dear hilary: make something beautiful

Dear Hilary,

I don’t know what to do. I love people with this fierce love. I love their stories, coffee with them, wine with them, crying and laughing with them. I love how terrible they are, and how miraculous. But you can’t make a career of that, can you? I don’t think it’s counseling, exactly. I don’t think it’s social work or psychology. I don’t fit in the traditional higher education boxes. I’m not quite philosophical enough or theological enough to do that kind of work. When you ask me what I’m working on for 10,000 hours, ask me what I want to be an “expert” in – I tell you it’s listening. It’s watching. It’s carving out spaces and times for others. I want to spend 100,000 hours listening. But who does that for a career? No one.

Out of the Box

Dear Out of the Box,

The other day I did something thoughtless. I pushed my way into a conversation where I very, very clearly did not belong. I did it because of a bunch of things that are only half relevant to the situation: jealousy and desire and insecurity and the laundry list we always list for each other and ourselves. And, so very graciously, I was reminded of that.

But something miraculous happened when I did that. Something that I have to tell you, Out of the Box, makes me believe that you are in the right place, wherever you are, doing the right thing, whatever it is. The miraculous thing is that I learned something from it.

Out of that awkward situation, and the careful grace of the people who reminded and called me to account, I learned something about boundaries. I learned about what my jealousy/desire/insecurity can yield. I saw lived out in front of me the reality of our careless movement in the world being chaos and hurt to others.

It shook me up. It worried me. It gave me the knot in my stomach, the one I get when I fear that I am, after all, just a disappointment. But I learned. And this is the kind of miraculous, mysterious, beautiful alchemy that happens when we take what happens to and around us, and we build with it. We expand on the inside. We build bridges. We are opened wider and, as a consequence, we are filled with more. And, as a consequence of that, we pour out more.

So. You say this is what you want to do? You say this is your 10,000 or 100,000 or 10 million hours. This listening. This alchemy. This making beautiful the things that happen to people. I say, Love, what are you afraid of? 

You are in the right place. Because that is a big freaking dream. Because it isn’t a dream that you achieve by graduate schools or meetings or promotions or raises. It isn’t a dream that has a ladder.

You will only begin to realize that dream if you live out everything in front of you so forcefully, so laughingly, so achingly wrong and right and wrong again, that you learn from it. You will live inside this dream only if you expand on the inside. You will live inside this dream only if you make beautiful things of your stories.

Spend 10,000 hours listening, yes. But spend it listening to yourself, alongside all those others. Spend it striking out in an attempt to write down these beautiful things and failing miserably. Spend it watching the world and telling us what you see. You have to practice this work inside yourself if you want to pour out for others. You must take that stupid thing you did and accept it inside yourself and listen to it. You must take that situation you refuse to acknowledge is happening and accept it into yourself and love it, and listen to it.

To make a life of this (because it’s a life you want, not a career), you must be willing to do it for yourself. To offer a candle to others, to share your vision of all that could be, of all that might be, you have to have that kind of vision for yourself. Stop worrying about the ladders and labels, the unknowing, the strikeouts of what you are and are not and what jobs and what cities and what barely-paying-the-rent stories you live. And go make something beautiful of it. 

When, and only when, you are willing to believe that this very story you are living in is right, because it is yours, because it is bigger than you: then you will live inside that dream. Oh, and how we will be blessed.



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