If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore.

[Antique turquoise squash blossom necklace + Lillia's Closet robe + a rare stress-free moment.]

I was raised up believing I was somehow unique / Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes / Unique in each way you can see.
And now, after some thinking / I’d say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery / Serving something beyond me.
But I don’t / I don’t know what that will be.
I’ll get back to you someday / Soon, you will see.

When I used to get off the bus in Chicago and walk the last few biting, cold blocks to my own personal purgatory office, I’d pass a construction site on the corner of Washington and something. Long after I’d passed, my mind would linger there, playing a reel of their bending and heaving, the heavy boots stuck in thin layers of snowy mud, plumes of steam rising from coffee and conversation, noisy machinery, and passing bus exhaust. And even on the coldest, nastiest day, I wanted to trade places with them.

Every single day.

I’ve been trying to nail down what success means to me for the last few weeks—all components of it, or, the only component. [It grows and shrinks.] I go in circles and contradict myself until it seems time to give up and just resume life with a more anesthetized awareness of what’s really going on. You know: ignoring what you’ll see things as, years from now down the road, not as you see them right now, as you’re adjusting the mirror.

I began making a list. I started with the hard-and-fast stuff; none of this “do what you love” fluff. I needed things I could hold onto.

My list began to look more like a pre-game strategy session from General Lee, with some bits firing at other bits, and still other bits coming in from behind negating original bits.

A huge chunk of these fell under a sub-category: Doesn’t Induce Massive Anxiety Attacks—which, incidentally, became the last man standing after qualifiers like “actually pays money,” “is legal,” and “am qualified for” had sucker punched the good guys in the smoke of battle.

Thus, my own personal search for the meaning of success begins here. In an admission of immense personal weakness. Anxiety.

I definitely wish I’d never learned what anxiety was. And not, like, in health class; the first time someone looked me in the face and said, “You’ve got serious anxiety problems.”

Imagine living your life unaware of a really basic emotion, like, anger. Aside from being a really funny prospect: “Holy hat is my happy feeling extra weird today, friends! I like you a lot, but the sight of your face makes me want to stab you a little bit?” it does force you to make certain creative conclusions. Ignorance is bliss.

Unfortunately, with anxiety being such a complex brain prison, it’s a little more nuanced, but you get the idea. Oh, I figured it out, alright. And it was like I had been plugged in and could retrace almost every moment I’d suffered horrible undiagnosed anxiety all the way back to kindergarten. They just slipped into place like some really deeply unsatisfying puzzle.

I’d always just assumed I was really self-aware, super equipped in the moment, and capable of thinking things through (all the way to their bitter, wretched worst-possible-case outcomes). This is probably why, when playing the Insult Game once in middle school [This happened. You'd leave the room, everyone would decide the one worst thing about you, then you'd come back in and they'd tell you what it was], my worst trait was I was “too serious.”

[If only I knew the secret to feeling this good all the time! Oh wait, I do: wine.]

What’s my name, what’s my station? / Oh, just tell me what I should do.
I don’t need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you.
Or bow down and be grateful / And say “Sure, take all that you see,”
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me.

And I don’t / I don’t know who to believe
I’ll get back to you someday / Soon, you will see.

I tried meds once, but only for a bit.

I sat on the paper-covered seat, quivering slightly for no reason, telling my doctor about my perma-vomit-breath, racing heart, inability to sleep, pacing in the shower [it was 4'x4'], the holes ground into my teeth, and rapid weight loss, and she prescribed something I was keen to try, but only for a week, until I’d had a few revelations of my own.

I realized two things. First, no amount of leveling out could prevent work- and performance-related crises. Those are situational hazards, right? And after mapping out some patterns, I realized that’s where they all fell in my 31 years. Normal everyday life is pretty swell; but, give me reason to believe I might disappoint a parent, teacher, or a manager… forget it. Meds could possibly dull an immediate reaction, yes, or arm one with balance when it came to experiencing heavier moments, but huge fuck-ups, intolerable managers, judgmental assholes and a general atmosphere of competition weren’t tempered by anything less than horse tranquilizers, which I’m pretty sure were hot on the black market at a few of my jobs. Anyway, these things will always elicit from me an appropriate psychosomatic response—panic. Second, if I wasn’t supposed to be doing it, my body would let me know. I needed to listen better.

