Two weeks ago, I made a decision.
I decided to leave behind my boring, dead-end job and the steady paycheck that came with it, not in favor of another, better job, but because of a crazy idea.
My idea was this:
My skills as a writer and teacher have value, and my passion is a force to be reckoned with [at least, it is when I’m not a burned out and/or demoralized mess]. If I begin putting the majority of my energy into putting the fruits of these things out into the world, people will respond, and that response will be enough, somehow, for me to find a way to support a modest but comfortable lifestyle in the city I love.
I don’t know how that idea sounds to you–maybe it seems reasonable. But for me, believing in this idea, chasing this dream–it amounts to a truly radical act of faith in myself.
I have been trying to write this post for days, because I have been struggling to put into words just how terrifying this is to me, just how very fucking hard I’ve had to work to not let that fear tear me to pieces.
But let’s set the details of my emotional turmoil and self doubt aside for today. Today I want to talk about the mechanics of leaps of faith and the nets that may or may not catch us when we fall.
I’m almost certain you’ve heard this line before:
I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this saying, and honestly with most motivational sayings. First of all, if taken anywhere close to literally, this one is nuts. Nets don’t just “appear”. They are there, or they aren’t. Secondly, it’s just too damn simple to be helpful. I mean, when do I leap? Where? Will the net appear just anywhere? And really now, no one can ALWAYS be leaping. Even the most radically risk-loving humans need some shreds of security.
But I’ve been thinking about this, because I have just taken a leap, and I am in fact trusting in a magically appearing net. Or at least, I am trusting that the net I have will be enough, even though I’ve never tested it, even though I can’t see all of it, even though it seems somewhat flimsy and a long, long way down.
And I this is where, I think, I can pull some meaning from this trite little proverb. See, the net isn’t magic, exactly, but it is something of an unknown. You take all the little steps you can to move to prepare yourself, but you can’t really know whether they’re going to to be enough until you actually test them.
In my case, the net is all the preparations I’ve made to make this leap:
- building and maintaining healthy habits that help me hold it together through tough times
- building and maintaining personal relationships that I can count on
- networking with amazing people doing related work I admire, and in some cases volunteering for them in exchange for mentorship and opportunities
- writing this blog, and thus building an audience that appreciates what I have to offer
- working for literally hundreds [maybe thousands? I haven’t kept close enough track to say for sure] of hours as a tutor, with more than 600 of those in the last year alone
- spent a year and a half tutoring with a company that only pays okay, but that is easy to work with and reliably feeds me students
- built a decent understanding of the market for high-end tutoring services
- over a decade of reading and thinking critically about education, and particularly about how to best serve exceptional students [gifted and learning disabled students, groups that are not mutually exclusive]
…there is definitely more, but you get the picture.
I really jumped into this with only have the roughest outlines of a plan. Basically, my goal was to get setup to take students privately, apply to tutoring and writing positions that intrigued me, ask for help from my friends, family, and professional connections, and just keep putting myself out there, day after day, until I found my way to some mix of things that I find fulfilling AND that pays the bills.
And I really can’t believe this you guys, but so far… my lack of plan seems to be… working.
I’ve had a tutoring interview that resulted in discussions about jobs I hadn’t even applied for. I’ve had friends suggest me for cool freelance writing projects with people they know professionally. A friend mocked up two badass potential logos for my tutoring site. A non-profit I’ve been working with here and there asked me to do science blogging for them [volunteering for the moment, but for this project, I am willing to do it]. Oh, and my nice little “safe” tutoring job has delivered me two new students since I increased my availability–not a huge deal, but every little bit helps limit my stress while I wait to start getting paychecks from new gigs.
Don’t get me wrong. All of the things I just mentioned are still in the early stages, and it remains to be seen how much actual, paying work they ultimately result in. And I’m still battling my fears on a daily basis, and still getting used to the practical aspects of being in charge of my own schedule–it’s so hard to make yourself do hard, scary stuff when the only, or at least the main impetus, is yourself! Especially when Netflix and cute baby rats are calling!
But still–and I can hardly believe that I’m saying this–it’s starting to look like this just might work out okay.
I didn’t just leap and expect my net to magically appear. I built my “net”, one little piece at a time, by taking opportunities to practice the skills I value, learning as much as I can, reaching out to people doing stuff I admire, and putting my work out in the world.
And then I jumped, clinging to the hope that of all the tiny, seemingly disconnected steps I had taken… some of them would pay off. It is leap of faith, but what the proverb doesn’t tell you is that what I’m putting my faith is myself.
And god you guys, that sounds so trite I’m gagging a little bit, but I don’t know what else to tell you. In the midst of a lot of stress and anxiety and uncertainty, I’ve had some really fucking amazing days. I think that merits a bit of celebration.