When I was little, I had big dreams. People would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I would say I either wanted to be black or be a horse.
Those are pretty lofty dreams.
I wasn’t embarrassed by or afraid of those dreams, though. I simply knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I unabashedly shared that vision.
I didn’t really understand why adults laughed when I told them of my ambitions, but I didn’t really care, either. I was too busy dreaming of running on the beach, my mane flying in the wind, or of showing off my beautiful brown skin, the color of the dark chocolate my mom loved so much.
Yesterday, I met with my queer writers group, and we talked about big fears and big dreams. Having put so much of myself out into the world already, I admitted that my fear of writing and sharing had dissipated over the years. Sure, every time I post something controversial or revealing, I get a little vulnerability hangover, but I’m still always willing to write, share, and promote the hard truths. I do believe that words are healing and leave us all feeling less alone in this big, scary world.
When we got to the part of the conversation where we talked about big dreams, though, I was unexpectedly emotional. I spoke about my lifelong desire to be an author and essayist (who might also be black or a horse), and I cried.
It took some emotional deconstructing to figure out why it was so difficult for me to talk about my dreams, and I think now I know.
I have been out of alignment.
I tried to live the life that was expected of me for 46 years. When I finally came out, it felt like my skin fit at long last. I have worked in or around Corporate America for the majority of my post-graduate life. I have learned about SEO and subject lines and high-converting copy. I’ve written white papers and case studies and one-pagers when I really wanted to be writing about life and love and happiness and pain. I’m a touchy-feely girl, not an analytical one. I have a mind that understands human emotion far better than it comprehends ROI.
I stayed in the corporate race because it paid the bills. It was safe. I had health insurance and a 401K.
But my heart has never really been in it.
White-picket-fence, suburban, mixed-marriage, mom-of-4 me aligned with Corporate America. It was what was expected, what was rewarded, what was safe.
Gay, out-and-proud, tattooed, creative me aligns with author/personal essayist. But author/personal essayist doesn’t come with health insurance or a 401K. It comes with financial risk and instability.
Until it doesn’t.
And I think I have always been afraid of being poor again, like I was growing up.
As I begin to feel the daily effects of an aging body and mind, I worry about the amount of time I have left to write and create and leave behind words that matter. I am no longer willing to trade my heart and soul for a paycheck.
I will make it work financially. I must make it work financially. There is no other way.
I believe until now there has been an underlying fear that I’m not good enough, that I have nothing important to say, that I am not worthy of living my dream.
But I look back on the words I have published, at the awards I have won, at the writing accolades I’ve received, and I think, How much more could I have been if I’d actually believed in myself?
I’ve had people who write and read many books tell me that my voice is unique and beautiful, that I’m their favorite writer, that they anxiously await my words. And I have never fully believed it.
Somewhere in my heart, I’m still that poor little girl in hand-me-downs and Kmart Trax sneakers, undeserving of the best things in life.
But I have had the best things in life—amazing kids, beautiful homes, dreamy vacations, money in the bank, love, happiness, and abundant laughter. So, I do indeed deserve the best my words can give me.
And it’s time to align my inside with my outside.
Corporate America has never done for me what a quiet coffee shop does. I can sit with my laptop, sipping a peppermint mocha and creating new worlds for hours on end, but a 30-minute meeting in a sterile conference room makes my skin crawl. I can create some pretty reprehensible characters, but having to deal with office politics and relentless mansplainers makes me want to poke my eyes out.
It’s pretty clear where my passion lies. And that’s where my time and energy must go.
Chances are, I will never be a horse or a black woman, but I can be a damn good writer.
I already am.
P.S. Did I vomit in my mouth a little when I called myself a damn good writer? Yes, I did. But I’ll keep saying it until I believe in it 110%. Baby steps, friends.
P.P.S. Did I ever want to combine my future ambitions and be a black horse? No, I did not. I did, however, have a great affinity for Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion.