I’m Learning How to Be My Bravest Self

“Be Elisabeth, but be brave.”

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Last week I read Meg’s Letter from the Editor, as I do at the beginning of every month, and the same quote that resonated with her stayed with me, too: “Figure out the life you want, and run hard at it.” But not, I don’t think, for the same reasons. For me, it was because my approach to dreams has been a little different. Like so: “Hazily articulate your goals and dreams, put them in a little box that you keep close by, tiptoe around it every once in a while, and as the weeks go by, peek under the lid a few times but not so much that you scare yourself off.” Catchy!I read Meg’s letter on a day, in fact, when everything was supposed to crack wide open. It was the first day “off” in my new eighty percent work schedule. It took K and I months of conversations to run the numbers and figure out where her salary would fill in the holes from my reduced paychecks, and then it took several negotiations with my team and HR. And all of this was painstakingly crafted to allow me precious time to work toward goals outside of public health, the biggest of which is writing more.

So. In those eight hours, I rowed, had breakfast with my mom, stopped at the FedEx store, got a manicure, took myself to lunch, picked up a trashy bodice ripper romance novel from a bin on someone’s stoop (spoiler alert: they are each other’s salvation, they bang, it ends; there’s a reason it was in the free bin), cleaned the kitchen, became utterly exhausted and took a nap, dropped my guitar off at a bad-ass women-owned lutherie, and went shopping at the fancy grocery store precisely at the hour when they put out all the free samples. “Today is the best day!” I texted K. “I’m living my best life!” Of course, I did not write even one word throughout the whole day. But you know, I thought about writing the entire time, so it totally counts.

Yup, that sounds like a behemoth change, like everything cracking wide open to me.

If there are those who run toward their dreams, whether from excitement or readiness to change or just desire to avoid inertia, then there’s me waving over in this corner, often stuck in place by fear of the unknown, potential failure, or just plain change.

When I get really stuck, I have a hard time deviating from the path I’m already on, even if I know the path is at best boring and safe and at worst destructive. Oh, how I envy the runners! It’s just not as flashy to be a tip-toer.

But my meandering motivation, while occasionally frustrating and often inefficient, actually works for me in a lot of ways. So a few years back, I decided that rather than cast off the shackles entirely that I might just slightly refine my motivation around the edges, which led to my current motto: “Be Elisabeth, but be brave.” That is, scaling back on work to have one more day per week to practice my writing might not be the very moment that everything cracks wide open. But after a career of mostly safe, if successful choices, pausing for a moment to say out loud that I’d like to be writing more, and then taking the additional step of telling people, feels like a big, scary adventure.

A friend of mine is a filmmaker, and for a long time, she made a movie every day. Just with her phone, nothing fancy. She filmed a window in the building on the corner that might make a great opening frame someday. She filmed subway doors closing, and trash blowing across the street, and the light changing outside her office. She made all these tiny movies of something and nothing, without any intention of ever doing something with them. If something came of them at some point, if she remembered a shoot and found a way to incorporate it into a larger project, then so much the better. But mostly, she was just doing it to remind herself when it got complicated that she’d always loved making movies, and that was where it all began

I love this story, because it reminds me to think back on my own scribbled little paragraphs when the blank page feels insurmountable. No one else might ever read about the time a little old lady burst out laughing after I dropped all the safer sex supplies on the Q train, or the day K and I found a secret path in Prospect Park, or the look of unguarded surprise and love on my dad’s face when my brother slung his arm affectionately around him on a beach day long ago, but I will. The practice of putting a few words to paper every day might not be dramatic or immediately successful, but all those tiny changes always lead to something bigger for me, even when I don’t know what it is yet.

On my second Monday out of the office, I rode my bike to the park, devoured a beach read while slurping a lemon ice, and watched as the light slanted across my legs. And then I thought of a few final sentences I wanted to add to this post, which I’d written in bits of creativity over the course of a week, and rode home to submit it to APW, inching toward a dream.

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