This morning, during my time of prayer and meditation, my mind drifted towards a place it frequently goes. In that place, a voice tells me what a failure I am. How I never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. How I'll never get to where I want to go.
My theology regarding hell and the devil has been rather elastic in recent years, but I do believe this voice to be the voice of my enemy. I believe we all face an enemy within our psyche that tries to redirect our attention to the negative. Call this the devil if you like, the name of this voice is irrelevant. The important thing I have to keep in mind is that this voice is seldom my true self.
My true voice is confident, positive, and profoundly grateful. Unlike the voice that takes me to a dark place, my true voice encourages me to believe all things are possible.
When I graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in Communication Studies, like most young graduates, I had no idea what the future held, or how my education would determine my course in life. My studies concentrated on film and television production. I recall looking at Department of Labor statistics that showed how few jobs existed within these industries, compared to other professions. Of these jobs, an even smaller percentage actually paid a living wage. Assuming I chose to stay in Iowa, the chances I'd actually get a job in this line of work seemed remote.
As it turned out, I graduated in May of 1984 and by the end of that summer, I landed a job working at a television station. I recall thinking how extremely lucky I was. After my first week on the job as a studio camera operator, I remember saying to a co-worker, "I can't believe I get paid to do this job!" To which he replied, "I can't believe HOW LITTLE I GET PAID to do this job!" While I'm sure my attitude branded me as some kind of rookie Pollyanna, the fact was, I was supremely grateful I had defied the odds and was able to find work doing exactly what I went to school for.
What was truly amazing was that within a couple of months, I was promoted to a full time position as an audio operator. My job was to provide the audio mix for newscasts and our commercial productions. The vast majority of new hires at a television station have to pay their dues by working part-time a year or more before being considered for a full-time position. Not me. My experience running sound for local bands during college meant I went to the front of the line.
What's more, in less than two years, I was promoted again. I became a Commercial Writer/Producer. This job paid enough so I could get married and raise a family. On a shoestring budget, mind you, but we did it. I'll spare you more details regarding my work history. Suffice it to say, I've always held a job where I looked forward to showing up for work. Jobs that leveraged my creativity to help others. Jobs where no two days were ever the same.
Why, then, would I listen to a voice telling me what a failure I am?
The short answer is, I don't know.
For me, meditation frequently involves listening to not just one, but several voices. Each serve an important role.
After wallowing in self-pity, a second voice asks, "What do you define as success? What does success look like?"
This second voice is neither the voice of my enemy, nor my true voice. This voice asks the tough questions and speaks wisdom into my life. This voice is the voice of love.
I call this voice, God.
The first thing that came to mind was my friend who is an accomplished author. Once, when we met for coffee, he told me about his surprise when his publisher asked him to write his own bio for his memoir. I'm talking about the few paragraphs that appear under a picture of the author on the inside fold of the dust jacket.
"I thought someone else wrote that. How am I supposed to say all these great things about myself? I'm not comfortable doing that."
I told him I would have NO problem with this. I love to talk about myself. Being bipolar, the flip side of my self-loathing is self-aggrandizement. During my "top of the world" moments, I've written many ISG (I'm So Great) paragraphs for grant proposals, publisher queries, business plans, my own website, etc.
"Well there's the answer," I thought.
Success is when people pay me to talk about myself.
The more I thought about it, I realized even this is a matter of scale. To make good money talking about myself, I'd have to be a household name.
"You know who's a great _________? Brent Watkins, that's who."
Frequent appearances on late night talk shows. Publishers lining up to bid on my memoirs. A sprawling estate in Santa Barbara.
This is what success looks like.
Enter the last voice in my meditation: My own. My true voice.
The saying, "new levels, new devils" came to mind. I thought about how unrealistic my notion of success was. How few people actually achieve it, and when they do, how often their lives spiral out of control.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I don't need "new devils." The old ones are sufficient.
My thoughts then turned to something that happened a few months ago. I was asked to speak to a class of Communication Studies students at my alma mater. They periodically invite alumni to talk about how their degree helped determine their career path.
Afterwards, I recognized one of the students as someone I had met before. She was a multi-discipline artist whose work I thought showed promise. My impression when I first met her was that she would have a bright future.
About the time I recognized her among the 30 or so students in attendance, she made a bee line towards me and proclaimed loudly, "I WANT TO BE YOU!!!"
My first thought was, "Good God girl! ARE YOU INSANE?"
Instead, I simply asked, "Why on earth would you want to "be me?""
"Because you've done it! You found a way to make a living at your craft. Do you know how hard that is? Do you have any idea how few of us in this room will get to do that?"
I realized the answer was a resounding, "No." The embarrassing truth was that I never really considered this perspective much anymore. The voice of a 23 year old kid who once said, "I can't believe they pay me to do this!" --had long been replaced by the voice of his co-worker who complained about how little he was being paid.
Today, I resolve to be thankful. Not just because it's Thanksgiving day, but because I'm overdue for a major attitude adjustment. Today I resolve to silence the voice of negativism, and ask the voice of gratitude to take center stage, for I have so much to be grateful for.
...because after all is said and done...
I still can't believe I get paid to do this.