I’m a month into my 30s, an age I always looked forward to because by then I should have my life together, know what I want, know my purpose, and know who I am.
As is the irony of life, my life is in shambles, I am unemployed (for almost a year!) and in debt. I want to be a paid television writer. I think writing is part of my life’s purpose, but I haven’t had any success due to a series of compulsively squandered job opportunities and years hiding in the petrifying fear of showing up to my career — all of which I blamed on my youth. I am still, at the age of 30, on the square before square one while many of my peers have passed me by and are writing on successful shows.
Even though I was wrong about most of what achieving 30 would mean, I, with the help of five years in a 12-step program, thought I knew who I was, or at least what I was not. I recently discovered I qualified for three additional programs in addition to my first. So, instead of victorious self-awareness, I’ve had a whole new surprising part of me exposed, a part that was a total mystery, one of which is my debtor behavior.
The symptoms of a debtor aren’t just about money, but about time, debt, under-earning, and not reaching your potential in your career — all of which stem from a spiritual malady and low self-worth. At least how I understand it.
One would think this revelation of character would set me free — a solution to my baffling career problems! — but I’m devastated. I’ve been gutted, and once again I’m petrified.
I feel as if the me who can work through these new issues and become that confident writer, that worker among workers, is over there, and the train wreck of my current existence is over here. The recovery is the Grand Canyon between us.
I look into my canyon and I see the solution to all of the obstacles in my career and the keys to fixing my broken spiritual self. Instead of relief, I feel despair. I feel overwhelmed. I feel regret for the years and opportunities burnt by this unknown, life-destroying behavior.
Mostly, I am embarrassed. I’ve been 12-stepping for years! I have massive amounts of debt now because of my unemployment and education. My career hasn’t budged in five years. Of course I have this issue. How could I have been so blind? I am gobsmacked.
I feel like I have so much more to work through before I’m ready for my career, or before I will allow myself to be ready. Perfectionism is one of my many character defects. Is that what is happening here? How do I properly mourn the ignorance of my own behavior while still moving on in my recovery, writing and career? Is it possible to find success in my career while working a career program? I can’t shake the feeling of having to “graduate” before I can move on. And also, in your opinion, how many programs is too many programs to work?
Dear Blind Writer,
Welcome to the mystery of life. All I can suggest is that you slow down and take a breath. The 12 steps are not about career success. They are about self-acceptance and learning to live in the world without being a pain in the ass to everybody around you. They’re about having a spiritual awakening and helping other people.
Now, the feeling of exhaustion and surprise when you keep uncovering new layers of your personality is familiar. Anyone who undertakes to know himself fully, by whatever method, will experience this. As we examine our behavior and interact with others, we seek understanding and constant readiness for more — more change, more knowledge, more work. If our goal is acceptance and change is constant, then we must constantly accept change and novelty. This, of course, is the basic condition of life — change and novelty. So what we are doing in the 12 steps is continually learning to respond with grace to the natural conditions of life.
Now let me be a little in your face here. Your letter leaves one with the impression that you are expecting tangible results from your 12-step work, as if that work could be redeemed for prizes on late-night TV. You are working at a frantic pace to achieve something that can only be achieved by working slowly.
In other words, calm down. The 12 steps are about spiritual growth, inner change and service to others. What the 12 steps promise is a spiritual awakening. That is about as mysterious and non-material as you can get. It is mystery itself.
I don’t know how many programs is too many programs. But if you are asking the question, the answer may be that you are doing too many. Your question, in other words, may be your best indicator. If you are doing too many programs, the solution would be to just do one at a time.
You are a complex, multifaceted person living in a world whose ways are mysterious. The principles upon which the world decides to hand out its goods are mysterious. So slow down. Breathe. Meditate. Take stock of the mystery. See how you can be of service to others.