You know that scene toward the end of When Harry Met Sally where Harry tracks Sally down at a New Year’s Eve ball to profess his love to her? If not, here’s a little primer on this iconic rom-com moment… He essentially rattles off a bunch of quirky, adorably specific traits he finds endearing about her and then says:
“It’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Pretty romantic, right? Well, not too long ago I had a moment of romance a lot like it… With my career.
It was somewhere toward the beginning of 2017 and I had just wrapped up writing and producing two television series that I’m pretty sure had kept me perennially awake with my phone never once entering airplane mode for more than half a decade, and I was about to take a couple months off before starting up work on a new TV series. The plan was to sleep (a lot), then maybe sit by a beach somewhere for a few weeks and sleep some more, then do a whole lot of nothing in an as-yet-undetermined location.
I did a great job at following through on the first two parts of the plan, but somewhere along the way I found myself feeling so rested to the point that I all but felt like I could tackle the world, and so I decided to tackle my lifelong dream of writing a novel instead. Saying I “decided” to do this is a bit inaccurate — really, I just sat down one morning and started writing a story that had been bouncing around my brain a while, then three months later I stopped writing only to realize I’d drafted a 600-page manuscript while I was supposed to be doing absolutely nothing.
Far more importantly, I also realized I’d been having a f#*ing blast.
By most definitions I’d been “working” rather strict hours and still had mountains of “work” ahead of me in order to get the novel I’d just written ready for publication via rewriting/editing/re-rewriting it again and again (and again), BUT even the prospect of all this finicky “work” on the horizon felt so dang fun to me that I would’ve almost called it PLAY. What’s more, I was so in love with what I was doing on a daily basis that I’d all but completely lost sense of time, which is a very unusual occurrence for someone as type-A as me.
The world eventually started reminding me that calendars and clocks existed, however, and these reminders came in the form of job offers — offers that only poured in faster and seemed to grow increasingly tempting the more I said no… First, it was the job offer I’d known would be waiting for me on the other side of my vacation, which was hard enough to turn down; then came an offer to move to Canada and make a show that would help me jump many levels upward in pay scale and producing credit; then came a couple surreal opportunities to work in TV writers’ rooms I would have died to merely deliver sandwiches to not so long ago. Like I said, these offers felt very tempting, but even more than that what they felt was conflicting.
Logically, I knew these opportunities meant I’d reached the point in my career I’d been working so hard to reach for years. And, logically, I knew it had to mean I was losing my mind if I was even considering turning my back on them… I mean, this really was crazy talk, riiiight?
But, there was a catch: I didn’t actually want to wake up every morning for the next 12 months of my life and do a single one of the jobs I was being offered.
What I wanted to wake up and do every single morning for the next 12 months, then the next 12 months after that, and then probably for all eternity beyond was exactly what I was doing in the here and now.
In fact, it wasn’t just that I “wanted” to do it, it was that I was positively itching to wake up and write the books I was writing… And, to paraphrase When Harry Met Sally: when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life doing something, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
So, why the heck did I think of the jobs I was being offered as “tempting” if I didn’t even want to do them? My simple, brutally honest answer: pride, ego, and a whole lot more ego disguised as pragmatism.
This is to say, I really liked the idea of fattening up my IMDB page with credits on hit shows and I told myself that if I just worked on other people’s stuff for five more years (“come on, you can do just five more years of this eeeasy!”) it would help me build more of a name for myself, which would then help attract readers to my books. But, what books would I have to attract readers to if I was spending all my waking hours as a hired-gun showrunner? Furthermore, were there really any guarantees the shows I worked on would be smash hits that would be able to help attract readers to these books I wouldn’t even have time to write? Absolutely not.
The only guarantees were that I would lose a lot of sleep and make a lot of money.
We can’t always afford to pass up the latter part of this bargain, but, whenever any of us can, I think we owe it to ourselves to make sure any job keeping us up 24/7 is about something a little more than a paycheck. The specifics of what this “more” entails are probably vastly different for each of us, but I think the general concept could be defined as just plain making sure we find at least a couple of the activities we do daily for work stimulating and fulfilling in some way… You might love all the teaching opportunities that come from running your company’s pool of interns, or maybe you thrive off the constant problem-solving that comes from a certain type of software engineering, or maybe you get a huge amount of satisfaction simply from the beautiful view out your office window (seriously, never underestimate the power of a great window). This list of examples could go on forever, but for me, personally, thinking about what view I wanted was actually really helpful.
In other words, I started asking myself to visualize as many specific things as possible I wanted to quite literally see each day and this kept conjuring images of my dog curled up in my lap snoring while I wrote during morning hours, petals fluttering in the breeze on the giant hibiscus bush outside my home office window, and the strip of teal-hued book spines that always catches my eye whenever I look up from my desktop. A pattern was quickly developing: every single image that kept coming to mind was what my life looked like while writing novels from home, not what my view would have been from a spectacular high-rise overlooking Los Angeles or a producer’s chair overlooking a film set.
“Look closely at the present you are constructing: it should look like the future you are dreaming.” -Alice Walker
I probably would have been paralyzed into inaction if I’d only thought about the job offers in front of me in terms of “what I didn’t want to do” or if I’d made the prospect of turning a single one of them down about all the things I was passing up and potentially missing out on. BUT, the reality was this: my When Harry Met Sally career moment wasn’t about realizing what I didn’t want — it was about realizing what I did want… And, when I shifted my focus toward the simple question of what I wanted my days to look like and what it was that I felt excited to just plain wake up and DO, my answers were effortless, emphatic, and crystal-clear.
Just because what I wanted to do with the rest of my life was suddenly clear doesn’t mean it was easy, but it really was somewhat miraculous to see the huge difference this tiny tweak to my mindset made whenever I was talking to others (or just talking to myself) about the decisions in front of me.
This is to say, whenever I focused on all the things I was excited about, I was almost always met with excitement in return.
In fact, once I’d finally mustered the gumption to politely decline several job offers in a row and had quickly (by virtue of necessity) become quite practiced at talking about my choice in this positive, forward-focused way, I was amazed at how often I kept hearing this one thing: “It’s about time.”
This was utterly unexpected to the point of being unbelievable to me at first, but I eventually got the sense that my industry peers had been looking at me and my long-held dream of writing novels much like Harry and Sally’s friends had looked at them for so many years, all but knowing they were meant to be together and just wishing they’d hurry up and figure it out already themselves…
We can never count on getting these kinds of outside votes of support and validation about our life choices (a.k.a., what in the world or romance writing are called “wise friend counsels” moments), and I think as a general practice we should make a habit of ONLY expecting and needing validation from within ourselves. However, I will say I do think we’re a whole lot more likely to hear voices of support chime in around us whenever we make an effort to talk about the things that excite us instead of the things that worry us. And, I think this can be really damn true of conversations we have both inside and outside of our own heads — not to mention in conversations we have with ourselves and others about pretty much anything, ranging from big love and career decisions to simple everyday conundrums, like whether or not to slip on some shoes and walk the dog.
I mean, I personally can always count on my brain to cook up five-gazillion worries about what I’m not doing or what I might be missing out on, but…
When I remind myself of the simple mindset trick of shifting my focus onto what I’m excited to be doing in the present moment and the things I’m psyched to be moving toward in the future, I always tend to feel a little more in love with my life and even feel a bit like my life loves me back.
After all, just imagine if Harry’s iconic monologue had focused on all his doubts, worries, and all the reasons he feared he and Sally shouldn’t be together instead of on what he loved about her… He probably would’ve been a whole lot less likely to get the girl, right?
Image source: The Girl Who Knew Too Much.