice it right away, even if it’s obvious to everyone else in your life. Denial is a powerful coping mechanism, but it’s also destructive, causing you to lash out at any suggestion that the lie you’ve wrapped around yourself isn’t true. And, of course, it’s impossible to fix a problem you refuse to acknowledge. You can grind your fingers to the bone trying to get to where you want to be, but if you can’t be honest about what you want, those efforts are doomed to frustration and failure.
For me, 2017 has been an exercise in frustration and failure, but I’m coming to understand it now as a necessary, if painful, process I had to go through to get down to the truth buried beneath many years of denial. Coming to terms with that truth is frightening because, unlike the comfortable fiction I’d built around it, the truth is real. It has substance and integrity, making it far more difficult to manipulate into a different, more pleasing shape. But those same qualities also make it a stronger and more stable foundation for my life, even if it will surely cause some pain in the short term.
Truth, in other words, is something you can build “today” upon, and if you can get that right, then you don’t need to spend all your time waiting for “tomorrow.”
Of course, realizing you haven’t been honest with yourself is one thing. Acting on that newfound knowledge is quite another. If 2017 represents the end of something, 2018 carries the promise of a new beginning. As any writer can tell you, beginnings are often painful and difficult to write, but always worth the effort in the end. Oftentimes, the biggest challenge is convincing yourself to get started; once the words are on the page, you can always find the truth of the story.
It’s long past time for me to start writing.