The surprising thing about neglect.

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Last week, as I was watering the plants around the house, I came upon my favorite succulent, housed in my favorite coffee mug (because I wasn’t drinking coffee while pregnant so I gave it an honorary job). As I leaned over it with my watering can, I felt my heart drop a little. The single flowering bloom it had when I purchased it, had shriveled and dried. The soil around its base had pulled away from the sides and was dry to the touch.

“Shiiiit,” I thought.

“Damnit,” I muttered.

My favorite succulent, neglected to the point that I killed it.

So imagine my surprise when I turned the mug around, and found that on the other side, where I couldn’t see at first, it was covered in healthy, vibrant blooms that I didn’t even know this plant made.

I smiled and slowly shook my head at this beautiful, surprising growth; the metaphor in this little windowsill discovery.

So let me tell you why…

For the first three or four years that I attempted to make a “business” out of my creative side, I had endless amounts of energy for creative makings and endeavors. I churned out e-course ideas, felt a deep connection with a great number of people – my tribe – online, and things were FUN. I didn’t have any vision of “where I was going” or even what I was doing. What I was “doing,”  was moving from one project to the next, based on what I was interested in?. I’d think, surely, if I was curious about a subject, then others were too. Being the half creative, half ocd-information-organizer that I am, it was quite natural for me to package up my own learnings into something other people could partake in. So, I tried out this, that, and the other ?subject matters, ?and would put out a course, or an “offering” around what?ever? interested me in the moment.

For the record, there’s nothing wrong with that method, just in case you happen to be one who does similarly (or you’re looking for permission to do so). And there wasn’t anything wrong with me running a fun little ecourse business that way. Following my curiosities, bringing people along for the ride. It meant I was learning. It meant I was flexing my leadership and teaching muscles. It meant I was growing relationships. It made me some money. And surprisingly (to me) the people who took my courses, which were just “fun” for me to make, reported incredible stories of impact and inspiration from them.

So imagine my surprise when, this time last year, I felt an incredible sense of dread at the thought of producing my next ecourse. I felt genuine displeasure at the thought, which scared me. Granted, a lot of things in my life had just changed. In the span of a year I went from leaving an abusive relationship, choosing to receive real love, house hunting, combining our lives, giving my son a new Dad, getting a new day job (putting my fluent French to use for the first time) and finally, SURPRISE, getting pregnant.

Looking at this list, of course the other endeavors in my life had to diminish. There’s only so much energy in a 200 pound pregnant woman who wrangles teenagers during the day! I get it. Except, my feelings for my “business” on the side weren’t just ones of diminished energy. Something actually changed. I felt a huge disconnect and displeasure circling around my ecourse business. Even though people were writing me things like, “Your course changed my life,” or, “I am making so many amazing changes in my life thanks to you,” I couldn’t feel joy about my own productions. I was, am, humbled that they had these reactions and experiences, and impact on people is incredibly important to me, so it made even less sense to me that I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing.

I’ve said all along that Marleigh was my healer baby.  This time around, I’m open to whatever medicine she is here to give me. And immediately, she gave me a big dose of what I needed most: to stop creating. Because I don’t believe in coincidences, I know that her arrival coincided with the burnout, and discomfort, that I was feeling with my business. Had she not arrived, I might have continued to push out e-courses that I knew people were interested in. I probably would have continued to create without thought to how sustainable my activities were in the long run. But she wouldn’t let me. And because I’d promised myself to receive her medicine, I honored that, and I listened.

But what did that look like?

It looked like me scrapping the next e-course I had in the works – one that people were writing to me asking for – almost immediately. I’d bought supplies. I’d mapped out videos to make and photo to take. I’d talked about it online. It was only because I committed to listen to what this surprise pregnancy was telling me, that I had the courage to scrap that project. Especially as a public school teacher, to whom the thought of extra income is incredibly tantalizing!

Thank goodness for this pregnancy, which depleted me of every last ounce of energy by 3 p.m. each day. Thank goodness I was sleeping from 4 to 6 p.m. every afternoon, and then going back for another 11 hours at 8 p.m. each night. Thank goodness I could only barely rouse myself at 7 a.m., a half hour before I needed to be in the classroom each morning. Thank goodness I literally had nothing to give, no ability to rise early, or stay up late, the way that I’ve done for years in order to push things out into the world. Only because I didn’t have it to give, I was able to stop doing.

Within the first few months of pregnancy, my body insisting that I couldn’t do or produce a thing, I felt an incredible sense of panic. It was not easy “doing nothing” for a business that I had been building slowly for a few years. Giving up the momentum was terrifying, even when that momentum drained me more and more with each production. Various voices in my head popped up to protest. The teacher voice said, “You need to supplement this measly income! How are you going to afford this baby?!” The ego voice claimed, “People will forget about you if you don’t show up, and you’re going to lose your tribe and then what?”

But I’d committed to listening, and my body did its part well in making sure I had to. So I did the biggest, bravest thing. The hardest thing, it turns out. And I stopped showing up. And I mean really, I stopped showing up, in the scariest of ways. I can tell you that, after years of being online every evening, to not check in to Facebook for weeks, to not commune with the people online that I actually love, to start watching mindless T.V. with my handsome man, to sleep all the time, was incredibly scary. I didn’t pick up my laptop for days at a time, and I marveled at how little I missed it. And yet, I worried tremendously.

