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  • Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

52 Ways to Shift Your Focus: Stop Apologizing

Shift #51: Stop Apologizing

Remember when you were nearing graduation, figuring out what you wanted to do with your life? Maybe you got advice, suggestions, offers to show you how to do this or that.

Remember who you tried to please? Why you said yes to things that didn’t fit? And then, later, maybe you burst out of your own life after trying to fit into a mold that took you far away from the creative work you wanted to do because those artistic dreams were just that, dreams. Not a real job.

As adults who do creative work, we know that we have to get over that and just do what we’re going to do. We find ways to make a life that incorporates the writing or art for which we have a passion with the need to pay the rent and buy food and even health insurance, if we’re lucky. 

Still. We go along this path and life sidelines us. We have kids. We have mortgages. We have dogs who eat underwear out of the laundry basket. Charities call us up and ask us for donations and we wonder if it would be rude to say we could use a donation to keep the creative work going. People still try to fit us into a category that suits their view of what an adult life looks like.

When I was getting ready to head to college, my father offered his strong advice that I would be smart to obtain a civil service position. He was a federal civil servant himself, pleased with the job security and benefits that came with his job that spanned the Truman through Carter administrations. He wanted me to have the security he had, to have health insurance and regular holidays. He also wanted me to go to college, but that may not have been his biggest concern. He didn’t quite understand how my love of books was going to translate into anything other than teaching unless I went into journalism. At least, this is my best guess of what he was thinking as I look back from a chasm of years.

My mother, too, wanted me to be secure. Doing creative work wasn’t secure. My older sister, who got a fine arts degree in photography, worked in banking and law. My older brother, who once told me he originally wanted to go into architecture, ended up studying engineering and now is a real estate agent. Creative types, both of them, channeled into other work.

As the youngest kid, I decided that wasn’t how I wanted my life to play out. The interesting thing about making a deliberate choice is that, even after practicing this for years, I still sometimes find myself feeling like less of an adult than my peers in the eyes of those same peers. For example, there was the fellow parent who asked me what I’m doing now that I no longer work as a health assistant at the nearby elementary school. When I told her I was on the staff of an online poetry journal and doing some writing of my own, she said, oh, you don’t have a real job, then. There are those who figure that, since I sit in front of my computer in a home office, my work is certainly interruptible (which shocks me in this age of telecommuting), so why don’t I answer the phone in the morning?

Those are the exact moments when I take a deep breath, squelch the urge to kick someone in the shins, and focus on how much better my life works when I do not apologize for who I am. For doing creative work. For drawing boundaries. For having a partner and kids who wrap their arms around the way each of us have different talents and make a variety of contributions both inside and outside our home. 

My parents would be supportive of my life now in an old-fashioned way because I’m married and they would figure I just get to stay home. They still wouldn’t completely get it. And I’m thinking about that quite a lot as my daughter gets ready to head off to college later this year. I’ve been trying to encourage her to try everything, to follow the path that she feels with her heart and make choices that fit for her, not the choices that fit someone else’s vision of who she is. Including mine.

The real strength of a writer or artist or musician or anyone else who follows a creative path against the advice of others is the way we come to this: the certainty that we are better when we acknowledge who we really are  and find a way to do work that isn’t at odds with our deepest selves.