When I did fail, and emails or phone calls came through that were worse than you can possibly imagine, I was scarred. [I let a typo someone else made slip through while updating the Specials chalk board at the restaurant the other day, and I'm still angry someone noticed it before I did. Days later. I once made a typo that ended up costing  over 2x what my yearly salary was. That's not even the worst thing.]

My stomach still drops every time an email comes through on my phone, and let me tell you, it’s no way to live. I’m sure everyone has gotten a scary phone call—mothers, especially—so how is it they go through life not screaming OH SWEET JESUS every time the phone rings? [If you know, please share.]

Add to this the fact that I’m naturally a little bit reckless—even careless—and you’ve got this really hyperbolic situation of fluctuation between feeling cavalier and feeling crippled.

Typos get by me because, frankly, I don’t care enough. I hate being an editor. I always hated it. There, I said it.

SONY DSC

So as much as I’d like the prestige, that’s only a side-effect and anything immediately under this category or requiring such a corporate culture will remain absent from my new “This is Success” list. Since, you know, they’re all knocking my door down…

They’d be on my old success list, maybe, which regrettably could be subtitled “Dad Will Be So Proud to Hear This”—I adore my father, but probably too much. Many years of subconsciously choosing career paths and jobs within the invisible parameters that they impress him (read: my idea of what would impress him, after all, he’s my dad, not the VP Managing Director of Carey) have left me feeling sort of defeated, confused, and like I haven’t ever really gone after something I actually wanted. Having to pay rent also contributed to this.

More importantly, I went after things that sounded absolutely terrifying. Because, to me, saying I’d done something that scared me made me feel tough, like my dad. And I wanted him and everyone else to say, “Man, she really goes for it.”

My father gave a toast at our rehearsal dinner that began by listing all the things I was good at. I’m paraphrasing here, but he went on to say that anything I gave a shot, I could do: numerous sports, piano, singing, art, theater, writing, school, dance, public speaking, I can’t remember the rest. To me, this wasn’t a list of my awesomeness. It was a list of everything I’d been too frigging scared to really try. A litany of things I never really went for, and thus never had to say I’d failed at. Things I’d tried, found myself to be relatively good at, then quit pursuing for whatever reason: I didn’t like competition, I didn’t like to practice, I was scared of performing, someone was always better than me, I didn’t have time, it wasn’t cool enough, my portfolio wasn’t good enough…

The list wasn’t a list of successes to me; it was a list of misses.

If I know only one thing / It’s that everything that I see of the world outside is so inconceivable, often I barely can speak.
Yeah, I’m tongue-tied and dizzy / I can’t keep it to myself.
What good is it to sing helplessness blues / Why should I wait for anyone else?

And I know / I know you will keep me on the shelf.
I’ll come back to you someday soon, myself.

This is a bit of a tangent, but relevant. I’ve found success for me isn’t trying to do everything. I get too tired too fast, half of what I churn out sort of sucks, and I’ll say with 100% confidence that agonizing over something being good does not ensure it is, in fact, well done. And really going for something—giving up my whole basket of tricks I’m holding on to like old boyfriends—means not being afraid to fail. On the plus side, I’d finally get to pour all of myself into something. That sounds delicious.

I have certainly made myself proud. But now I want happy. I want satisfied.

If I had an orchard / I’d work till I’m raw.
If I had an orchard / I’d work till I’m sore.
And you would wait tables and soon run the store.

Anxiety could definitely manifest itself anywhere I try to go—a muddy construction site, a cubicle, all the way to the garden I fantasize about weeding for a living. And it will be really hard for me to try to give up listing all the things that could possibly go wrong, because there’s immense comfort in that—a bleak sense of preparation.

These days, I think how we define success is changing fast, and becoming tougher to define than it used to be. And I’m so happy about this. Everything is possible and fascinating and fleeting! It’s evolved so much from 50 years ago, with entire new industries, new possibilities, and a demand for creativity and ingenuity like never before. People don’t just cruise out of college and get a job like they did 40 years ago. You have to be on your damned toes. The good ones think outside the box that’s outside the box. The best ones never take no for an answer. The shift is everywhere; the climate is vibrating. If ever there was a time to redefine what success means to you, now is it.

