A few years ago, I was sitting around a table with a bunch of academics. There was a general lament about a lack of time many of us were experiencing in order to get all of our professional and personal responsibilities done. I offered up the meditation I had started practicing for that specific semester: “Every morning when I start my day, I set an intention to get done everything that needs to get done. And, surprisingly, I find I have more time that I ever thought possible.”
The conversation could have gone one of two ways after that because my comment was jumped on by two people with very different responses. The first one said, “A-ha; that you need to get done,” but the second person snapped in a much louder voice, “Do you have a disabled spouse or an elderly parent living thousands of miles away?” This person was referring to my colleague at the table who had just addressed both those concerns as reasons why she was feeling so pressed for time.
A part of me wanted to cry, feeling like my colleague had personally attacked me, while another part of me wanted to retaliate with indignities such as, “No, but I have an autoimmune sleep disorder that is currently not responding to medication,” or “I have a cousin dying of cancer at the age of 43.” But, instead, I responded with, “Yes, you’re right. Thank you for that reminder.” This was, however, two years in to my regular meditation practice and so I chalk up my immediate peaceful response to that. You go, enlightened Kelly! Gandhi point for you! (Please note I did not come up with the term Gandhi point. I heard it in a student play at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and I have been using it ever since.)
When I got home that night, unenlightened Kelly took over and I spent more time than I care to admit crafting responses to my colleague in the event we would have the same exact conversation over again with the same exact people. In retrospect, however, it was good for me spend some time processing what happened because I later came to the conclusion that what bothered me the most is that I felt like my life was somehow invalidated because I didn’t have an ailing spouse or aging parent I couldn’t see on a regular basis.
This was not the first time I felt this way, nor was it the last. I do not have children and for most of my academic life I did not have a husband. So when I would engage in conversations with my colleagues about how “busy” we were and I would mention how I was spending my time, taking my dog on a lovely winter walk or spending the perfect afternoon sitting by the DuPage River, watching the clouds roll by,
I felt judged and ridiculed by my colleagues who rolled their eyes or commented on my single status as the reason why I could indulge in such luxuries.
But then a close friend of mine made this remark when I shared my plan to quit my job: “That’s because you have the privilege to do so,” and I felt the same invalidation of my life. I had been so excited to share my dream of becoming a writer, but then all of a sudden I felt like a spoiled little girl being reprimanded by someone for indulgence.
I began to question why I had been lucky enough to be born in a financially stable, upper middle class family which afforded me multiple opportunities in my life to further make me financially stable and secure. Not only was I able to graduate from college and graduate school completely debt free, I was able to find an academic job which compensated me with ample vacation time and decent money. So much so, that I am now able to invest full time in writing as career without having to worry about a steady source of income for the foreseeable future.
Here’s what I realized, though:
just because I perceived someone to have a certain opinion of me, doesn’t mean that it’s accurate
or taking the words of spiritual guru Wayne Dyer, doesn’t even make it my business.
I feel strongly that writing is a spiritual vocation for me and after decades of not writing, I find myself having a lot to say. I do believe that stories, writing, and, really, any type of creativity or art, can change the world for the better and I am finally ready to take up my part in this process. So to entertain others’ opinions of me or to feel guilty about things I have no control over, doesn’t serve me and it certainly doesn’t serve my writing. Because I envision a world where there are not haves and have-nots, where we all have the privilege of following our dreams no matter what they are, who we are, where we come from, or what our current circumstances are.
So I am going to keep on writing and working on staying true to myself. It’s not always easy and sometimes I fail miserably. I do, though, appreciate those of you who are reading my words, even if you disagree with them or question my choices. Perhaps you may have even rolled your eyes at my ideological vision (in which case MINUS 1 Gandhi point for you). But for those of you sending me love and support on this journey, I am ever so grateful (and PLUS 1 Gandhi point to you!).