My epiphany came at 4:30 a.m. in a Los Angeles hotel room. I jolted awake, ears ringing, to see my 12-year-old daughter passed out cold in the next bed. We had flown across country to attend a K-pop boy band concert with 18,000 screaming girls, an exceedingly generous birthday gift borne from parental guilt. But my ringing ears weren’t the reason I was up. My subconscious had been a busy beaver, and I awoke to pure clarity, and a name to describe it.
I was in The Waiting Place.
Yes, I was hijacking Dr. Seuss’ name for a place you don’t want to go in his book Oh, The Places You’ll Go! But that place has a special meaning to me. I am a children’s book writer, and this masterpiece goes far beyond teaching ABC’s with a message that cuts across generations. It describes the journey of life in simple, encouraging prose that speaks to even the most jaded adult. In it, Dr. Seuss describes “The Waiting Place”: … for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring. You get the picture.
And that is what hit me at 4:30 a.m. I’m just waiting too. Not for six pack abs to magically appear before I sport a bikini. I’m 40-something with teenagers; I like wine and cheese, and I’m not a contender for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover. So, whew, pressure’s off there.
No, my Waiting Place is in front of a huge wall of self-imposed challenges and unmet personal expectations that I alone have built.
Here’s my problem. I’m an extremely creative person, blessed with an abundance of ideas. When one hits, I’m off! A screenplay so riveting, it will surely win an Oscar? Check. A children’s book about a goofy spider? Check. A blog celebrating female friendship? Check and check.
Starting projects isn’t my problem, it’s finishing them. I can point to a thousand different reasons why. Work, grocery shopping, laundry, the dog needs a walk, the tarantula needs crickets (don’t ask), or how about I’m just plain tired?
The excuse wins and the project du jour is pushed to tomorrow. I now have so many projects started that when I do find some free time, I don’t know where to start. So, I do one of the above or just take a nap. Why? Because it’s easier.
And that is all dandy, until suddenly, a year goes by. And another. The screenplay I started nine years ago is still on page four. And that blog idea from 12 months ago is just a recurring charge on my credit card for the website address.
All of this wouldn’t matter, if it didn’t matter so much to me. But it does. What I realize now is that my wall of unfinished projects and my unmet personal expectations have started to chip away at my sense of self-worth and diminish feelings of accomplishment in other areas of my life. And that is not OK.
So back to my epiphany, with a little history.
I lost touch with my California high school friends after moving to the East Coast, but we reconnected through Facebook and met in Sundance, Utah, for a reunion two and a half years ago. Wrapped in spa robes, feet dipped in hot stone baths, I described the screenplay I had started writing years ago to my friend Michelle, a psychologist. She was delighted and encouraged me to complete it. I said “absolutely!”
Fast-forward 18 months. We’re back in Sundance, reunion round two. Feeling inspired by our friendship, I blurted out: “I feel a writing project coming on!” and the blog Food for the Sister Soul was born. I rushed home, bought the URL, and that’s all, folks.
Fast-forward to concert day in Los Angeles, a year later. I’m brunching with my Sundance crew, sitting next to Michelle, and I realize two and a half years have slipped by since we first lounged on that spa patio. I had written not a single word, and I was mortified. Michelle offered some free professional advice. “Focus on one thing,” she said. “Stay committed to your passion and follow through.”
Wind the clock to 4:30 a.m. I woke up and confronted myself. And I decided to stop waiting.
Instead of going back to sleep, I grabbed my laptop and started pounding out this essay, knowing if I didn’t do it now, the moment would be lost. I’d fall back asleep, scramble to the airport and watch Deadpool 2 on the plane.
But I didn’t. I wrote this instead. And in so doing, I made myself a promise. I will pick one project to focus on and take a positive action every day toward accomplishing it. I will not get down on myself if it goes slowly or quit if it gets challenging. I will enjoy the process, I will achieve my goal, and most importantly, I will believe in myself.
And I will never again languish in The Waiting Place.
Michelle Thompson is a children’s book author, freelance writer, marketing guru. She resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, two children, a dog and a tarantula.