I wish someone had told me that you need to be strong in this life, that flowery romanticism and vacant idealism was never going to be very helpful. I hadn’t realized when I was younger that the kind of strength you need isn’t hard or infallible or impenetrable, because I always thought that was what it meant to be strong. It turns out strength is much more nebulous than that. It turns out that strength is in the reaction, not the action. What do you do when your life takes turns and curves you never expected? Where are you amidst the rubble? What do you do when you’re not who you thought you’d be? What happens when your life turns out entirely different than what you expected? How do you handle that?
I believed in so much when I was younger. That was my generation: the You Can Do Anything You Want Generation. I still believe that, but it requires much more than I ever expected. The You Can Do Anything You Want speech came with an asterisk and some fine print that nobody knew about. You can do anything you want, if you’re ready to work for it, to sustain long bouts of sacrifice, and if you’re willing to learn what it means to truly be strong. Ok, then you can do anything you want. Just be prepared. Because, as it turns out, wanting something really, really, really badly does not lead to having it. There is work involved. There is pain. There is sadness. There is a lot of living that needs to happen in between the moments of dreams and hopes and the pursuit of both.
I wish someone would have tempered my expectations about life, love, and work. I know part of this is my privilege, that I had the luxury of being around people who really did believe that I could do anything I wanted to do, that the only thing standing between me and success was just me. I know there are a lot of people who do not have the luxury of delusion. My husband was born amidst abject poverty in a small country in North Africa where there was no delusion of hopes and dreams, besides making enough money to survive, which in Tunisia, was a dream that many have a difficult time actualizing. His life and the trajectory of his life is humbling.
I am aware that there are only certain pockets of people in this world who have the indulgence of passion, who are ever encouraged to “do only what they love.” Only the privileged are ever encouraged to “follow their passion.” I know this. And, in all honesty, I wish I had never been given such a strangely toxic gift. Because, the foolish pursuit of only doing that which I love to do leaves out far too much of the grittiness of life. It did nothing to prepare me for the fact that—on the path to this elusive, perfect life of only doing what I love—there’s a lot of shit I have to do that I don’t love. And, I was never prepared for this and, fuck, I really wish I had been. At least I would have been strong enough to handle failure and financial stress and the fact that—no matter how much you love something—sometimes it fucking sucks to do it. Sometimes love is not always enough to sustain a commitment. It takes discomfort and suffering and sacrifice and there are painful moments and that’s okay. I know it’s okay now. I didn’t then, when I was in my early to mid twenties. I hadn’t known that pain and sacrifice were okay, that there is something larger than having good days every day. I know now that hard work feels better than easy rewards.
I don’t subscribe to this “do what you love” advice anymore. I cringe when I see mugs and totes and bullshit prints about following your passion and doing only what you love. It’s just stupid to think like this. That’s not how life is and that’s not bitter or cynical or pessimistic or negative: it’s fucking freeing, if you let it be. It’s ridiculous to expect that every day should be perfect and that, if you find that magical passion of yours that you love and can make money from, then you shall be awarded lifelong happiness that never falters. It’s not worth even entertaining these expectations, because life can be magic and beautiful and surprising in all the best ways, but it is so many others things as well, unsavory things that you don’t want to think about, but demand your attention. And that’s okay. It’s all okay. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. Your work—your path, your purpose, your calling, whatever you want to call it—doesn’t have to be something you enjoy every day to be worth you showing up to it daily. The journey does not have to be paved with rainbows in order to be embarked upon.
I let myself get caught up in the fantasy of many things for a dangerously long amount of time and it left me cripplingly unprepared for my life. Flowery words about what you deserve and how life should be a wonderful adventure every moment of every day and you can’t miss any of it and everything should just feel like a movie all the time, these can wrap you up and make you hope for a life that doesn’t exist and a life you shouldn’t be wanting any way. I don’t use the word “should” very often, but I think it’s warranted here. You shouldn’t aim for a life of ease, of comfort, and of perfection, of a constant happiness that never wanes.
A big life is big because it has been built with everything you’ve got, not just the good parts, not just the happy parts: everything. A big life is big in all the ways. Big reward. Big pain. Big sacrifice. Big sadness. Big disappointment. Big excitement. Big happiness.
You will find that the times you are most proud of yourself, the times you look upon your life with wonder, is when you have risen from the depths of something catastrophic, when you’ve stared down your breakdown and not let it ruin you completely. You will sense the real hope that lives within your bones when you’ve become dangerously close to burning through it all completely. Life is better when your stars and stripes are earned. The rewards are more vibrant when you’ve been a little beaten and bruised and broken from weathering the journey it took to get you where you are. You will never appreciate your happiness more than when you’ve lost it, when it has vacated you for long stretches of time and you must claw your way back to it. This is a life. This is the full experience. This is what the whole thing is about. Live it completely, in all the ways in which it is meant to be lived. This is it.