And then, there are those days when clarity arrives; when you realize that what-you-really-want and what-you-thought-you-wanted are two totally different things… divergent things, really.
There are those days. “Epiphanies” they are sometimes called.
For almost the entirety of this last year, I have been battling insomnia. My own particular form works like this: I go to bed and I fall asleep; however, far earlier that might seem healthy, I wake with a start and am unable to get back to sleep.
So I get up, go to the gym, come home, and write… like I am doing right now. This particular morning, my “wake-up time” was 2:45 am. (I am writing this three days before it is scheduled to post.)
It’s not hard to figure out what it is that wakes me up at night, because it is (almost) always the same thing: thoughts about work. In real life, I work in a little place called “Corporate America”, and where my job responsibilities directly effect thousands of employees, millions of customers, and millions of shareholders. A short description would be that I am the person at my company responsible for knowing everything that is going to happen before it actually happens.
So, no stress there.
A couple of days ago, I was approached about going back into the area I started out in with the company. It would mean leaving the “futile attempt to be omniscient” division, instead working in the “actually helping human beings” department.
You might think, by those descriptions, I would have immediately jumped at the opportunity when it was raised, but I did not. My honest initial reaction was to try to figure out first whether or not I had failed at the job I’m actually in.
As I proceeded then to discuss this with my wife, two of my co-workers, and one of my best online (blog) friends, their reactions were virtually unanimous: take the new job, it’s a godsend, this job is killing you.
This job is killing me?
“Yes,” says one of my coworkers. “I’ve seen what it’s done to you this last year. I hate seeing you like this.”
I won’t belabor the point here, it is my intention to take the new job. What’s interesting to me is how much my obsessive desire to be “good at” whatever I happen to be doing has resulted in unhealthy or even warped thinking. I didn’t seek out the job I happen to have now; I was chosen for it. I’ve been aware of having some shortcomings in the position. I should have immediately jumped at a chance to do something I know I love doing, but I hesitated because I hate to think I “failed” at anything.
And yet, by normal standards, I’ve “failed” at a lot of things. My first marriage. Being a father. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.
My first really large failure — at least, in my mind — was at age eight when I realized I was never going to be a great painter.
I was taking painting lessons from a tiny woman who had an art studio and taught something like 30 students. I had it all worked out in my head: I was going to be a world famous painter. So I listened carefully to all her instructions, and applied myself diligently. Only…
I have no eye, and I notice almost nothing, visually. I was horrible, really, but it took awhile to dawn on me. However, dawn on me, it did.
I loved paintings. My father was an artist, and I wanted to be like him; I just didn’t have it in me.
After a year of lessons, my art teacher had an “awards ceremony” (this was 1970, in case you think such things are only a recent phenomenon) where they gave out awards like “best still life” “best human figure” “best use of color” and so on. Eventually, everyone in the studio had an award, except me.
Oh, but she had thought of one. I received the “Most Original Style” award, which was a polite way of saying “what the hell is that you just painted”?
So right after the ceremony, I quit. I told my parents I didn’t want to take art lessons any more.
They argued, as some of you no doubt may try to do, that having an “original style” is what all artists strive for. Yeah, well, I wasn’t striving for it: I wanted people to be able to tell what it was I painted.
My parents asked me to reconsider and stay at it. I was obdurate: I wasn’t going back. They relented.
I did regret it, later, but in a weirdly ambiguous way. I regretted the loss of my dream of being an artist. I couldn’t really regret quitting lessons, because, I was a horrible painter.
Epiphanies don’t always make you happier at first.
A year or so after that, I started piano lessons, and that was much more my thing. So then I was happier.
The Beautiful One, who is peacefully sleeping right now on our bed, wants me to take this new job and find some peace of mind. It is my intention to take the job; as to peace of mind, that remains to be seen.
In this very room is one of the paintings I painted at eight years old. It’s not a great painting, but it’s a beautiful kind of failure: a still life painted with that combination of dreams and illusions that make up human hope.
So here’s to beautiful failure: for while failure is inevitable, in many ways, the desire and search for beauty, truth, and goodness are what really matters.