On the continuing subject of my pending-but-not-really-cuz-it’s-way-more-complicated-and-a-lot-less-scary-than-that unemployment, I’ve come up with a few more “Aha!”s.

Remember me blogging recently about noticing that the answers show up when I stop thinking — that when I relax my thoughts and let go of distractions, I gain access to the clear mind that lets me see what’s next?

Well, I sat with that for awhile… chilled out and took a vacation from some of my distraction habits, hoping to gain access to that nice clear mind that would help me aim my income-hunting efforts in the Right Direction. And you know what happened?

I realized I was mixing up my “clear serene reflection pond mind” with my “crazy idea-generating waterfall mind.” I had lost touch with both and, though I didn’t know it, I was actually more interested in the latter. I love that waterfall. I missed it.

It’s back now.

Sort of.

A hard truth confronted me as soon as I went swimming, and I haven’t quite finished wrestling with it yet: This part of me that revels in constantly generating new, creative ideas is often in conflict with (what I would call) my more conservative side — the side of me that wants to make a stable living, that doesn’t want my friends and family to worry about me, and that wants to be reliable.

It’s a pretty serious conflict — the kind that takes no prisoners. And somehow, whenever this conflict goes to blows, the conservative side wins and the creative side shuts down.

This is because the conservative side has a secret weapon. All it has to do is call my creative side “crazy,” and the battle is over.

Crazy.

Naive.

Stupid.

Freak.

Those are labels we put on things we don’t take seriously — things we want to diminish and push out of the way. They’re words we use to describe people we don’t want to get to know, who are different from us in ways that make us uncomfortable. They’re some of the words I grew up applying to myself to account for my differences. Apparently I still use them. Affectionately, sometimes. But often.

Screw it. It’s time to feed the freak.

I think what I’m looking at is an internal power balance. My conservative side is necessary for survival. My creative side, technically, isn’t (although my quality of life standards would beg to differ with that). Somehow, now, my conservative side has gotten all up on a high horse about its Status of Necessity, and my creative side doesn’t stand a chance against that kind of arrogance.

I want to submit an alternate structure.

What if my powerful conservative side considered honoring my creative side as a source of wisdom and inspiration? What if my creative side took up a post of leadership and offered to gently (and probably slowly) guide the rest of me into more experimental directions?

This might seem like a counter-intuitive comparison to make, but what I’m describing feels a lot like trying to get powerful income-earning adults and high-energy invincible youth to honor retirees and seniors.

Am I making any sense?

Maybe I’m just crazy.

But I think there are answers here.

When I realized it was becoming time for me to leave Cerado, I gave them three months notice. I spent the first month second-guessing that decision and trying to figure out how I could rearrange my contract and stay. When I finally confirmed the choice, I promised myself that I’d spend the second month freely exploring what matters to me and what I might be looking for next, without biasing that thinking with actual “real world” opportunities and limitations. And then I’d get practical in the third month.

Yesterday was the last day of the Month Two, and I wasn’t feeling very confident that I had unlocked enough answers. I was getting stuck on the tension between “How can I be happy?” and “How can I be productive?”, and mostly just tried to pass the time by sleeping a lot.

Magically, though, sometime around 1am last night, I gave up on sleeping and started writing. And a month’s worth of half-answered questions and quickly-scribbled post-it notes of wisdom finally clicked into place.

The answer is that I already have all the answers. I know exactly what’s right for me and what’s not, what I should be doing next and what I shouldn’t, what matters to me and what doesn’t. I just can’t hear those answer while I’m thinking, while I’m distracted, or while I’m trying to numb myself. And it just so happens that I spend most of my day thinking, distracted, or numb — habitually. Intentionally, in a way, to avoid those answers. Because accessing them is actually scary as hell.

I can thank Hugh MacLeod, Kate Bornstein, John T Unger, and a few other key smart folks for giving me enough post-it notes of wisdom to finally piece together why it’s so scary: I’m still very dependent on receiving approval from the people I care about. Or rather, I’m terrified of their negative judgments.

Sort of.

This narrative’s admittedly a little old for me — I’ve had to smash through the “who I’m supposed to be” walls a number of times already for the sake of my own survival, and miraculously I didn’t lose anyone I cared about in the process. Some relationships did end up shifting, but it was usually to a place of greater respect. And yet somehow, the fear of becoming an embarrassment, a burden, or someone unworthy of love and respect as the result of doing what feels most right for me still creeps in and changes my behavior — enough to give me plenty of excuses to avoid-like-hell the activities that clear my head and let me see what’s next for me. I’m talking about little acts like having my coffee before I check my email, more intentional things like meditation or exercise, and gestures as basic as letting myself fall asleep without aid or a movie in front of me.

I don’t need to think my way through this transitional period. I need to stop thinking, clear my head, and hold onto the wisdom that doing what feels right is worthwhile, even when it takes me further away from what’s safe.

(Easy…. right? *snort*)

So… yes. The subtle references and whispered insanities are true: I’ll be leaving Cerado in September.

This means I’m voluntarily entering the worst job market ever to happen in my lifetime — a market in which heartwrenching handfuls of talented peers and friends have been unemployed for over a year now — as a free agent.

There. It’s acknowledged. And that is the last we ever speak of the Impossible Economy in association with me looking for work again. If I can get my mother to stop reminding me of this dismal fact (and I have), surely you can play along with my game, too. Do it as a favor to a friend.

