As soon as the words fly out of his mouth, they flap against my own, as if to beat them down, or shake them from a habitual torpor.
I know it is not his intention that they sting. But somehow they do, pushing against a resistance that has already propelled a chorus of protests to my tongue.
“Where is your faith?”
The question comes during an innocuous exchange with an acquaintance I haven’t seen in some time. When I run into him at a recent event, we spend a few minutes at the end catching up. As he asks what I’ve been up to, I, of course, mention the job I started in January. When he presses for more details, I share some of the challenges of my adjustment period, a running thread in conversations over the last two months. Eventually, talk turns to my dream job, as he deduces that where I am now is merely a pit stop on the way to something else.
I give the answer I’ve ladled out for years, the one I claim is shared my most of my ilk: I would be a freelance writer. A successful one with a steady supply of assignments that would occasionally send me to far-flung locales, frequently engage me in inspiring dialogue with dynamic individuals from all walks of life, and afford me the opportunity to make a difference through the written word.
It’s the fantasy career I’ve always lobbed into the field of possibilities, a goal I know I share with many other writers. But as he begins to probe, wondering what is holding me back from pursuing that goal, I feel a flare of irritation that has very little do with his relentless curiosity and everything to do with the hollowness of my own words.
For I am ready with my litany: Doesn’t he know how challenging it is to break into the freelance world? Does he have any idea how many writers are pitching publications hoping for their lucky break? It takes time and energy to constantly query and write on spec, a discipline that could prove endlessly frustrating knowing editors have likely heard every novel idea and fresh spin you have to offer. Why trade a guaranteed paycheck for a hustle of often-elusive rewards?
I could go on and on, shutting myself further away from the career I claim to crave with every word I utter. But as I speak them, I am aware, perhaps more acutely than ever before, of just how I’ve been sabotaging my own dream. Rather than give my attention to the potential positives or even allow myself to dwell in the realm of possible fulfillment, I have been building a barricade of excuses. And in that moment, they all sound flimsy to my ears. It is as if I am listening to myself from a distance, wondering how long I plan to keep up such a well-worn charade.
My friend, staring at me intently and with genuine puzzlement, sees through it.
Besides, were I to actively pursue a freelance career, it’s not as if I’d be starting from scratch, a novice writer of untested talent looking to hook my foot around any door I could crack open. I’ve already had a writing career. I just happened to have done it full time as a print journalist for close to 20 years. That platform alone is an advantage many with freelance ambitions don’t have.
Yet why am I always so quick to discount my experience, to reach for every reason why not instead of charging ahead with every reason to recommend me?
My friend views me through a different, larger lens. Though he doesn’t know me well, he has seen, he says, the way I light up a room. He has heard me speak before a group. He believes I possess what it takes to inhabit my boldest desires. Yet I shift uncomfortably before his penetrating stare, feel the flash of defiance strumming along my spine as I attempt to obstinately stand my ground.
And then he asks: “Where is your faith?”
I am momentarily silenced before I profess to an abundance of what has been patently absent from our conversation. It is one that will stick with me for days. As someone who is always ready to champion the hopes and visions of others, believing that confidence and trust in any dream can spur its realization, I have been lax in cultivating my own conviction.
Yes, discipline, persistence, aptitude and other skills are all key to launching my ideal career. But so, too, is faith – in believing it can be mine and in what I have to offer.
If I am completely honest, a small part of me is not fully sold on this idea of being a freelance writer. The tug of Africa, of finding work that connects me more deeply to the human experience is always there, as well. I do not know what my trip to Tanzania this summer will hold, if after all these years of longing to volunteer with children over there, something – a new sense of direction, a greater commitment to service – will slide into place, steering me toward a more instinctive belonging. But it does feel as if this journey is part of my life calling, a purpose seeded inside of me long before I would heed its unfurling.
Still, I know I will write while there, that the closest I can come to capturing my experience is to put pen to paper, as I have been doing all of my life. No matter what incarnation comes next, I will always be a writer.
I suppose that’s why the idea of a freelance career sounds so appealing. Of every possibility I’ve envisioned for myself, it’s the one I hold closest to my bones, the one that resonates with a buoyant kind of ease – despite my own evasions.
If it is what I am meant to be doing, the doors will open. I will find my way. It’s now up to me to commit, not to just to the practical essentials, but to shoring up my faith and stepping outside a story that no longer serves me.
We all have them, the tales we tell about why our life is the way it is, why some things are lacking and others aren’t, why who we want to be seems so far from who we are in this moment. If we are not careful, we can become ensnared by what we speak.
Now that I’ve recognized my own trap, I’m giving up my story for the ones that will write my way out – and build me my dream word by deliberately chosen word.