At 42, reeling from a new baby and professional turmoil, I realized that I didn’t need a new job or other external change. I needed to find my way to a truer version of myself. This was no easy feat for someone whose sense of self depended on masterfully being what others expected me to be. The enterprise of becoming myself felt very much like walking into an abyss. This is the letter I wish I’d had then, and a love letter for anyone embarking on this journey now.
Pain brought you here. This is as it should be. The path becomes visible when you’re broken apart. When your masks were still in place, your vision was too hemmed-in to see this place.
Ahead of you are the questions you’ve kept at bay your whole life. What’s here when the masks are stripped away? Is there anything here worth loving?
Know that this is a journey of courage, and that in standing here, you are brave. You may hear voices, internal and external, telling you that your undertaking is selfish, foolish, self-indulgent, maybe even pathetic. It will hurt, but come back in these moments to the pain of what you’ve lived through already. The loneliness, despair and dark hopelessness. All of that was, is real. And the only way out is to go in.
At first the uncertainty of it all will unnerve you. You’ll want the answers, and to have them now. Remember that you’ve spent decades looking away from yourself. To shift now, to hear a voice that’s been silent, to learn a language never before spoken — these are unfamiliar practices. Give yourself the same patience and gentleness you would give a child learning to take her first steps.
The initial signs will be small — a color you’re drawn to, a quote you can’t get out of your head, something you see that sparks a feeling of life. Go toward these things and keep them close, regardless of whether they make any logical sense. The connection you feel is nourishment. The more you feed your true self, the hungrier she will be and the more specific her demands. Keep feeding her.
Some of the discoveries will require you to go against what others expect of you. This will be uncomfortable, but it’s a sign you’re making progress. Take stock here of how far you’ve come, how much you’ve risked already, and how close you might be to tasting something close to wholeness. Be ruthless. Keep going.
Keep your eyes and heart open for the gifts that will come to you. The chance encounter with someone who does the work you would love to do if it weren’t so impractical, the call offering you the thing you’ve been afraid to admit you want. It will be easy to feel cynical and dismissive of these coincidences. Be skeptical if you must, but accept the gifts. Doors will open. Just walk through.
Somewhere along the way you’ll notice that you’re no longer alone. You will sense the presence of someone who feels both familiar and new. The pleasure you feel in her company will be something beyond questions of acceptability or presentability. There has never been anyone like her, and as you allow yourself to see her uniqueness, her beauty will move you. Embrace her. Let yourself love her. This is who you have always been.
Look around you now. Notice that the path has been holding you all along, is holding you still. Come now and feel the sunlight on your own skin, the joy of taking up your own precious space in this wild and beautiful world. Walk, dance, it doesn’t matter. Your life is waiting.
With love and affection,