Growing Into Myself
For most of my adult life I’ve felt torn between wanting comfort and wanting growth. As a kid I was so driven, had so many ideas about all the things I’d do, all the ways in which I’d be successful. My family would always joke that I’d have to be a singing chef so that I could pursue both of my primary passions, delighting my clients with song as I cooked delicious food for them. My education taught me to be a generalist, and fostered many passions (both lasting and fleeting) over the years. I learned that I can try anything at all, and the values that quietly grew in me in my teens became more about building a rich inner life than focusing on niche skills.
I went on to study voice in college, and surrounded by competitive peers looking to excel in their field, I always felt a hair out of place. My love of singing (and my skill) grew and grew, quickly, but as I tried to envision my life as a working musician, something just didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t stop focusing on the negatives of the lifestyle. I knew I wouldn’t want to travel all the time. I knew I wanted to have a steady paycheck one day, like my mom always had. I loved the feeling of sinking into my own bed at the end of the night. I felt so much joy when I performed, but auditioning, even in the most low-stakes setting, brought unease, anxiety and self doubt. I think on a subconscious level, it became clear to me early on that I would not be pursuing a career as a professional singer out of college, though I continued to hone my skills and skeptically follow the path as it seemed to be laid out for me.
It’ll be 7 years this spring since I walked at my college graduation. Sometimes it feels like I haven’t gotten anywhere since then. Like I’ve been completely stagnant. I’ve worked and worked, but haven’t built a career. Through years of therapy I’ve begun to recognize that I feel paralyzed by the fear of not being the best at whatever I try, so in myriad ways I’ve stayed still, waiting for opportunities that won’t come to me. I watch people pursue their dreams and I think “I could do that! I mean, if I knew what my dreams were.”
Ah, but there’s the rub. I do have dreams and I know what they are. I’ve been vehemently pursuing my dreams, sharing them with my community, telling everyone about them and begging for someone (sorry, mom, I know I’m needy ❤️) to validate them, and validate me and my purpose in life. I dream of a joyful life. I dream of art on my walls, of friends taking a third serving just because the meal I made tastes just that good, of sitting in the open air and singing at the top of my lungs. I am already living out my dreams. I am (hashtag) blessed to enjoy these things that I cherish. And yet, I have continued to apply constant pressure to myself to pursue a “career”, and called it dreaming. I’ve told myself over and over again that I’m a failure because I don’t have a 401k.
Even as I’ve sat in the depths of these negative thoughts and self flagellation, my dreams have been growing and rooting themselves more deeply within me. I’ve started to entertain the idea that if I focus my energy on the joy that I want, the home I want, and the community I want, that stability will follow. I am smart and a great worker and I can be one of those people I look up to who participate fully in life, working to support themselves without having a “career” at the center of their universe. Our society requires all different types of people, including those who live to work, those who work to live, and anything in between, above, below or to the side of that one box I’ve been trying to squish myself into.
I’ve lived at my mothers house as a tenant/housemate for 5 years now. I’m still living there as a daughter, too, as seems to be a natural order of things when you have such a lovely relationship as we do. I have benefitted from the support of my mother in every sense of the word. She has egged me on, she’s been patient, she’s scolded and celebrated me as it’s needed. She’s given me freedom in her house that most adults living at their home of origin don’t get to experience. She’s welcomed my partner into the fold with kindness and understanding, even when it’s been hard. I’ve always been convinced that I could live with her forever and continue to grow, imagining myself buying the house from her eventually and building an in-law apartment for her to enjoy her own space in retirement.
The last year has been the most challenging. I haven’t worked, in the traditional sense, at all, and I’ve fostered a gnawing feeling that I’m failing my mother by not “growing”. By being stagnant. For months I met with my therapist on FaceTime every Monday afternoon and cried about how to please my mom, how to make her understand me, how to make peace, how to be a better daughter. I fought with my mom and begged her to be more accommodating and understanding, to “back off”, and she tried and tried. I saw her trying, I felt grateful, and yet I remained ill at ease. My therapist kept telling me I needed to give my mom space, let her live her own life. Stop spending so much time with her socially. Stop sharing everything with her. “How do you expect her to back off from you if you’re always with her telling her about your fears and problems?”
At one point recently it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve been working so hard on my relationship with my mom, drawing all my energy, trying to figure out how to build a life that I thought she could respect rather than figuring out how to build one that I feel proud of. I was spending so much time trying to fix something that’s already so healthy, and maybe I was using this dynamic as an excuse to ignore my dreams. I was creating a barrier for myself and using my mom as a figurehead for it. My living situation wasn’t working for me anymore.
I had been discussing the idea of relocating with my partner, in a vague way, for a while, and once I had my revelation I began to pursue the idea more seriously. We began to discuss different cities. I began to visualize myself at the head of my own household, and I felt waves of joy and peace passing over me as I entertained these thoughts. As we discussed the possibilities of where we might live it became clear that I would want to be somewhere with a support network of some kind. A community that I wouldn’t have to build from scratch. I thought about what had made me happy during the few years after graduation that I’d lived on my own and worked at a cool shop in my college town.
After a long, isolated winter of feeling so stuck, such failure, such sadness, and sometimes helplessness, we finally made a joyous decision about where to live come summer. At this point I hadn’t even told my mom I was planning to move away. I was trying, for perhaps the first time in my life, to make a decision completely separate from her and her counsel. I wanted to remove any pressure she might feel to offer me the “right” advice. After years of trying to live into what I thought my mom and society at large wanted from me, and failing and failing and failing, I could see that it was time for me to take a stand for my own dreams, the ones I talked about above. I wouldn’t move for a job, I would move for joy, and find a job.
The day I told my mom I was moving back to Ithaca, NY (my home away from home, the place where some of my best friends have settled, a land where the coffee is roasted to perfection and the food is fresh and inspiring, the place where I became the musician that I am so proud to be), I felt totally at peace. I was amazed at her calm, kind listening and the support that she offered when I made my announcement. For all of my felt anguish over our relationship, when I look at our story objectively, my mom has never really been anything but an anchor, holding me down to earth while I bob around and shine under the sun.
For the first time in a long time, I feel so palpably excited for what my future holds. I can see so much good coming towards me, I can taste the strawberries I’ll pick, I can see Cayuga Lake glittering back at me as I stare at it in awe, ukulele in hand. I feel like I’m returning to myself, armed with the inner strength I’ve been fostering and building these past years. When I moved back to Nyack from Ithaca 5 years ago, I felt so completely broken by all I had experienced in my first two years of independence, just stabbing in the dark to try to make a life for myself.
I am so grateful for my years at home, being healed by the love and support of my family and our friends. Even though I’ve lost sight of it time and again, I’ve grown so very much. I’m so grateful that I have recognized and responded to the call within myself to start back on my very own path anew, with my love by my side. I always thought I needed to grow out, grow a bigger, richer, capitalistic life in order to thrive. I love how my thoughts have evolved. I don’t need to go out. I want to burrow into my dreams. I want to grow into myself.
I can’t wait for what’s to come. Have you developed your inner life during this pandemic year? I would love to talk about it with you. Write me, comment, dm me, whatever. I love you, whoever you are reading this. Let’s keep reminding ourselves to follow our hearts and sing for joy!