I’m Dr. Kira, and I’m a recovered sell-out. It took me along time to think of myself in those terms. When I was enjoying my career in Corporate America, I became unconscious of my most important longings. These passions had been loud in college, but something about work-life after college hypnotized me into a trance where I became comfortable working long hours doing soulless work for an attractive compensation package.
My awakening occurred in fits and starts over several years. Heck, it’s still on-going, but to date, the most significant moment in my transformation was when I reflected on my parents.
I realized that neither one of them had really done what they wanted in life. They created a financially secure, somewhat predictable life. They lived in a nice suburb with a pleasant house and a fence (though it wasn’t white). But all of it was tinged with a sort of regret. There was this longing for a life not lived.
I was always pretty aware that my mom was filled with some kind of sadness. As I learned more about her, I started to understand why. She started creating a cartoon series when she was in grade school. My grandfather was so impressed with her work, he asked to paint a mural in their basement. When she was in high school in the 40s, Mom turned heads by wearing Levis. Girls didn’t do this then. She was quite the rebel.
She had discovered a real passion for art and went to the University of Illinois as an art student. Later, she took a break from her studies to travel around Europe with two friends. She wrote my dad a Dear John letter, boarded a ship with a station wagon in tow(!), and then the three young women drove around the continent (no Eurorail pass for my mom, she was an adventurer). My mom even stayed on after her friends left, exploring the art in Italy for a month on her own. This was the early 50s—she was pretty gutsy.
I don’t know at what point she made the shift and started acting more like a typical woman in the 1950s. Somewhere along the line in Europe, Mom decided she was going to marry Dad. She bought herself a set of Danish flatware, returned to the States and got married, never returning to college. She wouldn’t create art again for 20 years and then only briefly.
I always sensed that Mom had forsaken her true path, but with Dad, my understanding unwound much more slowly. For most of my life, I experienced Dad as an angry man, preoccupied with worry. I spent a lot of time avoiding him.
I saw a brief spark of his real character right after he retired. It was then that I realized that it was mostly the stress of his job that led to his perpetual anger. Early in retirement, the light was snuffed out again when a debilitating foot injury ended his post-retirement adventures (travel to places like Japan, India, and China).
Turns out, Dad wanted to go to art school too. In fact, he had been admitted into a prestigious program for children at The Art Institute of Chicago. Shockingly, my mom had too. Had he gone, he might have met her there despite the fact that they grew up 40 miles apart. My grandfather would not allow him to go. He had to go to confirmation classes. This was the biggest rift he ever had with his father and contributed to his becoming an atheist.
From there, Dad walked a well-worn path. He was a bit of a jock and a bit of a hootie in high school, studied accounting at University of Illinois where he met Mom, served in the army, and then became an accountant.
Then, he sold business forms for 30 plus years (yeah, kind of like Dunder-Mifflin, but not funny.) Not until he retired did he ever seem to relax and enjoy himself. It was like he had held his breath for 30 years. Dad devoted himself to providing for our family. He did an amazing job at that, but what he never fully realized was that his job was making him so miserable that he alienated himself from the family during that time.
Both of my parents made compromises for security and acceptance. In some ways, I think it was a failure of imagination. Somewhere along the way, they bought into conceptions of what they were supposed to do. They lost touch with what really moves them. They couldn’t envision a way that they could have both: doing what they love (or at least more of it) and also salving that need for security and belonging. They didn’t know that the feeling of security and acceptance is mostly an inside job. Instead, they built their own prisons of self-limitation.
A long time, I vowed not to be like Mom. I steered clear of that, but I did become a lot like Dad, completely immersing myself in an unfulfilling (but financially rewarding) career. I even had to wake up twice to find my way. Now, I’m doing what I love: I work for myself as a life coach and I’m writing again, both fiction and non-fiction.
There are still struggles, still moments when I question whether I’m doing the best thing financially. I doubt myself because I’m doing something that I never witnessed up close before; I have no map laid out before me as I would have had had I stuck to the better worn path.
Yes, the well-trodden path is tantalizing*: it’s clear with few impediments. When you go down that path, you have a very good idea where you will end up.
When you choose to make your own path, you must get out the machete and start hacking away. Your lizard brain will tell you all sorts of lies about why you can’t do this: you’re not being practical, you’re reckless, your selfish. It wants you to play it safe so everything will be familiar because the lizard thinks familiarity equals safety equals belonging.
*I chose “tantalizing” carefully. It means (according to the nameless dictionary that resides in my computer): torment or tease (someone) with the sight or promise of something that is unobtainable.
Did you see that last word? Unobtainable. That’s often what you get when you take the fear based path. A bad compromise, where you never really receive the expected rewards and yet you trade away your dreams.
My passion is discovering the possibilities of waking up to our self-imposed limitations, developing awareness of what we really want and finding the courage to go after it. The possibility for this freedom is available to everyone. You just have to decide to commit to it.