Pick Up. Dust Off. NEXT.
This evening, an editor of one of the publications that was kind enough to start looking at publishing my stuff (as George Carlin used to say, if it’s mine it’s stuff, if it’s yours it’s shit), wrote a heartfelt piece about being low.
Feeling lost and empty and done with it, and what’s the point? Is it indeed time to quit?
She’s my age, at 67. We’ve been around the block a bit. Which only goes to show that it doesn’t matter how old or young you are, there are going to be times when the bottom of the barrel is your current living quarters.
Oh. Boy. Do I get low. Well, maybe I do.
Anyone who has ever spent four decades staring at their face in the toilet bowl understands low.
Anyone who has ever been gang raped understands low.
Anyone who has been repeatedly laid off understands low.
Hands up. Mine is. This is the short list.
I’ve smashed my pelvis and broken my back and beaten the holy shit out of my body. I’ve starved it and injured it and abused it. Lost all my teeth and almost died multiple times. I’ve hated my body and exercised it nearly to death. I’ve been raped repeatedly and assaulted and abused by family members. I have filed bankruptcy and had to couch surf for months and clean houses and do shit work for pennies to survive.
I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on men who, well. Can we skip that part?
I’ve come so close to suicide so many times that I even had the pill bottle set out. Still have it as a reminder.
I think I might understand low. Maybe. I have no idea. I only know what low feels like in my life.
It would be fair to say that my lowest low, compared to some folks, is still pretty functional. At least I had a roof over my head, some kind of income, enough food to survive. Many don’t.
But in a case like this, comparisons are odious, if not outright insulting. What is low to you, might be no big deal to me. What’s insulting is getting into a useless pissing contest about how my low is worse than YOUR low.
This isn’t that. The question that she posited is whether it’s time to quit. In this case, for example, Medium.
Every so often I see yet another article that involves a certain amount of crowing about income. While there is almost always some kind of humble-brag disclaimer about not bragging, it is in fact, just that. Whatever people are doing to create that kind of income, folks, that’s terrific. Most, if not all of us are working multiple income streams, we hustle our butts off. I sure do, but I don’t make that kind of income.
Endless listicles of how to BE LIKE ME AND MAKE $10k a month are Just. Not. Useful other than to invite thousands of other folks to try clickbait titles to do precisely the same thing. For others, it begs that question of what we’re doing wrong that we’re not rolling in money off Medium eyeballs. I even see people re-posting other people’s listicles just to hijack eyeballs. PLEASE.
Comparisons invite depression.
Ask any teenager with a cell phone.
The hugely-talented woman in question who posed the challenge of whether it’s time to quit asked a question that is in all our collective faces at various points. For example: Is it time for me to quit the perennially frustrating Match.com, which is a monumental disappointment except for constant comedy fodder for P.S. I Love You articles?
Is it time to change careers?
Is it time to give up writing for Medium solely because you and I aren’t making ten grand a month?
Those aren’t the right questions, in my mind.
But when you and I are low, that’s the sewage that seeps in.
Again, been there.
A few weeks ago I had dinner with one of my closest friends. I asked her what her greatest fear was.
Rejection, she said, without hesitation.
Well. Of course it is. I face the same thing daily, as do we all in business, in sales, in love/work/life.
We experience rejection when a publication lets a Medium story rot for weeks (you know who you are, folks) or you get a note that says it’s not a fit but there is no reason given, so you have no clue what to do differently next time.
We experience rejection when the cute guy on Match says “you’re fascinating,” then stops responding at all afterwards. WTF.
Rejection is as much a part of life as breathing. Sucks, too. However, in all its forms, it’s just life. A horny squirrel is going to experience rejection if his hopeful mate sees another male squirrel that she deems more genetically promising. More hair, longer tail, nicer teeth.
I doubt the rejectee goes into a funk about it. He doesn’t take it personally. But then, he isn’t human, and as such, incredibly self-centered. He just needs to get laid to make sure there are more squirrels with his DNA.
Dude. Next time, bring acorns to the date.
It’s. Just. Life.
