The 13 Words That Carry My Life And Business
Probably about a year ago now (I regret that this particular piece of art was undated), I watercolored a blank page in one of my art notepads, got out my stamps, and stamped 13 words in black ink onto the paper.
It was not even a proper sentence. It didn’t need to be, though. It was a mantra for me, and it became a mantra for my business. Not intentionally, of course… no one ever sets out to write those types of things, and if you have, you’ve surely failed miserably. Setting out to write something profound and important, durable and solid, is like trying to connect the dots looking forward. The dots only ever connect in hindsight, though. You don’t sit down with stamps and some watercolors and decide to change your life.
It’s just not the way it happens.
The way it happens is you just write, you just try. You just paint and you just live, and then, somehow, it happens that your life is changing. It’s not an accident though. It’s definitely on purpose, just not as a result of your efforts but the universe’s efforts. Not your plans but the universe’s plans.
That’s how these 13 words happened.
I did not open a page in my notebook one day and say, “I’m going to write something to live by today!” Nope, I had experience after experience of knots in my stomach, breath trying to pass through the smallest gap between either side of my throat, restless nights but burning eyes begging to shut.
I asked question after question and came up empty thousands of times. I lived a life that belonged to someone else while mine sat on a shelf, capped tightly until I was brave enough to go and choose it. I felt a disconnect I think we all feel at some point or another, but someof us silence and ignore it.
I could no longer do so.
It was the weight of that disconnect that prompted these 13 words.
But were the 13 words always inside of me? Were they there through my childhood when I played school with my little sisters, dreaming of being a teacher? Were they there during the 3 years I spent studying education in college, and then the 2 after I spent pursuing yet another degree in the same field? Or did they only appear when the disconnect came to life?
Why is it that everything always appears to be leading to one place, and then life takes a sharp left turn at the very last minute?
Was it at this sharp left turn that the words came to me?
I think that they were always there. I think that I was meant to be so sure for so long (or at least to live in the illusion of being sure) so that the sudden left turn would feel more sudden, more sharp, more left. I think that the jolt shook me and changed me the way it did only because those words had been with me my entire life, they were merely waiting for a breaking point to rise to the surface.
I can see looking back that my whole life was building up to this disconnect, because it is that disconnect that I both ran furiously away from, but also am forced to remain dangerously familiar with, because it drives me and has provided me with the undeniable foundation on which my life, and now business, rests.
Facing that disconnect originally, though, was the first world-stopping moment of my 20s. I remember sitting on the stoop of my front doorstep with Michael, asking through tears and that all-too-familiar too small airway, “What am I going to do though?”
I had asked that question to him, to my friends and family, and to myself what seemed like a hundred thousand times already. Mostly to myself. Considering not being a teacher anymore was devastating. How could I have been so wrong? Was that even possible?
I know I must have referred back to this experience a dozen times now, but like I said, it was a world-stopping moment. To have spent my whole life wanting to be something, and then finally being it only to wonder whether or not I actually wanted to do it was like immediately unravelling a spool of thread I’d been winding up my whole life.
But when I stamped those 13 words and when I think about those 13 words now, as I often do, I feel simultaneously at peace and restless, insatiable. I feel no need to ask the question, “What am I going to do though?” It’s useless because it’s nearly unanswerable, and I was asking it with the hopes of receiving a single answer, when I can clearly see now I will never be a singular thing.
After I pouted and sulked and wandered aimlessly for a couple months post-quitting, I stamped the words
“That the line between who you are and what you do becomes blurred,”
and I took the first of many steps forward with those 13 words as my mission.
I had lived a life not my own. I had been one person doing another person’s living, and it was the most soul-splitting experience I’ve ever had. I wanted nothing to do with that way of living. I wanted me to be the same thing as my work. I wanted my work to be just another embodiment of myself. I wanted the two to be seamless. That is still what I want, and so I’m chasing it relentlessly.
For me, there will be no lines between who I am and what I do, and this is terrifying, but it’s also the only means of true, deep fulfillment I’ve found for myself.
I cannot go to one place and be one person, and then come home and be someone else. I cannot pretend to be about something I don’t believe in. I cannot preach something without practicing it, and practice something I do not preach. Perhaps there are people who can. There must be. There certainly are. There are definitely millions of people who are not in their work, whose work is not inside of them, but I cannot be one of those people.
Is it a blessing or a curse? Should I be happy to live with such a singularly defining vision of happiness and success? Or should I instead try to be someone who can separate myself from what I do everyday?
It’s hard. That I know for sure. It’s not immediately financially rewarding. It’s not easily understood by most people, but it is my mission nonetheless: that the line between who I am and what I do becomes blurred; that my work is me; that I am my work; that what is asked of me is what I’m ready and willing to give.
It doesn’t work for everyone. I am not right and you are not wrong and vice versa. It is exhausting at times to be my job, for when am I ever really off the clock? I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish sometimes for a new heart, one that didn’t need to be so damn involved.
But instead I have the heart I have, and that heart stamped out those 13 words, “That the line between who you are and what you do becomes blurred,” and that heart has stayed true to those words even when my mind has tried to stray. That heart has lead me to create mentor groups for teenage girls, to become a personal trainer, to write and share, to speak, to paint, to read, to help, and I would never wish any of that away.
So that is my heart, with those 13 words as the goal for now: that the line between who I am and what I do becomes blurred.