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Tiny Revolutions №104: The Fire Inside
a little bit every day over time 🔥
When I was a 22-year-old spark in search of kindling, I had an interview for a job at what was then a brand new phenomenon: an internet startup. (We called them dot coms back then.) I saw a flyer at a coffeeshop in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta, where I was then living, that said a local startup was looking for an admin/editorial assistant type. Which was me! I worked at a PR agency at the time, which mostly consisted of clipping and analyzing news coverage of my clients, but what I really wanted to do was write more. This job sounded like it could get me closer to that goal.
After an initial interview with the hiring manager and a couple of others, I made it to the final round, which was lunch with the CEO and founder, a super affable guy who was probably around 30. We sat outside on a warm spring day at a restaurant in midtown eating sandwiches, and I was killing it until he threw this question at me: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
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I know some people know the answer to that at 22 but I wasn’t one of them. I’m still not sure what the “right” answer would have been, but probably something that pointed to me being more established in my career and handling progressively more responsibility? I don’t recall exactly what I said but it was something along the lines of having the flexibility to work when and how I wanted. Which in 1999 was really, really not a thing when it came to full time employment. He raised an eyebrow at that but I must have done OK overall because I still got the job.
I have never had a grand vision for what I want to do with my life. Frankly, that kind of shit freaks me out. Do I want things? Sure, of course. A lot of what I want and have wanted is pretty typical – a nice place to live, the money and time to travel and read and write, the right people to do it all with. But having a super specific and ambitious vision for how it should all be? Not my style. I was always more of an ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ kind of gal.
In fact, the specificity of other peoples’ ambitions often confused me. Like, how could you know you wanted to be a doctor when you didn’t know what it was like to treat patients day in and day out? Did you really want to be a marine biologist or did you just want to see manatees on the regular? Who the hell actually wants to be president of the United States?? The world made it seem like you should just know what you wanted to do long before you actually did it. Like you should have a giant goal and work backwards to plan your life accordingly.
What’s worked for me has been the opposite. The desire came in the doing, and the people I encountered in the process.
I wrote and liked how it felt for people to read it, so I wanted to be a writer. I got into yoga and liked how it made my body feel, so I wanted to be a yoga instructor. (Still working toward that one.) I went to LA and discovered I loved the culture and lifestyle, so I wanted to move to LA.
I do the things I gravitate toward and let the experience be the starting point for whether I want to explore them further. It may not have the gloss of a grand vision – boy, do we love a grand vision in our culture – but trying things and seeing how they go has been a much more natural and rewarding process for me.
Because the other thing that always tripped me up was how deeply conditioned I was to want things just because everyone else does. It took me a while to realize this was true, but even once I did I had a steep learning curve when it came to separating what I actually did want from the things I thought I should.
Discerning this has been my life’s work to date. To gradually move away from what I perceived the world wanted from me and tune into what I was there to give. To pay attention to what gets me excited and expands me instead of diminishing me.
It’s been hard work but work that is worth it. I deeply love my life. It’s not perfect, nothing is, but it is mine. I’m clearer than ever about what I’m doing and why I’m here. And that has had a ripple effect on everything I touch. The way I show up in relationships, the way I spend my time, the way I approach every interaction.
Last month I traveled to the Boundary Waters Area Canoe Wilderness in Northern Minnesota for six days off the grid. I went with my sister and her husband and their two young boys, and all we had for the week was what we could fit in a 20 foot canoe. Food, tents, clothes, gear, etc.
It had been many years since I spent that long outside of cell service. We had plenty to do to keep ourselves fed and sheltered, but there was also lots of downtime. I brought my Kindle and a notebook for journaling, but those were the only sources of distraction.
Spending that amount of time in nature is kind of like an extended period of meditation. So many memories and ideas and insights came up because I wasn’t busy cramming my brain with the usual 24/7 onslaught of information.
One night as we sat in front of the fire I started thinking about how much I loved the sound of it. The crackling that is never exactly rhythmic but does hold your attention, waxing and waning according to the direction of the wind, the contours of the wood being consumed, and so many other subtle factors. How I love the way it serves as cozy background music for fireside conversation, but then also offers its own draw when there’s a lull. Listening to the fire made me feel alive, and curious, and full of wonder for all the ways the conditions of our lives are constantly changing.