I will be perfectly honest, because I’m not sure other business owners always are about “stepping away.”

I probably held panic in me at how little I was doing for the first six months. Imagine having built momentum for a few years and then suddenly letting it sit idle for six months! It was more than uncomfortable. And I wondered if I was doing a very stupid thing.

I wondered, and somedays I feared deeply, that I was neglecting my business. Neglecting something that needed much more attention. Neglecting to the point that it would wither up and die.

Thank goodness for that painful, energy- zapping, medicinal pregnancy, so that I had to sit with that fear every day while I did nothing about it, instead of pushing and forcing myself forward.

After a good six months, something finally shifted.

Alongside the panic of being forgotten, of losing my gusto for work, I felt a growing sense of peace. A sense that I was doing exactly what I needed. Deep within me, I felt that panic begin to slowly subside, and in its place, delicious space appeared and grew around my heart, where all my creations are born. Instead of constricted by the pressure to create, I felt a luxurious absence of pressure. It didn’t make sense, when I looked at my budget, or if I tried to think “practically,” but I couldn’t argue with how I felt, and my body kept me in check even when my head tried to guilt me back into working.

SPACE.

Space, it turns out, was what I needed. Space from the grind that I had gotten into, space from the habits I’d formed that I no longer asked if they served me, that I’d just kept doing, because it’s “what I did.” (And I wonder, how many of you do the same – have habits and things you just “do,” because you always have, but when was the last time you actually felt out if they were still right for you?)

It turns out I needed a LOT of space, and time. After six months, when the panic subsided and the intuitive peace took its place, I made a delicious discovery: I did actually want to have a business after all. I do actually want to produce things. I indeed love, crave and thrive off having a tribe online. In fact, I realized that I was scrapping my business altogether, to start over from scratch. And apparently to do so, this meant giving up ideas and giving in to rest, day after day, for a very long time.

Not two weeks of giving up my business.

Not a few months of time off from creating courses or dreaming up the next plan for income.

Not a half year of saying No, no matter how scary it was.

A full year it’s been now, that I haven’t produced a concept. A full year that I have, repeatedly, scrapped any idea for production that has flowed through my brain. And it took a renewed commitment every month to continue giving myself that space. It took trust that the right, divine answer to my frustrations would arrive. It took faith to believe that there was a solution to the lack of joy in creation I was feeling. I had to make peace with the possibility that maybe I was just done. That maybe I’d had a little ecourse business, and then burnt out, and life had gotten fuller and maybe this was it, I was phasing out, and I’d stop creating, and that this was possibly the answer. I had to sit with that as a possible reality every day, and just trust that if that was what was right, I’d come to terms with it.

It turns out, that wasn’t the answer. I’m not done. Quite the contrary, in fact. It turns out that what was missing took a year to surface. Took a year of musing and journaling, excavating and listening. Took a year of ignoring the fears and the pressures to show up. Took a year of making space for the real answers to rise up. It turns out, I’m happy to report, that what was missing, was depth. What was missing, was impact, on my own life and on others. It turns out I have much, much more to give, and its the vision of the depth, and the impact, the longevity and the authenticity of the work, that was missing…and which it took me, yes, a full year to articulate…but now I’ve got it. I don’t know all the answers of what’s next, m but I do know soundly from where I’ll create from here on out. I do have a good vision of what I think will become deeply important life work. And what a lovely, liberating, peaceful knowledge that is.

Comments

  1. Beautiful post, Jessica! Amazing how a sweet little baby can change your perspective. There have been many times over this last year and a half of transition that I’ve also been going through that I’ve thought of letting my business go. I certainly haven’t dedicated much time to it, but I still have that urge to create. So while I don’t put things out at the level that you do, I’ve found that that desire to just create something, and even giving it away like my Free Bling Fridays, just makes me happy. Sounds like you feel the same. I look forward to seeing where your new journey takes you.

  2. Wow, I cannot believe your timing in this post. After my last vintage show with my jewelry and accessories (selling almost as many hand painted purses as I did actual jewelry) I came to a decision that I’ve been mulling over about liquidating my jewelry stock and supplies (even clear paths appeared how to do that) and just turn my focus back around to my originallove of painting. Surfaces up for debate, vintage purses, luggage, canvases, paper, whatever strides me. Also, to step away from shows after completing my fall commitments. Maybe forever, or just 2017. But after this thought to do so I felt so much peace about it, I think my BFF thinks I’m crazy and knee jerk reaction to a show that didn’t produce as it has in the past, but I had already been thinking about this for a little bit. Now I don’t feel so crazy about it. Thanks for sharing! Congrats on that beautiful baby girl and your lovely family :)

  3. Kate Stockman says:

    Thank you for sharing your honest fears and concerns, Jessica! I find it ironic that you talk about not creating while you were pregnant… because I think conceiving and birthing a baby is THE most creative act we can participate in!

    Congratulations on your new outlook, new family, and new life!

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