I’m working on embracing impermanence. I’ve been reading When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, and she reminds us that impermanence is our natural state. Babies don’t stay babies, people live and die, jobs come and go. But it’s not just reflected in the big things, it’s also the little things that happen every day. Our favorite pen dries up, our favorite dish breaks, our favorite shirt gets stained and can’t be worn again.
This pandemic is forcing us all to acknowledge impermanence, whether we want to or not. For example, I’m technically “unemployed” right now, given that most of my revenue streams have taken serious hits lately. Yet, I still seem to be plenty busy with “work,” it’s just not the type of work that pays much or that I really want to be doing.
My husband is urging me to adopt the viewpoint of being on sabbatical. Of course, ideally a sabbatical means you’re still getting a paycheck from your college or business, although not always. A sabbatical is a break from your regular workload, but it’s often tied to something that will enhance or improve your career, like doing research or writing a book (done those).
I could view this as a “career break.” Apparently, that concept is catching on in various places around the world, although it’s usually tied to something that helps your personal situation like raising kids (did that) or traveling (can’t do that now).
Sometimes I wonder if what I’m experiencing is really a break from my current career, or if I’m moving toward something completely different. People panic when artists say they might stop doing their art. “But you’ve always been a painter or a writer or an actor. And you’re so good at it. It’s what you’re meant to do.” And we artists believe that. We wrap our entire identities around the term “artist” or “writer.” We think if we stop, even for a little while, we’ve failed.
Sometimes a “going out of business” sign on a storefront is a sad thing. It means the owner simply could not make the business work and had no other choice but to close. Other times, though, “going out of business,” is a good thing. It means the owner had a long, successful run and now wants to retire or try a whole new career. Sometimes the loss of something we spent years building opens up new possibilities.
I’m not saying I’m walking away from writing or my business just yet, but this pandemic is forcing us all to look at “loss” in a new way. After all, what choice do we have? We’ve all lost something: a job, a college experience, maybe even a loved one. We’ve lost our sense of security and our opportunities to plan and our social lives. It’s easy to distract ourselves with TV, video games, and long drives just to get out of the house, but maybe it’s more important to lean into the loss and figure out what it’s opening up, both in and outside of us.
The fact is, I’ll always be an author because I’ve written eight books, a blog, and countless articles, essays, and short stories. Even if I never wrote again, “author” will always be a part of my identity.
If though, like everything else, our identities are not permanent, maybe it’s time to wonder what else makes me me. Mourn the losses, yes, but move curiously into the spaces their absence has created. And do so without attaching a word to this experience. It’s not a sabbatical, it’s not a career break, it’s not even a closing. It’s just a new birth, and whatever is being born will be as wonderful and as impermanent as what has passed.
As Chodron says in the book, “Birth is both painful and delightful.”
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