Giving Yourself Permission

On a whim and in a moment that seemed a good idea, a few weeks ago I started recording my writing time in little time-lapse chunks (90 minutes comes out to about :30 seconds, without editing) and posting it to my Instagram. At the end of the insanity that was last year’s school year, not only did my energy for life in general seem to be zapped, but my writing routine seemingly evaporated. You can tell by my May blog posts–nothing called me to the words. I was in a funk, and going through summer break in this mindset was a guaranteed fast-track back into therapy for depression, which I’ve managed to head off for nearly a decade.

So I made a last-ditch effort in my social media posts, hoping to build not only accountability in the form of peer pressure to update regularly, but to make connection in a profession that requires some degree of solitude. I thought I’d just post a few a week, even though I write daily (often multiple times daily), and wrap it up at the start of July. I thought I had it all figure out, and I’d be back to myself in an easy-peasy 30 days.

I thought wrong. Way wrong, but in a surprisingly good way. Literally from my first video, friends texted to make sure I was doing ok. Many of my followers are friends IRL, some all the way back to college, some from before kindergarten. I can’t deny how their messages made me smile and started conversations we’ve let lag over the years, but what the pattern I started noticing in these DMs, messages, and texts caught me offguard. The conversations and comments–mind you, from people who have never met, come from drastically different backgrounds, careers, family lives, and even parts of the world–connected on the underlying theme of wanting to write, journal, be creative in some way, take time for themselves, find more joy in their lives, or how something I’d said in a post held some meaning for them that made them feel less alone.

I’ll deal with the latter in another blog entry, but the idea that I have friends who want to be more creative, express themselves, pursue writing or pick up a journaling habit floored me. I have always been content being the weird creative one, the one who stays home on Friday nights to work on an article while everyone else spends the night drinking away the memory of their workweek at the local bar. It never crossed my mind to think anyone else would be interested in playing with words.

Even more surprising, from these people I consider to be some of the smartest, savviest, most intelligent humans on the planet (they are *my* friends, after all…lol) were their obstacles to granting themselves some creative time. Fear, lack of time, self-doubt, perfectionism–these are the things writers have battled since the days of cave drawings, but I sense a deeper and more foundational stumbling block to actually sitting and writing: permission.

I know this sounds a little far-fetched. That these people who work raising families and holding down careers are certainly adults, and adults don’t need permission to do what they want…or do they?

That these people who work raising families and holding down careers are certainly adults, and adults don’t need permission to do what they want…or do they?

Seems they do. We humans have been conditioned from birth that we have to be putting in time and attention to make everything around us run smoothly to the point that when we want to take time for ourselves, we’re often made to feel guilty, selfish, self-centered, and other unkind adjectives. So we work, and work more hours, work harder, do what others think we should be doing, and, with any luck, we managed to leave our real selves in the dust. Then we wonder why we turn sixty and feel like our best days are behind us, that we have to do this and have that and keep up with everyone, but nothing feels good. We burn out, melt down, sink into apathy and depression, and all the while ignoring our self and what we feel pulled to do but don’t because we need permission from someone on the external to say, “Yes! You should follow what you feel!”

It’s not that simple, of course. There are pieces and parts to every life, to every choice, to every situation, but the gist is that if we were a bit kinder to ourselves and were taught to listen to ourselves, we’d know the only permission we need to follow a bit of bright light is to give ourself the permission to do so.

I know this sounds silly to some, but I think it’s a real affliction for many people who know in their hearts there’s more to life than birth, work, and death. And for that, I have this advice: if something has been calling to you, softly in those moments and spaces between the work and the bustle, the goals and ambitions and paychecks that you keep putting off until someone says you’re allowed to pursue them, consider this your permission slip. Your mom is not going to sign on a dotted line, and your teachers are not going to collect them for the field trip to the museum. Part of being an adult is knowing that you–and only you–can take the smallest steps to change your life into what you want. No amount of money, time, status, or happy family photos can do this for you, so what do you need to tell yourself to allow that permission?

You have permission. You’ve waited this long–don’t let it slip by.