I love graduating. I’ve done it 4 times so far. Publishing Fit & Healthy Pregnancy feels like graduating with a 328-page diploma, one that shows how sport and pregnancy aren’t mutually exclusive. Yesterday, it was rated #15 in Books > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Exercise & Fitness > Pregnancy on Amazon, which, okay, is a niche within a niche within a niche. On the other hand, I think it shows my mother isn’t the only one buying it.
When you’ve wanted to do a thing since you were 3 years old and then you finally do it 32 years later, it’s easy to feel a big wave of “….Now what?”
The first book I wrote, when I was four, was about King Kenny, followed by a more colorful Paddy the Bear. By first grade, I took my ambitions up a notch. I wrote a book, then enlisted my mother to type it up and send it to Random House. We went to B. Dalton’s bookstore in the mall and asking the clerk to track down—in her 1983 computer—the mailing address for the mega-publisher.
As you’d suspect, following the submission of The Night the Dolls Came to Life, I got my first of many, many (many) rejection letters. I don’t think Random House usually sends rejection letters, but I got one when I was 6. It was then that my mom gave me Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which she said was rejected by loads of publishers before Richard Bach finally signed it. I don’t know if that’s true, but I love that I was getting publishing lessons in first grade. Since my letter from Random House, I’ve received rejections that are kind and polite and others that, well, are less so. A few years ago, an agent told me I was “just a smart woman with a nice husband and a cute kid.”
Today, I’m just a smart woman with a cute kid, no husband, and a book on Amazon. Ta da! How far we come. For my next act, I will be shot out of a cannon.
Fortunately for me, it’s the season of graduations and fresh starts. Those of us with no current university affiliation get to mooch off speeches everywhere. So far, I’ve poached inspiration from a handful of speeches, collecting imaginary degrees from Smith and Harvard, and going back in time to Kenyon College, 2005. If you want to experience what could be the best speech in graduation history, watch or read David Foster Wallace’s This is Water. I wrote about it in 2010.
With 328-page diploma in hand, I read Arianna Huffington’s speech to Smith graduates this week. She’s one of the most successful women in America, but Huffington asked her listeners to redefine success, to craft a revolution in which success isn’t measured by money, comfort, or power—or worse, a marriage where you get them by proxy. Instead, she challenged listeners to strive for success with a different metric: wisdom, wonder, well-being, and the willingness to give back.
I have never defined success in terms of money and power (though they are lovely and I would like more of both), but I did strive for comfort in a predictable life–instead of daring to risk a life of wonder, wisdom, and true well-being. I don’t think I’m the only woman to feel this way. In 2009, I ran away to Australia for 3 weeks to see what that was like. Wonder, wisdom, and well-being.
Then in 2012, I graduated from my marriage. I got my diploma of divorce papers from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and I dared to live on purpose, not by default. In the last year, I stepped into the unknown of turning my life inside out. It turns out that a more authentic life of well-being and wonder mostly means being really, really tired.
Excavating wisdom and finding well-being sound romantic, but authenticity is freaking hard. Oy. Even though life as a mom with no spouse is I-had-no-idea-how-hard-this-would-be hard, I’m driving my rickety bus into the unknown that is non-marriage, and I own the title. The unknown can, at times, feel suicidal, but as any athlete knows, feelings lie, and we can always go further. Despite the rejection letters and despite being just smart women with nice husbands and cute kids, we can change gears to accelerate the rickety bus on the road we’re paving as we go. Someday I’ll actually learn to drive a stick somewhere other than a metaphor.
When we’re in that centered place of wisdom, harmony and strength, life is transformed, from struggle to grace, and we are suddenly filled with trust, no matter the obstacles, challenges and disappointments. Because there is a purpose to our lives, even if it is sometimes hidden from us, and even if the biggest turning points and heartbreaks only make sense as we look back, not as we are experiencing them.
Now what: after I read the Smith speech, I clicked a link to Drew Faust’s speech to her Harvard graduates. I don’t think Drew and Arianna sat down together at Starbucks to write their speeches, but they seem to be forging a sisterhood, and personally, I am going to rush that sorority.
Paying tribute to the first responders at the Marathon, President Faust called on her listeners to create a life of “running toward” risk, daring to feel “seized” by a purpose of living authentically and creating a vocation of what matters most to us. Vocation, as you probably know, means a “calling,” the voice of what we must do. If you listen to it, a vocation can be a total pain in the ass. It can also be the whole point of everything ever. Oy.
“Running toward” is a way of being, an attitude, a capacity for courage, a kind of grace, as Governor Patrick put it at the post-Marathon Service — “the best of who we are.” … Running toward means abandoning the safe and the certain for the unknown. It means facing your fears and moving beyond those who tell you “no.” … It means running toward not just your own dreams but running toward where you can help.
Mothers, of course, have “running towards” in the marrow of our bones, the ones that carried the weight of our babies and the ones that keep us from being floppy invertebrate slugs. “Running towards” is our way of life. That’s my Now What. Running towards an unknown of meaning, strength, grace, and yes, Governor Patrick, what I hope will be my next, best person.
This Fall, I’m starting an MSW program so I can be licensed to practice as a psychotherapist. I’m moving, as Arianna Huffington said, “onward, upward, and inward.” I didn’t know it when I was six, but The Night the Dolls Came to Life was a prescient memoir. Receiving her honorary doctorate this afternoon, Oprah said in her speech at Harvard today, “The world needs people who have come alive.” Now: that’s my what.