When I reflect on my life, I think of it in seasons. There was the season I worked at that dive bar downtown, and the season(s) when I went to school. There were seasons when I struggled to find my voice, when I felt confident, when I’d go to karaoke with my work friends, when I worked from home, when I learned to cook, when I read a lot, and when I wrote a lot.
A Reflection on Life’s Seasons
In retrospect, these seasons were defined clearly, but when I was in the middle of them, I couldn’t imagine a different climate. Just as it’s hard to remember the chill of February in the sleepy heat of August, and it’s hard to remember feeling breathless and sweaty (thanks, humidity) in the middle of February. Each season of my life has contained a time when I just couldn’t imagine that things could be any different—with all the ups and downs and ambivalence that comes from being immersed in a time and place.
Over the winter, I was in a highly creative season. I spent long dark evenings working on my novel, and weekends at a writing workshop. I was generating a lot of output. But it was also a strange season because I wasn’t taking much in. Usually, I’m a fast and hungry reader—it’s not uncommon for me to read a few books a week (mostly fiction). But that urge dried up, and I stopped reading.
This reading drought, though it occurred at the same time as a flood of new writing, made me feel really guilty. The writing advice I receive most often is to read. Read everything I can get my hands on. Break down what worked. Emulate that in my writing. And it’s great advice! I’ve found that I do need a steady stream of input in order to fill the well and generate output. And yet, I wasn’t reading. I worried that I was being a writer in the wrong way.
Even as I was building and generating and moving forward with my project, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t doing it right. Yes, I was writing, but I wasn’t acting like a writer is supposed to. I knew that I didn’t feel compelled to pick up a novel, and I knew that my book was coming together, and that was just the weather for that time. Some of it was awesome, and some of it sucked, and some of it I was just ambivalent about.
The Comfort of Common Feelings
Recently I had coffee with my writing group, and the topic of guilt came up. Around the table, we all agreed that our relationships to our writing all included a razor’s edge of guilt and shame.
We felt guilty for not writing enough, and we felt guilty for neglecting other things to write too often. We were ashamed of the narcissism it takes to prioritize putting words on a page, ashamed of how little we trusted our voices. We felt guilty for neglecting our characters and our stories, and felt ashamed of our need to tell them.
Writers are a neurotic bunch. I’m sure this isn’t news to you, but it was a revelation for me. It was powerful to know I was not alone. That one of the things that I love most in the world is also a source of shame and guilt, that I was mad at myself for not being better at it, that other people feel the same way about the things that they love some of the time.
Getting Tripped Up by “Enough”
When I look back on the different seasons of my life, I can see that I’ve had a long-standing tendency to beat myself up for one thing or another. Sure, I’m crushing it at a stressful job, but I’m not writing anything. Sure, I’m exercising on a schedule that makes me feel great, but I’m not lifting enough weight or running enough distance. Yes, I’m spending time with the people who matter to me, but I’m not writing enough. Sure, the writing is going beautifully, but I’m not reading.
I wonder where I picked up this obsession with enough? And why do I believe I need to have everything in perfect balance to enjoy what I already have? It’s a bit like feeling that summer isn’t good enough because it doesn’t also have tree branches adorned with ice, crunchy colorful leaves, and the smell of plants starting to grow. Summer is great on its own and has its own unique flavors and challenges.
I feel like I’m entering a new season in my life—some good luck, hard work, and fortuitous decision making by past-me all came together in a series of exciting personal developments this summer. Some things that I was worried about don’t exist anymore. Some of the things that I was nervously anticipating arrived even better than I imagined. And the weather of my life is changing as a result. I’ve read a few books, and am itchy for more—both beloved old classics and new stories. I’m feeling settled and stable with my job, and am excited to launch some new projects. I’m editing more than I’m generating.
Making Peace with All the Seasons
Here’s the part of the article where I’m supposed to give you some advice about how to be a better leader, better teammate, and a better person. Sorry to disappoint you if you’re still with me. Instead, I’d like to extend an invitation.
As the seasons start to change for you—maybe they are creative, personal, professional, or just plain old weather-based seasons—I invite you to relish in what makes this time in your life unique and enjoyable. Work through the hard parts with as much grace as you can muster. I invite you to strike the word “enough” from your vocabulary. I invite you to cut yourself some slack—every season has its struggles, and you’re doing great. Besides, this season won’t last forever. I invite you to immerse yourself fully in all the quirks and perks and downsides of the present, firm in the knowledge that another season will be right on its heels.
This next season will have its features and its trends. I’m going to do my best to enjoy the delicious pieces, work through the hard stuff, and remember that seasons are fleeting. I hope you’ll join me.