This writer mentioned- and I’ll bet most of us can relate- to being rejected for work because we’re not a fit, or overqualified (which is hire-speak for we don’t want to pay you what you’re worth).
I won’t even touch on rejection in dating.
Quitting, whatever we are contemplating quitting, is only an option when our gut screams at us that it’s time already.
I can only speak to what I do. Whether or not it’s relevant to anyone else is like farting in the wind, and about as useless.
The way I see it, there are two ways to address this.
First: are the obstacles that make me feel like giving up useful to me? In other words, does it serve me to work at them? What is the cost (emotional, physical, spiritual, etc) to continue to play at Sisyphus and push the fucking boulder up the hill? Is the cost worth my perceived outcome?
Am I even on the right hill any more?
Sometimes the Universe puts shit in our way to teach us skills. Skills that are monumentally important elsewhere. As in being one-focused, determined, courageous. For folks in their first decades, yes. They are. That’s what being a tween, teen and in our twenties is all about.
The Universe has a way of forcing growth.
Sometimes the fickle bitch puts shit in our way because it’s goddamned well time to stop doing what we’re doing.
You’re the one who has to figure that out.
Some years back I noticed that after becoming an Industry Expert in my chosen field, people began demanding that I speak for free. For “visibility.” That’s a code word for taking advantage of top talent.
I had a two-word response to that, which I didn’t utter, but I did respond politely but firmly state that when my bank started to accept checks written against “visibility,” then I’d be happy to speak for free just for “visibility.”
The request for speaking for free was sometimes replaced with a speaker’s fee that not only was an insult, but was more in line with what a newly-graduated Toastmaster might be offered his first year in the business. Not only is this a bitch-slap to the ego, but it is also an abuse of our time to even present such a fee when we can absolutely prove that what we do gives results.
It got so widespread that my income plummeted. I realized that despite the fact that I had penned the industry book in the field, was widely respected, and was seen as one of the go-to folks in the business, people had suddenly decided that I was made of money and owed them.
As in, doing a speech on getting paid what you’re worth to a group of business people, while not getting paid at all.
You see my point.
I walked away from nearly 17 years in the field and had to start all over again.
While it didn’t feel that way at the time, it was a gift. Now I’ve got the bird in my chest.
That did not happen overnight. In fact, I walked away from that business somewhere around 2012, just after I’d gotten a national award. In retrospect, the joke was on me. That national award is what torpedoed my business, much like being on the cover of Sports Illustrated was for years a near-guarantee of a future career funk.
It’s taken me nearly ten years of immensely hard work, experimentation and failures to refocus.
And plenty of time feeling low.
I want to pick up on a particular paragraph that caught my attention because of the choice of words:
Medium. Hollywood. Corporate America. They’ve been bitch-slapping the shit out of me and I keep coming back for more. Something is wrong with me. Or, right. I can’t seem to figure this out.
This is not a criticism at all. This is only to point out that, like this writer, I have in the past, and still do when I slide south, choose to couch my circumstances in a way that paints me as a loser. Across the board. Confirmation bias guarantees that I will carefully curate “facts” out of my history to make myself right about how useless I am.
This is what being low does.
Rejection feels like a bitch slap if we choose to take it personally. It’s hard not to. I get it. But it’s still a choice to receive information that way. When we trade time for money in just about any context, or dare to engage with our fellow man or woman or them/their, we invite rejection.
That rejection, if left unabated, then leads to unfair comparisons (well X has it easy, X makes so much money, X is doing well, blah blah blah). All of which fundamentally disregards the reality that X also has issues, also has shit days and low days and days of feeling like a dead nematode.
The writer also said that there might be something right- and that’s the better question. Of course there is. We’re the right person, it might just be the wrong circumstances.
Someone said to me recently that they were “glad to hear that I had bad days once in a while.” That made me human, he said. Jesus Christ, what an assumption. What a monumentally unfair assumption. That person isn’t around when, on days that I am feeling very vulnerable, I make the mistake of thinking about how badly I’d like to hear the words I love you from a guy in my life. The cascading, searing, ugly pain that this line of thinking causes me means that I’d better not have something sharp within reach.
