The other night I was at an upscale Indian restaurant, celebrating the birthday of a close friend. It was one of those potentially awkward social situations where everyone involved knows one person but not each-other. Sitting there, merely one beer into it, I pulled out a lie I haven’t used in years. I loved this lie for many years but I assumed it died with all the idiocy I committed in my twenties.
Not so much. I told this table of old friends and new acquaintances I had been accepted to Yale.
Let me explain, I’m not a liar. I don’t do it comfortably, often, or well, except in print. But when I choose a lie, it usually involves my past, and I tell it over and over until I need to remind myself it's a lie. The truth is I didn’t want to go to college. I was an artist. What lame-ass artist needs college? My guidance counselor pointed to my SAT score, my ACT score, and my academic record. She told me I could go anywhere I wanted.
“You could get into Yale with these scores,” she said.
Somehow, this led to me telling people I was offered a full scholarship to Yale and turned it down. The only college that offered me a free ride was the Rochester Institute of Technology. I turned it down. Artist, remember? Plus, I was young enough to believe that free rides lurked around every corner.
Throughout my twenties, I painted, I wrote, I dabbled in theater. I worked a series of jobs which were beneath my intellectual capacity, if not my station in life. I didn’t drink. I dabbled in pot and mushrooms, tried coke a couple of times, and dropped a lot of acid. And I told people I turned my back on Yale. The lie proved that I once had potential and a fine mind, that someone important had looked at me and said, “Yes.”
Looking back, it's obvious I wasn’t proud of how I chose to live. Dusting the lie off after so many years must mean that again, I’m not proud of my life. I want more than just putting a roof over my head. I turned away from all the stupid things I’ve done, but it’s time to do something, to stop defining myself by what I’ve overcome and become.
Because I toiled well in lowly positions, I was rewarded with toil in management positions. I gave more hours to Starbucks and Borders than anyone should give to any job and didn't get much back besides money (and not much of that). So I dropped out. I quit being a manager. I decided to toil on writing until the time my art was recognized.
Unfortunately, in the weeks leading up to the birthday dinner, I was working sixty and seventy-hour weeks. This doesn’t make me that unusual in the working world, but I’m not some financal wizard or medical guru or any other job which might have a monitorial or altruistic payoff. I work in a bookstore. An independent bookstore, so good on me, but I'm two missed paychecks away from homelessness.
That’s all business is - busy-ness. It puts a roof over your head and food on your table, but it probably has little to do with the work God put you here to do. I’ve been so busy lately I’ve lost that perspective.
Looking around the dinner table at the Guidance Counselor, the teachers, the independent film producer, and the musician, I saw people who are doing what they want to do... and I brought up SAT scores. I can’t blame the beer and I can’t say it flowed naturally from the conversation; I engineered a topic so I could plant my favorite lie.
It came from feelings of inadequacy, from letting myself drift rather than taking the oars, from letting my life live me.
Despite what you hear, people can change. It’s just more work beyond that first choice than most can face. I need to choose not to be a workaholic and a perfectionist on a daily basis. Any financial analyst will tell you two things; make your money work for you and pay yourself first. My art isn’t working for me yet, unless it’s the satisfaction I feel in crafting something new, but I can certainly pay myself first. I can take the time to work for myself before I work for anyone else, to be my best and brightest self at home rather than sparkling for strangers.
Someday instead of my job, my work will pay the bills.