Do What You Were Born To Do

I am struggling right now. The internal editor is really kicking my ass. I have written more than ten thousand words today and only published a tiny percentage. That is because I didn’t like most of what I wrote. It bothered me. It embarrassed me.

I looked at that mess of a story called A Work In Progress and shuddered because it felt so awful that I wanted to tear it up and get rid of it. Obviously I didn’t do that.

There is a”post” that I wrote contained just below this sentence. I didn’t like it and decided that it was too long. I was about to delete it when I decided that I was rushing to judgment so I placed it in blockquotes and wrote these few words about it. Perhaps I shall feel differently about it all in the morning, sometimes sunlight has an amazing restorative affect upon the soul.

My son asked me to tell him what it means to do what you were born to do and I smiled. Smiled because I love these conversations with him. Love the trust and the faith he has in me and do me best to turn them into teaching moments without being obvious about it.

Won’t be long before he stops seeing me as Superman and recognizes that the wizard is just a man hiding behind a curtain. I smile and wonder if the day will come when I confess that I am a walking contradiction who wonders if he’ll ever figure it out and knows that one day I will have what I want.

My father worked for the same employer for 38 years. I have never seen any one work harder than he did. That is almost a cliche, but it is true. Damn guy set a standard that used to make me crazy because I couldn’t match it. I couldn’t live up to it. I was fired. Dad never was. I was let go. Dad never was. They told me that my services weren’t good enough to keep me around. That never happened to dad.

And then dad almost died. The man didn’t do a good job of taking care of himself and had a major heart attack.  He was 3,000 miles from home when it happened. Mom called and told me that she was taking him to the emergency room. She put him on the phone with me and he was incoherent. That never happened. I had never seen my father mentally incapacitated, tired maybe but never drunk.

He always knew what was going on, but not that day. My BIL is a doc. He told me that if I wanted to see my father again I needed to get on a plane. So I did. Spent six hours of flight time wondering what I would do if he died while I was in the air. He didn’t, but by the time I got to him he was on a ventilator and unconscious.

Flew home a week later and spent another six hours wondering if he was dead or alive. Walked into my house and hugged my son, grabbed my pregnant wife and spoke to her belly. I promised that baby that I had done all that I could to ensure their grandfather would be around to meet them.

He was. Dad had a triple bypass two days before my daughter was born. It is fair to say that I won’t forget that time of my life.

Do What You Were Born To Do

That experience is what made me realize that blogging could be something more. Six months of crazy times helped me begin to remember that writing was something I loved. I had stopped. I had forgotten. The fire hadn’t gone out, but the flames were flickering and there was barely enough heat to keep me warm.

It didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t wake up and realize that writing was what I wanted to do. I didn’t open my eyes and dedicate my life to becoming the next great wordsmith. I kept doing the other things I was doing. I focused on money. I focused on trying to make enough to maintain a certain lifestyle. I did what dad had done, I supported all of us.

I was the sole breadwinner and I couldn’t see an alternative. My kids deserved to have a stay at home mom. I did it because I thought it was right and because it was what I knew. I did it because I was trying to live up to the standard that he set. Things happened, some of them were outside of my control and some of them weren’t.

Ultimately it didn’t matter because the whole fucking thing collapsed around me. I didn’t dance in the fire because I like drama I danced because I had no choice. It was dance or burn. I danced and wondered what I had done because I couldn’t accept anything other than blame. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t all my fault because I held myself accountable.

And I punished myself, not physically because that is too easy. Physical pain goes away but mental anguish isn’t so easily extinguished. If you want to really hurt someone take what they love, break it and then let the wind blow the pieces every which way. Watch them try to figure out what to do afterwards.

Forgiveness

I haven’t done it yet. I haven’t looked in the mirror and forgiven that guy that looks at me, not yet. I have promised to do so but only after he figures some of this stuff out. I keep turning up the heat and pushing harder. Keep reminding that guy that he is too smart and has too much ability to blow it all. Keep telling him that he can rest later and that the stomach aches are only there because he hasn’t gotten it done. The head aches will go when he stops clenching his jaw so tightly.

It reminds me a bit of a seen in The Avengers when they ask Bruce Banner what his secret is and he says that “he is always angry.” I get it. I know it. I am too, but the exercise keeps my pulse at a rate that makes the docs happy.

But there is a part and a piece that says it is a foolish game. Let your ego rest. Say sorry and acknowledge that it can’t all be done and what can be done will but only given time.

Frailty

In July it will be eight years since dad’s heart surgery. He is healthy but only in a relative sense. He hasn’t ever been quite the same. Some changes would be normal for man just shy of 70 but not all. And what concerns me is that he has slipped up and is doing a lousy job of taking care of himself.

