When good instincts go bad
Self-preservation is a curious thing. On the one hand it protects you. It will keep you from walking down dark alleys alone at night, giving your social security number to a stranger on the street, and in some cases, it will even keep you from dancing in public. But, self-preservation can also hinder you. It will keep you from taking a chance, following your dreams, and putting yourself out there.
When I was in high school, I had a very low preservation. I was not easily embarrassed and didn’t worry too much about what others thought. I liked nothing more than being on a stage in the spotlight. While I secretly wanted to write, it didn’t have the sparkle and shine that singing in front of millions of people did. I had grand dreams that would take me to the Big Apple and make people stand up and notice me. As I was nearing my college graduation, however, something had changed, like someone flicked a switch inside my head. I no longer felt the siren’s call of the center of attention. I was completing my degree in Music Business and interviewing at a couple record labels in New York City. I was dressed for success and hailing my own cab. But something felt off. Deep down I knew that I could curl up in a random door way and the city would be content to continue whirling around me, none the wiser.
Once I returned home from that trip and started crunching numbers, it did not take long to realize that any starting salary I would be offered at these companies would leave me destitute and able to afford only a cardboard box on a corner, and not a large one at that. So, I shelved that idea and thought I would work retail, something I was very familiar with, until I decided my next move. But something inside me was changing. I wasn’t upset about letting go of my childhood dreams of stardom. I was more concerned about the time I felt I had wasted pursuing them. I no longer felt comfortable in the center of things.
During my junior and senior year of college, I had often found myself preferring to stay in the dorms alone on weekend nights instead of bar hopping with my friends. I preferred the solitude and rhythmic thumping of the laundry room to the rowdy parties. This followed me past graduation, and I found myself becoming more and more of a home body instead of the party girl that I had been. Some might call this growing up, but to a reformed glory hound, I thought something was wrong with me.
Self-preservation had changed from keeping me from driving drunk, or going to scary bars where patrons typically ended their nights in brawls. Now self-preservation was putting me on the sidelines where I was more cautious with whom I shared my thoughts and my life. This, I know, was seen as a bad thing by some people close to me. And there were times when I mourned the outgoing wild child I used to be. But the changes were good, too. I developed a stronger bond with my fiancé, now husband, because he was the one constant person in my life with whom I wanted to share things. I think this gave us a stronger foundation to build our marriage on. It made me a better employee, because I wasn’t so concerned with my evening plans and I was getting eight hours of sleep.
Now, though, in my early 40s, when I begin to realize that my dreams of being a writer are still bubbling under the surface, this supersized self-preservation that I have wrapped around myself like a protective cloak for the past 20 years is starting to feel a little stifling. This instinct that I have cultivated for so many years is making me panic at the thought of showing my work to someone, putting it out into the great big world to be judged. I am seeing that my self-preservation is actually blocking my path instead of directing it. Perhaps this is the sole reason that it has taken me so very long to reach this point where I can openly call myself a writer and not care how many people are thinking “yeah, right!” Maybe all these years of protecting myself from the world is simply making it hard for me to get out of my own way. So, I am practicing the gentle art of reining it in, little by little, so it will be more like an umbrella in the rain and less like a cage.