When I lived in Brooklyn, I was a fast and angry driver. I was always pushing the speed limit, beeping at people to move and, in one very unbecoming moment, I lost my cool and yelled at a group of tourists in downtown Brooklyn for blocking the road. In short, I was far from my best and always on edge. I had a lot to say and so much of it was about trying to prove someone wrong or explain the way I thought things really were. It was a self-involved and short-tempered way to live and it was only last week that I realized how much anger I had been holding onto and how misdirected it was.
Last Wednesday I was in the middle of a 40-minute drive to my dentist’s office when I noticed I was driving 10 miles under the speed limit. I was also driving without my typical fast–paced soundtrack. I had the windows open and was commuting in complete and utter silence. I had, out of nowhere, become a calm and quiet driver. This may not seem life-changing, except for the fact that in that moment, it hit me why I was suddenly so relieved of my typical anxiety level: I had finally found a project that spoke to what was most important to me in life and work.
In that moment I remembered an interview Julia did with chef/author Gabrielle Hamilton in Cherry Bombe. Gabrielle talked about how being acknowledged as a serious writer changed the way she acted from there on out. “I have noticed something very interesting since the success of this book. My need and hunger has quieted so dramatically and it’s directly related to having been recognized for something that matters to me…I just don’t need all of this attention and I get so much of the actual kind of attention I hungered for.”
It got me thinking about how maybe that’s what we’re all searching for and how we can help each other figure out how best to find that for ourselves.
For the past 11 years, I’ve been happy and immensely grateful for being able to have a job that not only allows me to pay my bills, but allows me to be happy while I’m doing it. I’ve had the privilege of doing something I love for so long now that I forgot to stop and see if it was actually fulfilling my needs and goals the same way it did 10 years ago.
Everyone in my life and anyone reading the site could tell that I wasn’t as excited about the more retail-focused parts of my job anymore (product posts, trends, roundups) and that I had been gravitating toward more personal essays and profiles. It wasn’t because I disliked design itself (I will always love patterns, decorating and flowers), but something was missing — a sense of excitement, passion, urgency and meaning that just wasn’t being met by products alone.
So a few years ago I started cutting those parts of the site out and adding in more that focused on the people and stories behind those products. Then I started a podcast to create a place for our community to sit down and have a real talk about not just the good, but also the tough parts of running your own creative business. With those changes came a change in me: I got excited again and felt like I had a real purpose. I was able to hear what people’s needs were and work toward using our platform to help them — or at least connect them with other people who could.
As much as I loved those parts of my job, and I still do, I still felt like I spent most of my day talking about paint colors, what was “next” in trends and which striped fabric to buy. Questions I’m happy to answer, but not questions that get at the core of why I do what I do: which is to help people find the inspiration, tools and confidence to build the lives they love at home and at work. It wasn’t until that moment, when I realized what the common thread was, that I realized that I wouldn’t be happy until I found a bigger project that let me work on problem-solving and helping other people full-time.
So with the help of my wife Julia (who is the world’s best book proposal writer), I turned my pipe dream — a book about women, for women, written by women — into a pitch that I could send to my editor. When I did, I felt that familiar voice in my head again, “You’ll never actually get this, you know. Just prepare to be shut down,” it said. I felt so comfortable with the idea that I’d fail that I’d forgotten to remember that things could also go the way I wanted, too.
And then it happened, I actually got the go-ahead to write the book I wanted. I immediately jumped into overdrive emailing people, planning over 100 photoshoots and organizing my plans for interview questions. Some of my biggest idols (Nikki Giovanni, Kathleen Hanna, Laura Jane Grace) agreed to be a part of the book and until last week, I hadn’t really stopped to have a moment to celebrate and realize it was all coming true. It wasn’t until I was driving down the road going 10 miles under the speed limit with the windows wide open that I realized I’d found my happy place. I was working on something that meant something to me, got to the core of who I am and what matters to me and was, hopefully, creating something that would have an impact on not just the creative community, but the community of women and young girls at large.
Will this one project be everything I need for the rest of my life? Probably not. But it has taught me a valuable lesson: taking the time to stop and make sure that you’re working toward the things that mean the most to you is the best time — and gift — you can give yourself.
It took me years to figure this out, but it doesn’t have to take everyone else that long. Looking back, I had all the pieces lined up and I just didn’t stop long enough to pay attention and connect the dots. Here’s what I wish I had done, and what you can do, to connect your own dots and find your path to what makes you happiest — and most quiet — inside:
1. Stop, take a breath and LISTEN: What do you hear? Are there voices telling you that you’re not good enough or strong enough to do what you love? Face those voices and see if they’re actually pointing out something you should be giving a shot.
2. Run toward what scares you: The second my book proposal was approved I was so happy I jumped up and down. Then 5 minutes later, fear set in. Was I really going to be able to pull this off? What if I failed? What if I actually got what I wanted? I felt paralyzed by all of the “what ifs.” So I let myself really wallow in those feelings and see them for what it was — a failure of actually succeeding at something that mattered. I felt fine failing at things that didn’t mean as much to me (my failure to get our shop up and running, to launch a new e-course fast enough and to get our Youtube page spiffed up), but I wouldn’t be able to be happy with myself if I failed at something that really meant something to me. That’s how I knew this was the right project and to keep on pushing through that fear.
3. Ask for help: Whether you know what you want and need help articulating it or need help to figure out what you actually want to be doing, ask someone you trust and love. Chances are, if they spend a lot of time with you, they know what you talk about and what seems to come up over and over. Ask them about that — and listen to what they say. You may have been missing an idea that was right in front of you the whole time.