But seriously, I would say most of us at one time or another in our lives reassess what we’ve done and where we’ve been. Often this can lead to us feeling some form of regret and/or a decision to strike out on a different path or set a new goal. So although the process can seem harrowing — and even painful at times — it can also produce an important, and sometimes beautiful, outcome.
Self-assessment is a necessary part of all creatives’ best-lived lives. People who are capable of stepping back and taking a hard look at where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going typically are better at weathering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than those who rarely take a beat to get their bearings and evaluate how they arrived here. This is why I find an artist’s style evolution so fascinating at times.
When you look at the early styles of Louise Bourgeois or James Joyce or Prince versus the styles that made them famous during the height of their careers versus the styles they were working in when they passed away, it becomes a riveting tale of a career and life captured in art. The downside to these personal retrospectives sometimes is that you are often left feeling lazy, unremarkable and less actualized than these artistic heavyweights.
You think to yourself …
You may never reach their level of notoriety, but surely the life reflected back to you in your work isn’t all that bad? Or is it?
Have you truly realized your potential? And if not, why not?
Was it due to the constant need to pivot because of life’s circumstances?
Was it because you realized that you didn’t want to follow a specific path once it was in front of you?
Was it because you didn’t work hard enough? Or were smart enough? Or were outgoing enough?
That’s where the gratitude journal idea wormed its way into the conversation. Personally, I don’t think anyone needs a journal specifically for capturing things they are grateful about. If you journal about anything, just write an entry every now and then related to counting your blessings. Or simply take moments here and there to remember the good alongside the bad.
But the important takeaway is to review, strategize, and feel gratitude. When we are struck with feelings of self-doubt and the need to reassess our careers and our lives, we often focus on what we haven’t accomplished compared to what we told ourselves 5, 10 or 20 years ago in order to live our best lives. We see the places we haven’t traveled to, the languages we didn’t learn, the jobs we didn’t land, the masterpieces we didn’t create.
However, I challenge you to see the entire story, not just what didn’t make the highlight reel. Maybe you didn’t write that novel, compose that original song, get that college degree, or land that solo show at the high-end gallery where you were certain your career trajectory would change for the better.
But instead, maybe you wrote a great article that persuaded someone to act positively on the information you shared. Or you composed an adaptation of a little appreciated musical gem that got the attention of that producer that one time, and they hired a singer to create a demo for it. Or you have a career spanning 30+ years in your field and accumulated more knowledge and experience than any post-graduate degree could ever offer. Or maybe you’ve been a part of multiple group shows in galleries, large and small, all over the continent.
You may not have reached every goal you’ve set out to accomplish,
but take a beat to recognize the amazing sh!t you’ve accomplished along the way.
I’m not saying you should rest on your laurels or just appreciate what you have done and consider yourself lucky. Of course not. But sometimes, I find myself wallowing in the self-pity pool for a little too long, only to be jostled to attention by someone who tells me how much they admire something I wrote, are jealous of the places I’ve traveled, or respect that I’ve put myself out there to try when the world told me to know my place.
And when that happens, I’m always shook. I think, “Somebody read my article and liked it?”, “I haven’t been that many places, what does she have to be jealous of?” and “Oh, that’s no big thing. It’s not like it’s always worked in my favor.” I end up downplaying what I probably should be proud of. Then, over the next day or two, I realize, “Maybe I am more of whom I’ve always dreamed I’d be.” Maybe the problem is our dreams fashion a life with fewer barriers, less stress, and more kudos, and our imaginations are greater than the sum of the world’s parts.
I may never get to be a Managing Editor at Essence or Mother Jones magazine, but I can take pride in the fact that my name has appeared in the masthead of some interesting, and even impressive, periodicals over the years that cover a variety of topics, from building luxury villas in Casablanca to discussing the benefits of Bayesian statistics in the development of medical technology. I may never get to see Machu Picchu in my lifetime, but I can still appreciate hiking up a small mountain in the Scottish Highlands and being the only one from my group to sit down on the grass and take in the view and majesty of my little trek. I may never achieve the opportunities and skillset of the people I admire most, but I’m no slouch and can hold my own against anyone who thinks I shouldn’t aim for what I want in life instead of just accepting what others deem I deserve.
All of this to say: It’s great to reassess your career, your life, and your passions. It’s OK to recognize that you aren’t where you thought you’d be by now. But it’s also great to remember what you have done, where you have been, and what your story has shared in the chapters you’ve written so far. You’ve accomplished some of the things you hoped for, and you’ve accomplished things that you never even thought you were capable of along the way.
And you know what? That is a story worth continuing.