My Ego Needed the Job

The Ski Bum did grow up. The Ski Bum was gainfully employed for one year. She  wore heels and sometimes, even makeup. She packed her lunch, responded to emails, and was outspoken at meetings.

And now, the Ski Bum has quit her job.

Last Thursday was my final day with the Glacier Symphony and Chorale (GSC). I decided to quit in December, after an experimental month of switching from full-time to part-time so I could focus on school (which, besides my marriage to Cole, has been one of the greatest and most enriching experiences of my life). My departure from the GSC  has little to do with skiing and everything to do with writing. And this post has everything to do with the intoxicating and addictive power of the ego. Those of you who follow this blog (and I thank you kindly) might remember how excited I was, last January, to shelve my ski bum life and take a job with the symphony. It’s been quite a year.

In short, I left the symphony because my graduate writing program and Cole’s new business all need more time, attention and devotion. I left the symphony because I was running away from what I really need to do: write. It took me a year to figure out that,while on the surface having a wonderful job–a worthy and important job– in all frankness, was another distraction from writing. A seemingly good and healthy distraction. But this job (and it could have been any job) wasn’t about writing. It was about working. This wasn’t an easy revelation. I liked my job. I liked my coworkers. What was wrong, then? On the surface, it seemed like the perfect role for me: organizing the box office, managing volunteers, writing content for the website. I’m concerned about the word role. This job was a role I was playing. I was doing it to avoid the harsh reality of my life. Roles are easy to obtain, easy to act out.

Writing isn’t a role. Writing isn’t acting. Writing isn’t about going to meetings, making phone calls, or loading events onto a website.

Writing is hard work. Damned hard work. And guess what? When you’re tucked away in your office writing, no one is there to stroke your ego. No one is there to say, “Wow, good job.” Or “That’s a great idea! Wow!”

Clearly, the Ski Bum needs a lot of praise.

I hate to admit it, but in the past year I’ve been living  on the surface. I’ve been attracted and addicted to the superficial. My ego really needed and wanted the job with the symphony. I needed to be in an environment where I could succeed and be rewarded with praise for my accomplishments. I didn’t believe enough in myself or my writing so I went looking outside  for acknowledgement and worth. And then, I got sucked into my own materialistic desires. Pay me a few compliments about my cocktail dress or my jewelry at concerts and I’ll take your words as gospel. I developed a mantra in my head: I must look and be beautiful at concerts. I must have the best looking dress. I must look/be/do this superficial thing because if I don’t, who will tell me that I’m good? Who will tell me that I’m beautiful and smart and talented?

Zoom in on this: Who will tell me? Why do I need anyone to tell me that I’m good or smart or talented? What’s missing within me?

That’s what I need to find out. That’s what I need to uncover.

So my ego took hold of this new role, this new manifestation of self. I used to be the girl who cared little for clothes unless they were for skiing. Now I have a closet full of dress shoes and little black dresses. Last year, I was feeling vulnerable. Unworthy and shaken in my confidence. I’d applied for many jobs.  Success, as I saw it, came in the form of a job. Isn’t that what all thirty year olds should be doing? The position with the symphony was the first major job offer in years. While I was nearly certain that I’d be accepted into graduate school, I felt that the right and responsible thing to do was to take the job. That’s what people do, they work. They earn money. They support themselves. They sit at their desk and do their job.

That’s what I thought I was supposed to do. And I did it. And I did it well. Because I did my job well, I thought I was superior. I was good because I was good at my job–it was like steroids for my confidence.

I was leading a split life. And I told myself that my job was worthy of all my attention. That my purchases of new dresses would help me be a better person in my job. I told myself a series of lies.

It was easy for me to do my job. It is not easy, for me, to sit and write. I feel vulnerable. And I feel alone. But if I’m going to do anything right and pure and true in this world, it is when I strike my fingers across the keyboard and write.

I need to add that it was no fault of the symphony’s that contributed to my exaggerated ego. I worked with a group of very supportive and caring and creative people. People who were passionate about classical music, passionate about creating a community of musicians and listeners. If there’s one thing I learned during my short tenure, it was that life’s too short not to act upon your passions, no matter the personal struggles and challenges.

I thought by going to work and earning a paycheck I’d suddenly turn into a better person. No job, no little black dress, no compliment can really do that.

The false self can only exist for so long until it cracks. And I’ve cracked. I’ve realized that I’ve shied away from what is real and essential to my being. I’ve realized that just like telemark racing, writing takes practice. It takes grit. It takes perseverance. It takes the beating of rejection and failure on the page. It takes faith.

Writing scares the shit out of me. And it’s not easy. I attempted to launch my freelance career and then shied away from it after one magazine sent my payment 7 months after it was due. It’s so much easier to sit at a desk and check off tasks. It’s so much easier to boss around volunteers and pick out flowers for the lobby decorations than it is to actually sit my ass in my chair and write. And it’s extremely gratifying when you catch your coworker’s mistakes. It feels good and boastful to say, “I’m so busy. I work. I ski, I go to grad school. I volunteer. I’m just so busy.” I chose busy. I chose to brag about being busy.

Writing is not about what others say about you. I’ve fallen too often for that trick. And you’d think I’d be old enough to sustain myself without the praise of others.

I’m discovering new territory in my writing. I’ve journeying to a place where compliments aren’t so easily given and marketing meetings aren’t every Tuesday at lunch. There’s not a map and there’s certainly no guaranteed paycheck. My ego’s resisting but I’m ignoring its small and pathetic pleas. Besides, who can hear it’s cries above the shouts and calls of the wild lands where I’m going? It’s all music, it’s all beauty, even if it isn’t within the concert hall.

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