Gold hair in the sunlight / My light in the dawn.
If I had an orchard / I’d work till I’m sore.
If I had an orchard / I’d work till I’m sore.
Someday I’ll be like the man on the screen.

So.

What Is Success? By Carey

  1. I’m going to do the thing as if I were given a guarantee I wouldn’t fail.
  2. It’s not how much I’m doing. It’s how well I’m doing it. [Also, it's ok to say no.]
  3. Success doesn’t come explicitly from doing absolutely terrifying things that you dread immensely.
  4. Success does not always wear a suit.
  5. Success is money earned that you actually feel like you earned. Not that you feel like you deserve after sitting in a chair in front of a computer for 8 hrs.

Ok, your turn.

To be continued.

-C.

lyrics: Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes.

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10 Responses to “If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore.”

  1. Caroline
    January 3, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    I am just sitting here crying because this is so honest and so true. I share the sense of being unable to figure this stuff out. But I’ve never been able to even start that list, let alone pinpoint things that define my success.

  2. Jenna
    January 3, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    Dear Carey:

    I just wanted to thank you for this post. It is as if you are in my head. My anxiety, too, manifests itself in those awful, physically-debilitating ways, and it is no way to live life. I, too, have made many a career choice to make others proud and to make a dollar, forgetting my passions and my well-being along the way. I am working on it, and I wish you the best as you work on it. Thank you again for your words and know that they help others as much as they help you to write them.

    Best,

    Jenna-long-time reader of C+C

  3. erin p
    January 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Carey, Thanks for this. Especially #3 Success doesn’t come explicitly from doing absolutely terrifying things that you dread immensely.
    I am really good at convincing myself that what I dread is what I should do. I am now just waking up after what seems like a decade of self-abandon. Where did I go? What do I want? How did I end up in this numbed out hole of self doubt, seeking parental approval and unfulfilling work experiences that barely even pay rent!
    Oh dear!
    Onwards and upwards for 2013 and beyond. Create! Be Happy! Do it for ourselves!
    Keep up the good work Carey!

    • Corks and Caftans
      January 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      Yes! Holy moly, you guys are all making this make more sense to me than it did when I wrote it! Humbled. Thank you.

  4. Samuel Clemens
    January 4, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    This is one of the most honest paragraphs you’ve ever written:

    “My father gave a toast at our rehearsal dinner that began by listing all the things I was good at. I’m paraphrasing here, but he went on to say that anything I gave a shot, I could do: numerous sports, piano, singing, art, theater, writing, school, dance, public speaking, I can’t remember the rest. To me, this wasn’t a list of my awesomeness. It was a list of everything I’d been too frigging scared to really try. A litany of things I never really went for, and thus never had to say I’d failed at. Things I’d tried, found myself to be relatively good at, then quit pursuing for whatever reason: I didn’t like competition, I didn’t like to practice, I was scared of performing, someone was always better than me, I didn’t have time, it wasn’t cool enough, my portfolio wasn’t good enough…

    The list wasn’t a list of successes to me; it was a list of misses.”

    That’s real stuff right there. Fear, understanding, self-awareness, overcoming self-deception. It’s all there. It’s real. And it translates because it’s honest and in many ways…universal. It summarizes me perfectly.

  5. Amber
    January 6, 2013 at 4:10 am #

    I love this. First i thought you guys seriously bought a vineyard & were moving out west.. Anyway, after letting it simmer for a few days, I just have to say: the honesty is killer. You are who you are, and you have to know that you are already so successful in the eyes of your ‘fans’ (that term is true, but quite awkward.) Carey, you’re an amazing writer, you should just write!! Screw editing others, write your own. Like another ‘fan’ commented, she was IN TEARS reading your post. I bet that happens more than you know. Your writing is beautiful, and gahhh!! that’s how I feel when reading your writing. So freakin do it, Xo!

  6. January 10, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    i am literally in love with all of this.

  7. January 18, 2013 at 2:23 am #

    Best damn writer I’ve ever come across. Keep on, keep’n on lady. ;) xo

  8. January 26, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    beautiful!

    xoxo,
    mickie

  9. brenda
    October 2, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    Not long into this ….I knew. You are a garden designer. After finishing this article, I though I should mention it to you.

    All my best.

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