My mother used to say “do whatever you want” in two very different ways.
One “do whatever you want” was delivered in that horrible mom voice that we all hate. You know the one. Where you know your mother is right and it really just pains you to admit it to yourself or to her?
Child: “Mom, I’m going out to play in the freezing rain even though I have a cold and my once-in-a-lifetime recital is tonight.”
Mom: “Fine. Do whatever you want.”
You know the voice.
My mother’s other “do whatever you want” was more hopeful, inspiring, encouraging and positive. No matter what I said I might have an interest in, my mother would say “Try it! See if you like it! You can do whatever you want!“
Then my mother would gather a list of every opportunity in our town for pursuing that interest while I moved on to a completely different possible interest.
I am positive there is a special place in Heaven for the moms (and dads) who work harder than their kids to make their kids’ passing dreams come true.
The good news is that I eventually grew into an adult who is very good at trying anything and everything.
The bad news is that I really wanted to try anything and everything but trying things is limited by 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week.
Plus, I have no trust fund. I have to work ten jobs to make a living in Washington, DC, recently voted the stupidest place to live since it’s so ridiculously expensive. So trying anything and everything really isn’t a viable option.
A large part of my mental and emotional liberation as an adult has been the realization that there are lots and lots of things I can’t do – because I don’t have the necessary talent or passion – and that there are even more things that I just don’t want to do.
And focusing on what I don’t want to do has made it much easier to focus on what I do want to do.
I don’t want to see new movies in the movie theater. I don’t want a day job that requires lots of interaction with people or attendance at meetings. I don’t want to go out to lunch. I don’t want to be a leader. I don’t want to wear suits.
And that’s just a measly five things I don’t want to do. My actual list of things I don’t want to do stretches into the high billions. There are SO MANY things that I really just don’t want to do.
My older brother and his oldest daughter have caught on to my outlook on life. My brother will ask me with a smirk whether I’d like to go to a rehearsal of a musical production of Equis. And I will tell him that I can’t imagine anything worse, so no thank you. And he’ll feign shock.
That’s our thing.
My niece will tell me that she’s going to tell me what activity she’s doing but only if I swear not to laugh and say “that sounds awful.” Then I’ll tell her that “I can’t swear I won’t say that sounds awful.” And then she’ll tell me what she’s doing anyway and admit that it even sounds kind of awful to her.
Needless to say, many things sound awful to me. Not because I’m negative or closed-minded, but because I’m a human. Not everything turns me on. And that’s okay.
It’s a little harder when I think something popular sounds awful – because lots of people like really popular things. But that’s okay too.
I say no a lot of the time.
But saying no helps me to say yes to the things I really, really want to do. And saying no is necessary for me to do the things I have to do. Like write and draw and paint badly painted paintings. And sleep.
I have to do those things. They are, in the words of a writer I talked to last night, my therapy.
You might not be able to figure out what you want now or for the next few days or months or years. But you already know what you don’t want. Making the list helps you to rule things out. It’s an especially helpful task when it comes to job or lover hunting. Eliminate the jobs and partners you don’t want so you can focus on pursuing the ones you do want.
And finally, the caveat that goes along with every suggestion:
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. BRUTALLY HONEST.
You might assume you’re being honest with yourself because you’re an honest person. And because you’re not a dishonest person.
But are you really being as honest as you need to be? It’s hard to admit that you don’t want to work with people when you’ve been told all your life that you’re a people person.
It’s hard to admit that you want to work with people when you’ve been told all your life that you’re shy.
So forget everything you were told. Because you were told those things by people who don’t have to walk in your shoes.
Eliminate the things you don’t want. It makes more room and more time for things you do want. And need.
In other words, just do it. Or just don’t do it.
…’til next time, my pretties.