I was completely present for what was happening around me at that exact moment, but also keenly aware that greater forces were at work. I need to bring this feeling back with me to the land of the laptop, I thought.
And it hit me at that moment that keeping a fire alive is a perfect metaphor for staying in tune with yourself. You don’t just start a fire and then peace out and enjoy it forever. A fire requires tending and maintenance. It needs wood to burn and a steady flow of oxygen, and it needs to be protected from the elements and other forces that would drown or snuff or blow it out.
So too does the fire within us. It’s a subtle noise that is easy to tune out and it can die down to an ember if we’re not paying attention. However, unlike a real fire, as long as we are living, it never actually dies. It can always be rekindled.
And much like a person can learn to tend a real fire, we can learn to tend our inner fire. The fire that is specific to us – the truths we carry, our dreams, our commitments, our proclivities, our abilities, our limits, our desire to live the life that is meant for us and us alone.
We can learn which practices and activities stoke the fire, and which ones suffocate it.
Tending our fires does something miraculous: it slowly illuminates and consumes our attachments to anything that is not essential to who we are and why we’re here. It helps us burn away anything that keeps us from functioning our best and enjoying ourselves. When we do this work, we uncover the shoulds, the bullshit, the expectations placed upon us by others that we have no business shouldering. Which doesn’t mean we free ourselves of all burdens! It’s more that we get better at discerning which ones are ours to carry.
We burn brighter, and cleaner, and clearer. We live truer, more fiercely, more in tune with our lives as they are, not as we’d like them to be. Which, ironically, gives us the best chance to move them closer to that state.
This is the spirit behind the name Tiny Revolutions. For so long I labored under the illusion that everything significant that I admired about other people — their accomplishments, their relationships, their careers, their creative works — was the result of some grand maneuver. In actuality it’s a little bit every day over time. Imperfectly.
Tiny, but still a revolution in progress. We don’t always notice it happening. But if we can have faith to keep doing what it takes to tend our fire, the revolution takes shape. Bit by bit it takes shape.
Phew, ok! With all of that said, one of the Tiny Revolutions I’ve been working on for the past two+ years is finding a way to offer my life coaching services to people without feeling like a total fraud.
It’s been weird. I started working with a coach myself in late 2019 after I got laid off by a not-even-great job and thought, “Why the fuck am I wasting my time building things for someone else when I know in my heart I need to build my own thing?” I signed on with a coach for solopreneurs for what I considered a wild amount of money. It was exactly what I needed. Having her in my court when I was embarking upon a huge change in my career – and my identity – proved to be transformational.
After a couple of years of working with her, I started getting trained to be a coach myself and taking on clients here and there. I’ve worked with dozens of people over the last two years to help them make meaningful changes in their lives, and while I’ve mentioned it here and there in this newsletter, I have yet to put my services out there in any real way. And I’m changing that because it’s become blindingly obvious that I must!
It’s kind of embarrassing that it took me this long, but you know, I think it just had to take the time that it took for me to feel good about presenting myself to the world in this new way. Exciting and scary as it is. I’ll just, you know, try it and see how it goes.
So yeah, next time I send a newsletter it will include more details of what these coaching services actually entail, who might want to use them, etc. Until then, send me your best wishes to speed the damn thing along. ;)
Speaking of coaching…
Today (well, this weekend, really, but don’t tell anyone I told you that) is the last day to apply to Foster Season 4, which will be a truly mind-and-heart-expanding experience. Each Foster Season is four weeks of guided facilitation, workshops, and peer coaching that take us deep into the transformative, life-affirming power of expressing ourselves truthfully in writing.
If this calls to you, we’d love to have you. The application is basically a gut check to ensure the program is a good fit, not an assessment of your writing. Much of the magic comes from the incredible people who show up for it — and I know this newsletter is read by some pretty incredible humans.
More details below, and please reply to me with any questions, etc. I’m personally really excited about it.
If Foster sounds intriguing but you’re not interested in the Season, you can also read more about us here and apply to join the collective. I’m hosting co-writing circles on Zoom a couple of times weekly that are free for members. I play fire sounds in the background during the sessions. It’s a good time!
Thanks for reading, as ever. See you back here soon.
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