A few weeks ago, I presented at the Field’s End Conference on Bainbridge Island, Washington. It was one of my very favorite conferences, with a level of intimacy and insight that invigorated me and seemed truly enlightening to participants.
At this stage in my writing life, I am keenly aware of how much it uplifts me to talk with writers about how very possible their writing lives can be. My desire to accompany people through their discouraged and defeated places has overtaken what was once a debilitating fear of public speaking.
And yet, those dark and dusty corners of self-doubt managed to cast their shadow through the focused light of my good intentions.
Swept up in the energy of a very full and very engaged room of people, I elaborated on my key points with more examples and more enthusiasm than usual. As a result, I didn’t make it all the way through my well-timed and well-planned presentation. The end was rushed, with at least three of 10 key points simply glossed over. Despite the fact that a throng of people communicated individually how much they got out of the presentation, I chose to torture myself with the one ambiguous comment about how much material I had attempted to cram into an hour.
I was imperfect. I had possibly disappointed someone as a result. I could not accept this.
True, it was in the spirit of connection and enthusiasm that I got long-winded. True, I had spent the entire day before driving and crying on the heels of two weeks (including the weekend) of nonstop work. True, I was as exhausted and depleted as I have ever been, having recently started a full-time job in tandem with daily content deadlines for Hopeful Divorce, the intense demands of single motherhood and the emotional bloodletting of my beloved dog slowly fading away.
Still, I could not give myself a break.
Days into my agony of non-generosity toward myself, my expectation of perfection broke me open to the truth of my vulnerability. The truth was, I was doing way too much–more than I could handle. I was not in the habit of experiencing any kind of limit to my capacity. All of my energy was going out; there was nothing coming in to replenish the well. And as a result, I had worked myself into a hole of despair that I had no idea how to get out of.
All of this from spending three days doing what I love most — but in a way that was entirely out of balance with the other variables of my life.
On the night of my return, my son got really sick, and then I did. We did nothing much for a week at least.
I came out the other side greatly humbled about how punishing some of my greatest passions have turned out to be in a context where my expectations are out of alignment with my resources. I understood that my writing life is going to happen, for now, at the office. That nine hours of writing per day is all I have room for, no matter if I’m not doing “my own” writing.
Meltdowns offer valuable insight; mine yielded a good, close-up look at how my perfectionism is doing me deep harm that limits my capacity to be of service–in my personal and professional life. I saw how much I want to be liked, and what a liability this can be. I saw how deep this wobble runs in me: a parallel track to all that I hold most sacred.
The beauty of the writing life is that it’s always the context, even when it’s not the content of our work. I understand that everything life serves up (even if this prevents us from writing) seasons us as writers and as people. I thanked myself for working so hard to keep what mattered most to me alive. And then I gave myself permission to let it all go — for now.
Recognizing where we wobble and owning that wobble with as much compassion as we can muster will help us both accept and release patterns that are holding us back from the ease and grace that is our birthright.
Where are you wobbling right now? What small step can you take or commitment can you make to help steady yourself? I know you have the creativity and commitment to find new ways to love and support yourself through it.