But I know what can happen so I sit him down and tell him that I remember what it was like to see him on the verge of death. I tell him that his grandchildren deserve better and that my mother deserves to have him around. I tell him that I expect him to be around and that after more than 40 years of training he has learned a few things.

He promises to do better but I am not satisfied. I don’t ride him about it because I can’t make him do better. I can’t make him change and I don’t want him to to tune me out. But I look at him and wonder. The docs told us that he should have died. They said that my grandfather, his father should have died earlier than he did. They tell dad that he and grandpa are proof that force of will and the desire to live can have a positive impact upon how long we live.

Do What You Were Born To Do

My son asks me what I was born to do and I tell him that it was to be his father. He gets distracted by school stuff so our conversation takes a different tack. That night I lie in bed and think about it and wonder if it is one thing or a series of things that we are born to do.

I stare out at the dark ceiling and decide that I have to write. I have to figure out how to make enough from it to make it what I do. I think about dad and tell myself that I need to hold myself to similar standards. I am not in horrible shape but it could be better.

I need to figure it out. I work on it. I look for more opportunities. More nights pass and I stare at the ceiling again. Some times I feel like I can’t do anything else any more and sometimes I feel a sense of calm and purpose that I haven’t had in years. I’ll get there. I’ll do what I was born to do.

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18 Comments

  1. KeyaWilliams May 25, 2012 at 4:26 am

    I think its incredible to see a dad who supports his family go through this process and ultimately decide to follow his passion.  I look at my husband and (fortunately) he has a job that he loves and always dreamed of.  But the story would be more like yours if he felt like a misfit in his career.  Its easy for people like me to say “follow your heart. Do what you love”  Because I’m a stay at home mom that IS supported financially by her husband.  I can do the earn little money thing.  and chase dreams of being a writer and yoga instructor without much worry of how the bills get paid or how my kids will eat.  But you!  I give you all the credit in the world for being so incredibly brave!

    • TheJackB May 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm

       @KeyaWilliams Hi Keya,
       
      When I think about my father and his health I know that much of it is tied into work. I wish he would have found something else. Hindsight is 20-20, but when I look back and look at now it just makes me feel selfish to have been part of why he did it.
       
      In my particular situation I can look at things from a variety of perspectives. There was a time in my career where my yearly income was quite significant for a number of years.
       
      I had the cash but no real time to enjoy it. And then I didn’t have any and life changed.
       
      It is a long winded way of saying that I have lived enough to know what I want and to be willing to earn less if I can love work more.

  2. CrossBetsy May 25, 2012 at 2:00 am

    “ I didn’t dance in the fire because I like drama I danced because I had no choice. It was dance or burn. I danced and wondered what I had done because I couldn’t accept anything other than blame. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t all my fault because I held myself accountable.”
    Nothing makes sense until it finally does. Here’s to doing the best we can with the moments we’ve been given!!

    • TheJackB May 26, 2012 at 12:25 pm

       @CrossBetsy 
      <i>Nothing makes sense until it finally does. </i>
       
      I love that line- it is the most sensible thing I have read today. It just resonates with me. Reminds me of how sometimes there is a fog that we walk around in and then it just lifts and we see.

  3. JudyDunn May 24, 2012 at 6:55 am

    Jack, my friend,
     
    The one thing I really get here, besides that you are very, very tired, is that you want to be a writer. I was a single parent and teaching paid the bills (well, sort of) and I pushed aside my dream for many, many years. I now truly believe that I was born to write. I skirted around it for a long time. I was a pseudo-writer: Over the years I wrote grants, I wrote copy for marketing clients, I wrote other stuff, but I didn’t consider myself a “writer.” It was always just beyond my grasp. I often wonder where I would have been if I had decided to go for it 20 years ago, instead of last July. So I really get where you are right now.
     
    But my advice to you is to ease up on yourself a little bit. Take a break from blogging (at least don’t do a post every freaking day) , step back, take a breath and, as Jayme mentioned, buy some notebooks. See where free writing takes you for a while. Write in longhand. Connect the page to your pen, to your fingers, to your heart. You are a talented guy. And, yes, you WILL do what you were born to do. 

    • Lori May 24, 2012 at 9:21 am

       @JudyDunn Wow Judy, Hi Jack! These seem to be two themes going around the blogosphere lately: taking a break and are you a writer!? Answers Jack, yes, listen to Judy and yes, you ARE a writer! LOL
      I love this: “sometimes sunlight has an amazing restorative affect upon the soul.” That is so true as only a true (and perhaps tired) writer could attest to!
      Lori

      • TheJackB May 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm

         @Lori  @JudyDunn Balance is what I think many of us are searching for. I don’t believe that we can find the “perfect” level because life doesn”t work that way but I think we can find the level that works for us.

