It happened again today. I was at the office trying to work when the panicked voice started screaming inside.
“I’ve got to get out of here — right now!”
There was nothing unsafe around me. Nothing suddenly changed. But the inner voice that knows me and tells me the truth was in full panic mode.
This has been happening off and on for a couple of years, but because the conscious, rational part of me hasn’t yet listened and obeyed, something inside me is yelling louder. It’s more urgent. It’s sounding an alarm more frequently.
A few weeks ago, I sent a friend an email to explain what’s going on inside about this. I told him that something in me was so insistent on major change that I was concerned — well, half concerned, half hopeful — that I was about to just say, “I quit,” and walk away from life as I know it right now.
I have all sorts of metaphors for what this is about.
I’ve told you before about feeling like a hexagonal peg in a world where the square pegs and the round pegs war against each other. I’ve told you about feeling as though I want to become a hermit for awhile. And I’ve told you that I feel like an alien among humans.
None of those is completely true, but in a lot of ways, it’s all these things and more.
Do you know what it feels like to have a persistent and gnawing feeling that you’re in the wrong place — and that you’re not doing what you need to be doing? I’ve known those feelings for much of my life. Every time those feelings have gotten too strong, it’s been a sure sign that I was out of place — like a fish who had somehow forgotten that he needs water in order to live.
One of my favorite literary illusions from the King James translation of the Bible is the one that says that we now see “through a glass, darkly.” To understand it, you have to remember it’s talking about a mirror and that mirrors of the past weren’t made to modern standards. They could be warped and uneven in ways that distorted the image.
When I see where I need to be and what I need to do, it’s as though I’m looking into one of those ancient mirrors. I’m seeing an image, but it’s a strain to know what’s accurate and what’s being warped by imperfections in the lens. Even the things which I think I know can be clouded and warped.
But there’s one thing which I’ve known for many years — and it’s an insight which my ex-wife had about me. She said that most people are lucky, because they can say that they are writers or accountants or teachers or carpenters or whatever. They can define themselves in terms of some service that other people know they need.
But she told me I’m not like that. She told me that my real “product” is myself. Whatever I provide to the world — whatever people pay me for — is for something which they don’t even know they need until they see whatever that is that they want from me.
She explained it in terms of celebrities who are paid a lot of money just because of who they are. Do people go to see a movie starring Tom Hanks or Samuel L. Jackson or Scarlett Johansson because those are the best actors available today? No. They go to those movies because they like something about those actors. Those people are paid because they have a personal following — because people love something in them — not because they are the best actors in the world.
She said that whatever things I do, people will pay me because it’s me — not because I’m providing a service they could get from anyone else.
In my heart, I’ve always know that she was right. But for most of the years since then, I have ended up providing fairly generic services which could have been done by anybody — and I’m doing exactly the same thing again when I provide real estate services which any other competent professional could do just as well.
Change is coming for me. I don’t know exactly what’s going to trigger it. Maybe I’ll go crazy and quit one day. Maybe I’ll make everybody mad and get myself fired. Who knows?
But when the first brick falls, all of the other ones will start falling as well. Once the change starts happening — what I’m doing, where I live, who I spend time with, who I love, who I count on, what change I pursue in the world — the rest are going to start changing as well.
The inner alarms are going off more and more frequently. I hope I’m able to be wise enough to make nice, orderly changes. Those are more pleasant. They’re less scary.
But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that change is coming. If I don’t let it happen the easy way, something inside me is going to force me to do it the hard way.
Once the change starts — probably without warning — there’s no looking back.