Waiting For Answers

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I had just turned forty and I got a call from my father. This was odd enough, because at that time we only talked when I called him. This was not an arrangement of any kind but a consequence his shyness – he was always glad to hear from me when I did call. But just as odd was the reason for his call.

“I wanted to find out how it felt to be forty and still waiting tables.”

My father is not a cruel man, but he does possess a few unique social ticks, one of which is that he absolutely must talk about the proverbial elephant in the room. Apparently my being a waiter (instead of a writer) at forty was an elephant so large he could see it 3,000 miles away from his home in Providence, and so the call. My problem with the question, however, was not its social gracelessness but that I didn’t know how to answer it. There were two answers, you see.

The first answer went like this: I hate it. I hate everything about it. I feel like a failure when I’m at that job. There are days when I simply can’t believe I’m still doing it. I don’t know why I’m not making a living writing. Sometimes I come home from work and I think, “How did my life become a nightmare? What did I do wrong?”

The other answer went like this: It’s all right. I like the people I work with. I like being on my feet. I like the energy of it all, and that I can make a good living working 25 hours a week, which leaves me plenty of time to write. I still like writing, by the way, even though I’m not finding any success with it yet. I still actually like doing it. That hasn’t changed since I was kid. So most days it’s okay. Most days, my life doesn’t feel like a nightmare at all. Most days I feel like I am more or less doing what I should be doing.

Unfortunately, at that time I didn’t know how to make peace with both answers, and so I mumbled about how it was okay, which felt like a lie as I said it. This problem of the truth feeling like a lie followed me often, particularly with my writing career. It too felt like a kind of lie sometimes, a mirage of an idea that existed only in my mind.

I have since learned that you don’t get to believe in two contradictory ideas simultaneously and ever feel like either is completely true. You must choose. You must choose to believe whether your father loves you or not, whether you are a writer or not, whether life is a nightmare or not. When my father called me, I was still waiting for the world to tell me what to believe. I am happy to report I am no longer waiting.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.