I don’t know how to write, so I put it on my to-do list every morning:
Write. Sit down with a notebook and pen, and see what happens. Find a way in.
Flashback to grad school, crying while reading to my workshop group a journal entry about why I began writing. I described writing itself as “my first friend.” Yes, that’s still there, but writing is no longer a self-indulgent act. That first friend has become a partner in exploration, art, expression, love and discovery. The past couple years have changed me.
I have had to learn over and over again that the world does not revolve around me. When my boss’s daughter got sick, I was confronted with this reality once again, this time more harshly than ever before. She was just shy of a year old when she was diagnosed with cancer. Her dad utterly disappeared from the office for a week before telling us what was going on. We learned he’d been staying at the hospital day in and day out. He and his wife had to take turns holding the child because she was too scared to sleep in this strange bed, in this strange place, surrounded by strange people and all their instruments. For the foreseeable future, my boss would be out of the office.
My work load doubled. My stress load tripled. All the decisions I used to run by him I had to make on my own. As the project manager, I became the default leader and spokesperson, but only with massive support from my coworkers. None of us were prepared for this, but we presented a united front to the rest of the world. There was no question about what responsibility belonged to whom. We did it because we had to. Because we couldn’t cure her cancer, and we couldn’t remove that terror of losing a child, but we could run the damn company, so we did.
We still had to negotiate boundaries, but the question was no longer, “How much will I get paid?” but rather,” How can I help you without hurting myself?” We are all already tired and overworked, but more help is needed. How can I take on these extra tasks, carry these extra projects, take some of the burden off of you … without destroying myself? That’s the difference between self-serving and service. It changes everything.
Don’t get me wrong — it was a terrible year. Some of us wanted to leave, but the core team stayed until the little girl began to recover and her dad could return to a normal work schedule. I told myself, “I will be here as long as I have something to learn.” And learn I did.
I went to my therapist. I talked to my yoga teacher. I told anyone who would listen how awful my job was. Some felt sorry for me, but all would also ask, “How is she?” Knowingly or not, they refused to let me think it was all about me. Their concern for her drove that point home slowly but surely: Ok, yeah, so you hate your job. How’s the little girl with cancer doing? Is she going to make it? How are her parents coping?
When she was in remission and he finally came back to work, the universe began to align things so that I could move on at last. One year after her diagnosis date, I was beyond burned out but continued checking items off my daily to-do list. Eventually, I made my exit.
So now … what were we talking about? Oh right. Writing.
As a writer, my work will always be in some sense “about me.” The writer’s work comes from her own experience, observations and thoughts. But it cannot be self-serving anymore. Writing has become another manifestation of yoga. What can I give here? How can I serve?
In class, I ask my students, “What can you adjust here to find more ease in this pose? What little shift can you make to create stability?” When I ask this, I’m hoping they will truly become present in their bodies and aware of their movements. I believe this presence and awareness is the first step toward compassion and transformation. I try to practice the same in my writing.
Presence. Awareness. Compassion. Transformation.
It is compassion that turns a miserable experience into an opportunity for growth. Compassion turns coworkers into comrades. Compassion turns “just a job” into an act of service. Compassion turns writing from a hobby into a life’s work.