You bloody well learn not to go there.
Low is part of life’s conversations. Low is where we run aground. In doing so you and I might well discover we are on board the wrong ship. Sometimes those low points are the very indicators that what we’re doing is no longer feeding us. Perhaps it is indeed time to quit.
Or not. It depends. In part, on what decade we’re in, to say the least.
Being unstoppable, as people sometimes think of my life, doesn’t mean that I don’t go careening into emotional and professional brick walls. I allow myself five minutes in pity party. Then I get up, redirect, or get over the fucking wall, just like I had to learn how to do in basic training, more than forty years ago.
We are not built to be happy all the time. In Buddhist teachings, part of developing mindfulness is to sit on the side of the river of our constantly-shifting emotions. Feelings come by. We notice and acknowledge them. They move on. Fighting feelings tends to get them caught on the rocks.
But what to do? How to dust off?
Some years ago a good friend of mine who has long enjoyed international fame, best-selling books and a slew of other “advantages” that would make the rest of us muggles deeply jealous, slid off a roof.
He broke damned near everything. Including his business, his income, and his entire life as he knew it. Each time he opened the pain bottle with his one good hand and his teeth, he seriously considered downing the whole damned thing.
I think he understands “low.”
Some weeks later he was visited by a friend who asked the question that I want to posit to the writer whose story initiated this article:
“Isn’t a lifetime of experience worth something?”
That powerful, provocative question resulted in a complete retooling. That man, who continues to be a very close friend, confidante and coach, took what he knew and re-framed it into a brand new career.
He’s one hell of a lot happier, if for no other reason than before he came off the roof, he had begun to hate what he called the “gerbil wheel” of his life. He badly wanted a change. Sometimes we get low because we are forcing ourselves to continue planting a fallow field.
Sometimes that’s the whole point of low. When the only view is up, it’s time to learn to ask different questions.
We love our negativity. We wallow in it like a warm bath. My hand is way up here, otherwise I wouldn’t mention it. However, there is value in understanding my propensity to be right about how I’m unlovable, my work isn’t good, or how there’s just no point. Being invested in my “story” if you will.
At one of the worst times in my life some years ago in Spokane, I divorced, filed bankruptcy and lost my health all in a two-year period. My car was repossessed. This is another very short list.
A year later I had formed a powerful women’s network that got widespread accolades and was later written up in the book Networking Magic. Long story short, I went out and found ways to be of service. I stopped spending time looking at everything I did wrong and just got busy. That whole experience completely retooled my life and work.
Like my friend who fell off the roof.
So how to dust off? Up to each of us individually. Being low can give us empathy and compassion. It’s a chance to challenge the bullshit we want to believe about our relative value in a world that just doesn’t care about us individually, any more than Mama Nature wrings her hands about a doe that starves to death in the forest. It’s just life.
You and I are gifted. Being low forces us to dig for those gifts. It has a sacred purpose. Had I not had those times I’d not be doing what I do today, adventure travel all over the world. I still suffer low moments, but they don’t bring me to a screaming halt. They do, however, invite me to think about my why, and if I’m serving my best purpose.
Feeling low? Good. Time to take stock. Ask better questions. As in, why on earth do we assume that we’re supposed to be joyful and happy all the time?
I have deep distrust of folks who claim they are perennially happy, if for no other reason than 1) they have no patience for those of us who do hit the skids and insult us by telling us to CHEER UP (fuck you) and 2) have the empathy of a lamp post, and shed far less light on the subject.
Lows give us the perspective to understand highs. They have a powerful purpose in helping us better define our whys. Whether that means you quit Medium, or your marriage, or your diet doesn’t make a whit of difference. For what it’s worth, the journey through our lows is an essential part of finding those answers. There is only through.
But that’s just me. Your journey is your own. And for that, for anyone who is indeed feeling low right now, I wish you godspeed, a lighter step, and the willingness to consider that such times are an essential part of a life well-lived.