It is not easy to choose to live a life centered around your creativity rather than your productivity. Maybe this is because we live in a world which socializes us to focus on output as a metric of worth. I know for years I found as many ways as possible to channel my creativity through my military career… but at the end of every day I sat with the knowledge that something was missing. There was some part of my life not yet being fulfilled.
I approached my 14 years in the Air Force as if I was an architect – rigidly building the steel frame of what I wanted in line with the specifications the Air Force provided. I knew where every room, window and door went – all I had to do was construct each and BAM! Perfect career unlocked as I checked all the achievement boxes the Air Force provided.
It was thrilling to build that frame. I am proud of the work I did and even more proud to have done it alongside so many amazing people. But every day I built out that steel frame… it was as if there was a massive elephant in the room. A truth taking up space that I tried desperately to ignore. Do you know this feeling? The awareness that gnaws at you as you pursue a million distractions… relationships, achievements… anything to divert your attention away from feel of that unwavering stare.
There comes a time where you decide to turn around and stare back, finally facing the truth of what you are capable of, what you find joy in, what you are passionate about. And in that shift, you begin to align with a life that feels truer to you. But it is also terrifying… because it means letting go of so many things that will not suite the growth you are choosing. People. Careers. Behaviors. It can mean walking out of that beautifully crafted steel frame with every window and door in just the right place.
I am one month into transitioning off “active duty” in the Air Force, and it has been far more difficult than I anticipated. I joined the Air Force at 18 and have spent the past 14 years of my adult life pouring myself into and assimilating into an organization that has defined and informed every aspect of my day-to-day life. In so many ways it has even informed who I am. What to wear (lots of camo, no rainbow colors sadly). When to show up to work. When I could leave. When I could or couldn’t take lunch. What success was measured by. What standards to meet. What checklists to adhere to so I could ensure my performance and that of others was in line with what our mission was. In the Air Force… so much is decided for you… that you don’t realize how little say you had until suddenly it is just you and all the decisions you can suddenly make.
This transition into choice can feel momentarily crippling. Like staring into a cabinet unable to decide which coffee mug to use (how did I end up with so many mugs in the first place?) and just closing it and walking away. Or it can feel like panic inducing expanses of time… no longer contained into shift work or day to day due outs… your time horizon moves so far into the future. How do you schedule your day to day life to achieve new goals? How do you shape that time in a way that is restful and gentle, rather than an unrelenting urgent thrash? What does progress look like now and how do we measure it? What do you do when you finally feel you have time, and in turn the responsibility to use it wisely?
This transition has caused me to look in the mirror and get honest about what “enough” looks and feels like. Because quite frankly I don’t know yet. I am learning to how flex my scheduling muscles as the boss in my creative business. I am also learning how to keep myself on track with what I hope to achieve with my books and art. I originally thought I would not discuss this transition very much on my social media or blog posts because it is a lot of internal work, I don’t want to sound negative and I pondered if anyone would care to read it.
But the truth of the matter is this: my lived experience informs my art and writing, and each of the current picture books I am working on are being made as I navigate this muddled daily ambiguity of who I was and who I am becoming.
As we navigate our day-to-day life, I hope I can encourage you to be brave as you face all kinds of transitions. Find center within yourself: everything you need is already within you. You don’t need to have everything figured out. You don’t need to have anything figured out. I have decided to stop living my life as an architect, rigidly looking into the future and contorting myself into everything everyone else needs me to be to reach fixed goals originating from outside myself.
From now on I will approach my life as a gardener. I will plant seeds, carefully encouraging their growth, and ensure the environments I place myself within enable me to surface from the soil of my life and thrive. I no longer want to fix my life into the perfect shape. I want it to unfurl, on its own time, for as long as I draw breath. With the approach of a gardener, I don’t need to agonize over every detail and season of my life. Within this approach, I can trust the roots of who I am run deep enough to face what may come. I know the same is true for you.