There is an oft-used formula for writing a self-help or business book. You start with your personal story of how triumphed. It’s the “after” picture in all good advertising. You set up the promise that you will then show your reader how to get what you have.
When I was writing my newest book, Why Bother?, I wanted that story. I wanted to open my book with a glowing “after” picture. But I don’t have that story. There is a story in the book that’s dramatic and weird that I thought might work (for those of you who have the book, it’s the ferry story ), but I couldn’t use that because everything didn’t change after the ferry incident.
When I accepted I couldn’t give you the rosy moment, I discovered this: “With a lot of effort and a lot of time, I found my way back to life, to purpose, to caring. Most of all, to desire. I progressed in fits and starts.
At times, I was aware I was emerging from my funk, but I often wasn’t sure how or what I still needed to do. In fact, continuing to move forward, rather than wanting to be finished, helped me finally emerge, look around, and say, ’Holy shit, I’m a different person. And I really love this person I’ve become. Or discovered. Or heck, rescued because she was always here.’”
And a bit later, this, which might be my favorite paragraph in the book:
“…I used to believe if I simply meditated enough, prayed enough, went to therapy enough, ate clean enough, got successful enough, I would stop suffering. And bonus point: I would also never suffer again. I believed that this very natural human condition was something that needed to be solved by my continual efforts. When my life really hit the skids when I was forty-five, and I couldn’t keep my marriage, save my dad’s life, or write more books, “why bother?” took my spirit by the neck like my terrier does his toys, and shook it hard. Surrendering to the truth that I couldn’t fix much, and I truly didn’t need to try, freed me from the terrible conviction that something was fundamentally wrong with me, which is the belief that had kept me most imprisoned in the land of the lost.”
As we continue deeper into the Great Unknown (because nobody– no politician, no model, no scientist– knows what’s going to happen with this virus), the illusion that everything is fixable, improvable, hackable, has been torn away. We can longer pretend that if we just work hard enough or avoid gluten or visualize our best life, it will happen.
This can be terrifying, but only if we take it personally. Only if we try to hold on to the idea we are responsible for everything and everyone, or ever have been. Only if we are unwilling to surrender to the truth that we are a tiny part of a much larger whole, and while we must work to make the whole more just and equitable, we can only roll a tiny pebble up a very tall mountain.
Everything is not fixable. Yes, this truth can be profoundly sad. I can’t repair the things I wish I could, and I can’t have the things I want, like hugging my dad one more time. When you let this truth in, I find it strips away so much that is depleting and superfluous.
You may find that when you arrive here, receptive and tender, more present and able to ask, “I wonder what is mine to create, to savor, to share, to let be? To love?”
And then you find life rushing in to say, “So so much, my love, so so much.”
Available now: Why bother?