I started listening to Liz Gilbert’s Magic Lesson podcast, and it’s inspirational gold. There was this conversation (in episode 205 at 12 minutes in case you were wondering) about joy, and one line hit me particularly hard.
“Why is the thing that brings you joy scarier than the thing that brings you drudgery?” Oof, punch to the gut with the fist of truth! Why are we so willing to continue doing the same things every day, complaining in the same tone we use when we talk about going to the lady doctor, but we won’t take opportunities to be bigger? Joy comes our way and we take one look at it before pissing our pants and hiding behind the drudgery we were just complaining about.
So why are we so afraid of big bad joy? Because it’s unknown. There isn’t much to be said about that hated thing we keep going back to, but it does offer us predictability. We know that we are going to go into the same restaurant, wait on the same tables, get the same crappy tips, and get yelled at by the same asshole boss, and at the end of the day we know we are going to go home feeling like a pile of manure.
If we let joy in, if we, for example, quit our waitressing job and become a freelance writer, we may love it, or maybe not. We may make all the money and get discovered and start writing for our favorite magazine and move to Venice, or we may suck and get fired and have to move in with our parents and every single bad thing we ever thought about ourselves will be confirmed. We are terrible writers, no one likes us, we have no potential, and we are going to live with our parents until we’re dead.
We don’t want to let joy in because we are afraid of what might happen to us if joy morphs into fear like a ghost in a bad horror movie. We are afraid of joy because if we let it in and fail we’ll feel like a worthless piece of crap and our heart will break into a thousand pieces.
We’re inclined to self-doubt as a method of protection. If we say, “I’m not good enough to be a writer, I’ll just be a waitress the rest of my life and be unhappy, that’s what I deserve anyway,” then we haven’t set ourselves up for big failure. If I settle with unhappiness then I haven’t lifted myself onto a mountain that may or may not crumble into rubble at the slightest wind.
We would rather put ourselves at the bottom looking up in jealousy at those on the peak saying, “God, I wish I had that,” so that when they crumble to the ground like we predicted (and secretly wished) we can say, “I’m glad I’m safe down here.”
Safe and miserable is one way to go through life, but it sure isn’t a way that brings fulfillment or sustenance. Shunning joy because drudgery is predictable is what happens when we let fear make our decisions. It keeps us stuck, stuck, stuuuuck! (Christmas Story. Anyone?)
God, I hate being stuck. I hate being the person who sits in fear at the bottom of the mountain waiting for everyone else to achieve my goals. There’s another line that Liz Gilbert often uses variations of that I love. “What would you choose to do, even if you knew you would fail?” Is there something you love so much that you would climb out of the rubble of mountain after mountain? Because if there is, why they hell aren’t you doing it?
Joy is unpredictable, and scary, and sometimes it does set us up for a fall; but it’s also beautiful, and magical, and one of the things that makes life worth living. One of my favorite lines from the novel I’m working on is, “They spoke of it with joyful certainty.” I want to speak of my life with joyful certainty. I want to let joy in so close that it can’t help but speak with my mouth, infusing the certainty of it’s success in my life with every word.
Joy is going to be my buddy. I can’t promise the mountain won’t crumble, but there are other mountains to climb if this one goes down. I’ll be the one climbing out of the rubble holding my knee saying, “ahhhh,” like Peter in Family Guy, and after I stop being a smart ass I’ll be saying, “Let’s climb another one.” I’m chasing joy up the mountain, wanna join?