The other seemingly ludicrous point to note is that I’m leaving on very good terms with a high regard for the company, and I’ve sincerely enjoyed working with them. Chris Carfi is an impressive hybrid of creative genius and brilliant storyteller — when it comes to social media marketing, he gets it on both a theoretical and a social level. I’ve learned a lot from working with him, and from working alongside fellow mad genius Mark Resch as well. The clients (hi, BlogHer) and developers (George the PHP guru, Eric the King of iPhone dev, …) I’ve been paired with have also been top notch. I will be sad to let them go.

So why am I leaving?  Because it stopped fitting me.  What the Job Needed From Me and What I Wanted to Do crept further and further apart over time, and it finally became evident that something had to change.  It wasn’t anyone’s fault; it was just growth. And it has a hidden upside for Cerado: being able to let go of the role means I can now help them restructure their management process without my interests in the equation. The result is shaping up to be something that’s much more tailored to their changing needs, with a more efficient use of resources.

I kind of enjoy working myself out of a job.  It has a certain satisfaction to it.

It just leaves one question: What’s next?

I don’t know.  And call me crazy (I’m used to it by now), but I’m not really interested in job leads just yet.  I’d like to give a little more thought first to what I’m looking for.

When I was in Chicago for BlogHer recently, I ran my situation past a childhood friend, Jim Conti.  He gave me a useful way of approaching the “what should I do next?” question:

Ask yourself…

What am I good at?
What brings me joy?
What does the world need me to do?

…and find the intersection of all three of those.

In other words…

whatshouldido

When the grownups asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, they forgot to explain that this was what they meant. Most of us probably answered based on how we wanted to be seen, realizing that “astronaut” and “veterinarian” sounded worthy enough of praise.  So do “rich” and “famous.”

A psychologist friend of mine made an interesting comment to me recently.  She said, “This is going to sound terrible, but I strongly prefer working with wealthy clients. It’s not because they pay me better. It’s because they already know that money’s not going to fix their problems.”

Neither is doing what they’re good at even if they don’t like it. Or doing what they enjoy when it’s useless to the rest of the world. Or being a miserable martyr for the sake of humanity. We have more work to do than this.

And I still haven’t answered the question.

I know some of the things I’m good at…

– XHTML/CSS development
– Product and project management
– Social media consulting
– Technical and promotional writing
– Public speaking
– Building community spaces

I’m feeling the tugs of what the world wants me to do in terms of social media marketing, community development, and LGBT activism.

I just… might need to get back into the groove of what brings me joy for a bit.

Then maybe I’ll know what I want to be when I grow up.

Over the course of June, I moved from a large one-bedroom apartment in the residential near-the-ocean side San Francisco to a tiny studio near Market St. We’re talking massive downsizing and culture change here.  I’ve been “settled” for a month now, but am still lacking some important furniture and tripping over boxes in the morning.  I’m close, though.

Here are the gem lessons I’ve picked up so far…

  • Getting a sunny paintjob and having a bed built into my walk-in closet were both really good ideas, and also made the fact that I had a month of overlap time between the two apartments completely necessary. I don’t know how it could have been done otherwise. (I have to keep telling myself this because paying double rent for a month was rough.)
  • I can live alone, but I can’t move alone. Getting help from friends made the job 75% easier.
  • Friends who have buff arms from rock climbing are inclined to carry heavy objects in exchange for bottles of bourbon.
  • Of the stuff that needs to be given away, offer the exciting things to friends. Crock pots, it turns out, are very exciting.
  • There are some things that are too nice to trash, not exciting enough to give away, and not [whatever] enough to donate. Things like half-used hair products and hot sauces.  I filled two trashbags with these things, called them Grab Bags, and offered them to friends under the condition that they take EVERYTHING inside them.  They went for it.
  • If your friends aren’t biting, Craigslist will literally take most anything off your hands within an hour. Swallow your pride and use the “Free” section. You need the quick solution, the extra time, the good karma, and that excited person’s undying gratitude way more than you need $20 right now. Unless you thought ahead, that is, because…
  • Whatever nonessential downsizing and upgrading you hope will happen in the midst of the Momentum of Moving actually needs to happen at least two weeks before the final move. Any sorting you procrastinate into those last two weeks has a good change of just getting thrown into a box and taken with you, and you’ll still be sitting on it after you unpack.
  • It wasn’t enough just to move and give away half my stuff. I also needed to migrate computers, face having to get a new phone (still procrastinating that one), and quit my job (sorta. long story. more on that one later), all at the same time.  There’s something to be said for dealing with lots of change at once, but damn that was a lot of painful displacement. I think I’d be easier on myself next time. (My poor partner kept half-joking, “Are you gonna get rid of me, too?”)
  • Professional carpet cleaners are AWESOME. But most of them need more than a day’s notice if you’re calling at the end of the month (when the rest of the city is moving, too).
  • How to clean when you’re moving: Start with the farthest room or closet from your front door, make sure everything is cleared out of it, spray it down with some fierce cleaner stuffs,  leave it for a few minutes, wipe it down, air it out, close the door, and tape that door shut. You’re done with that room for the rest of your life.  Now do the next one.
  • DON’T BE FOOLED. Moving doesn’t end when you’re done with moving.  Then you have to unpack.  AND UNPACKING TAKES LONGER.
  • But you can procrastinate that, since there’s no landlord looking over your shoulder reminding you of your deadline. Which means you may never finish it. Which sucks.

I think I’ll stay here for awhile.