Inspirational social media posts affirm our belief that anything is possible.
You know the memes and posts I’m talking about – “Leap and the net will appear!”, “I quit my boring job to follow my dream and now I’m banking six-figures!” and “If you’re not working on your dream, you’re working on someone else’s.”
Such posts provide a momentary, motivational jolt while you’re scrolling and waiting for your Grande, extra-hot, double-shot, vanilla, almond, soy confection of caffeine and sugar. But the promises of such memes are as substantial as the whipped foam on the diabetes-in-a-cup you’re carting on the way to the office.
I get the appeal of such posts. We all reach a point (I think they call it “middle age”) when we question our life choices and decisions. Who we are when we started this journey is not the person staring back in the mirror. The road not traveled begins to look lush with promise as we glance at the dusty, well-worn, rocky, path behind us. Such posts tell us it’s never too late (or too early) to shape the upcoming bend in the road toward the arc of our imagination and wildest hopes.
But what these posts – with their easy, breezy promises of reinvention – don’t tell you is the truth about risk.
I should know.
Last year, I sold or gave away nearly everything I owned and moved to a small, beach community in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
I arrived in Akumal with three, large suitcase, and enough emotional baggage to stuff the entire third-class of the Titanic. My mother, the last of my immediate family, died two weeks before I moved to Mexico after successive battles with cancer. My latest run at being someone’s wife tanked when I finally realized I’m not cut out for that sort of thing. While I loved serving my clients in my lucrative, solopreneur career, I knew I needed to stretch myself as an entrepreneur, writer, and artist.
To understand my first year in Mexico, picture the novel or movie versions of Eat Pray Love or Under the Tuscan Sun. Feel the warmth of the sun caress your skin as you finally reach a breakthrough about why you can never get clients who pay on time or why you’re horrible at online dating and advanced calculus. Hold the image of the smiling, seductive, stranger as he stretches out his hand to you beckoning you with the twin temptations of adventure and tamarind margaritas. Picture the plumpness of mangos as they dance over a quinoa salad with diced onions, tomatoes, and a sprig of mint.
Are you holding tightly to those images? Great. Now, picture the opposite and that’s how I really spent my first year here. Well…except for the mangos on the quinoa salad. That part is true.
I was technically homeless after a disastrous attempt to “live the dream” in a rented, beach-front condo. I literally ran from the “dream condo” as a fist-fight broke out between my then landlady and a neighbor. I then stayed the next several weeks in a vodka distillery in the jungle. It was crawling with the ever-present threats of scorpions and jaguars that dragged off the neighbors’ cats and dogs in the middle of the night.
Prior to moving to Mexico, I calculated the cost of living here. That spreadsheet whittled down to zero as one-by-one, my existing clients, who assured me they supported my decision to move and would remain with me, dropped me. Each cited they preferred to have a local vendor.
As I write this, I have no idea what will happen to me. Will I find new clients in my new suite of strategic communications coaching, online academy, and activism training offerings? Will I remain in Mexico or will I return to the States and “get a job?” Will I publish the book helping women build and sustain their activism I’ve been writing this year or will it get swept under the rug of failed New Year’s Resolutions?
I don’t know the answers to those questions.
All I know is I drive a car so raggedy that it came with two sets of rosary beads. I live in the tropics and haven’t had air conditioning for two months. It takes two shamen, a rubber chicken, and Mayan incantations to divine whether I will have running water and electricity at any given time.
I also know that I feel far more alive than I ever have. Without the distractions of television, shopping, and romance, I write more, read more, and have more meaningful conversations with people. This year, I co-founded a project that aims to change the way people in the United States talk about race. I reconfigured my business so that I use the depth and breadth of my professional experiences, gifts, and talents to serve clients who embrace the world’s social challenges and opportunities.
I eat breakfast while watching monkeys climb branches outside my window and exotic birds dot from tree to tree. I exhibited my photography in my first art show. I learned to play the bass drum at a beach bonfire. I have wild girlfriends who run successful businesses and know how to throw down with some Italian food on a Tuesday night and no one complains about being on a diet. I have a yogi guru who will help me perfect my “Downward Dog” and then debate the merits of Blaxploitation movies over dinner.
I learned to accept whatever wants to come into my life and let go of whatever wants to leave. Living in uncertainty and in the moment have taught me the truth about risk. You must welcome it into your life and give it a place at your table.
Don’t believe the glittering promise of the man who tells you he effortlessly quit Cubicle Nation to establish his own Start-Up Kingdom if he hasn’t told you that along the way he attended last year’s World Domination Summit with only a $20 bill and a container of Tic Tacs in his pocket.
This guy and the inspirational memes are hucksterism because they don’t reveal the whole truth about the risk of following your dreams. Following your dreams means discovering that the notion of security is the hardest addiction to break. You will feel like a loser while everyone else is posting about their honors and accomplishments.
Sometimes you leap and the net doesn’t appear. The check isn’t in the mail. The superhero doesn’t swoop in and save the day. The heroine doesn’t get the guy and the promotion in the end. You fall flat on your face. You thrash on the ground and wonder if it’s worth it to get back up. But if you are the hero of your own story, you’ll figure out what to do next. You will know that anything is possible – not because you read it on screen – but because you tried.