Why You're Here


I was twenty-six and working lunches at an upscale restaurant in Seattle. It was late in the shift, and the two women in the corner booth were my only table. They were smartly dressed, possibly professionals, and about a generation older than I. They also had some questions about the menu, and so I began talking about the salmon and the tomato bisque and the tortellini. They were attentive listeners, and when they asked me about myself, the performer in me saw an opportunity. I spun a tale of my trip from Los Angeles to Seattle and my recent engagement, and how Seattle reminded me a bit of my native Providence but without all the corruption.

When I finished my story, one of them looked up at me seriously, and asked, “Why are you here?”

She meant the restaurant. She meant waiting tables. She meant where is all that storytelling and energy and enthusiasm going? I said I’m writing a novel, and she asked if I had an agent, and I said no but I’m working on it, and then I didn’t want to talk to them anymore. Then I wanted to crawl into a hole where no one could see me and I could fail in private.

I’ve thought about that woman from time to time since. I know myself better than I did then. I know now that I wouldn’t have been happy teaching school, or being a journalist, or working in an office of any kind. I also know now that novels were not the best fit for my creative impulse. All I knew then was that something within me wanted to be expressed. I didn’t know that the daily discomfort with which I lived was the difference between what it wanted to be and what I was expressing.

For many years I called that discomfort failure, or life’s brutal indifference, or just adulthood. That was all before I learned to listen to it, to heed it and abide by it. I ignored in those early days because I dreaded hearing the sound of my own failure, the way I dreaded catching a glimpse of a dead body. Yet when I finally did hear it, when there was nothing else left to listen to, all it said was, “Do what you love, and you cannot fail.”

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