    • TheJackB May 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm

       @JudyDunn Hi Judy,
       
      Tired is a good assessment but not so much that I can’t keep pushing to get to where I need to be.I have often wrestled with whether there really are signs and if some things are meant to be and have decided that I am mostly agnostic.
       
      But if there has ever been a time in my life where I have felt like things were heading towards making a run for it this is it.
       
      Now.
       
      I have a lot of work and life experience that I didn’t have before. It is a benefit because it provides more fodder for writing and it has made me tougher. I sold my house last year and I can move any where, be any where.
       
      I know where I want to be and where I prefer to be but nothing is permanent. So I can take a few steps in different directions and see what happens.
       
      Thank you for the kind words and the support. It is always good to know that my tribe supports me.

      • JudyDunn May 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm

         @TheJackB Life experience is huge. Perhaps if I didn’t have those years of teaching, that trip to West Africa to film the documentary for a relief and development organization, the marketing business years, I wouldn’t have such rich stuff to draw from in my writing. Great point.
         
        Hey, if you are still in the L.A. area in October, would love to meet up. I’ll be at the West Coast Writer’s Digest Conference that’s happening at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, Oct. 19-21. If not, I’ll just wave.   : )

        • TheJackB May 24, 2012 at 4:01 pm

           @JudyDunn I would love to meet up. Let’s keep in touch about this. It would be great. The conference sounds interesting, I might have to check it out.

  4. jonbuscall May 24, 2012 at 5:06 am

    Jack, 
    Do NOT burn out. I wrote massively between the age of 13 and 33. Published several hundred articles, three books, too many blog posts I care to mention, oh, and made a living teaching literature and writing. 
    Then one day I seriously considered jumping out of an 8th floor window. It was about after teaching some 17th century poetry, so with hindsight I figure that could have done it. 
     
    I walked out of the university where I walked that day and never went back. Since then I’ve read about 5 novels, and a bazillion business books or books about dogs. If you’d told my 29 year old self this would be my life, he would have laughed at you. Fiction and writing was everything. 
     
    Burn out (and dealing with some inner stuff) changed me massively. Sure, I still write a blog and journalism. I make podcasts and enjoy creative activities. But I don’t see myself as a writer anymore and probably never will. 
     
    Look after that energy. It’s precious.

    • TheJackB May 24, 2012 at 6:50 am

       @jonbuscall Hi Jon,
      Good to see you. Burn out isn’t something that I worry much about. I have been blogging for 8 years now and most of the time I did it at a much faster pace than I do now. Took a bit of time to find the balance, but I got that.
       
      What are your books about? Were they academic topics?
       
      Life is an interesting ride. I think we go through cycles and moments that impact and affect us.

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  6. bdorman264 May 24, 2012 at 4:35 am

    Ditto what Jayme said, methinks you are pushing way too hard trying to figure all of this out. My situation is certainly different, but I too am struggling with certain aspects of this and it’s frustrating to me when I don’t do something about it and just let it resolve itself. I’m not lazy, but most times I just don’t care and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Maybe I need to start giving a damn about some of this petty stuff.
     
    One way or another, we will figure this out; we are survivors. 

    • TheJackB May 24, 2012 at 6:58 am

       @bdorman264 Hi Bill,
       
      I am not afraid of the struggle, kind of enjoy it sometimes. It is a tool. I see this in terms of goals and objectives, or I should say that is where I try to start. Once we know what the goal is we can try to map out a way to get there, or that is the theory.
       
      Can’t disagree with you at all about being survivors.

  7. Soulati May 24, 2012 at 4:20 am

    P.S. YOUR face is not over rated.

  8. Soulati May 24, 2012 at 4:20 am

    Uhmm, Jack? I read only the first three sentences that came to my in box and knew I had to say this to you. YOU NEED A BREAK! No one can keep the pace you do, publishing as you do, having to manage the issues you are behind the blog within four walls with other humans, and not experience serious burnout.
     
    I challenge you to take one week off from writing; instead keep your moleskin (what’s the big deal about those things anyway) nearby and jot thoughts for later. Instead, focus on filling your queue with new business. Instead, focus on your mental health and clarity and sanity because as we know, those of us in the hot seat as providers and nurturers for our families, if we lose it, so do they.
     
    You’ve sent me a message; I’m just telling you what I’ve read.

    • TheJackB May 24, 2012 at 7:03 am

       @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Hello Jayme,
       
      This blogging thing and basketball are the two things that keep me from going off the rails. This is my sanity. This is where I vent and let go of the crap that hangs on and pulls me down.
       
      When I am irritated but not sure why this is where I go to figure it out. It is my laughing place. I don’t know that walking away from it will provide the clarity that we are talking about. It is not a bad idea, I am just not sure it is for me.
       
      But I will think about it. I do relatively little with this on the weekends because it is nice to disconnect occasionally. And I am appreciative, thankful for your concern.

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