I have a small framed picture, something I picked up on sale at TJ Maxx, that says “It is never too late to be what you might have become.” I bought it because I liked the sentiment: it’s a nice thought that the world is always filled with infinite possibilities, no matter how many wrong turns or bad choices we’ve made in the past. But as comforting as that idea might be, I’m not fully convinced that it’s true.
As we grow older, as we make choices about what to do (and not do), there are some possibilities that are going to get further and further from our reach. At some point, these possibilities will start to disappear and certain dreams become fated to remain exactly that: dreams. The question then becomes, how do you move forward from there?
You make do.
I first heard the phrase “making do” when I was a kid. It meant that something was out of reach, or delayed, or somehow inaccessible and the only thing to be done was to make the best of what you had. You make do. At the time, I thought of it as a way of coping, a way of moving forward despite disappointment. It was a type of survival.
The problem with surviving is that staying alive isn’t the same as being alive, and sometimes it leads to bad choices. It becomes easier to have that extra drink, or a few extra drinks. We eat too much, taking comfort in comfort food. We jump into bed, hoping that this new warm body will finally be the one that satisfies us. We shop ‘til we drop, acquiring things to try to fill up the space of what is missing. We take pleasures in the pleasures available to us.
Why? Because excess is comforting. When we can’t have exactly what we want, we try to get everything that we can. It’s a survival mentality, too much and too little at the same time.
So how do we break ourselves out of that survival mentality and get back to an experience of life that is about living more than just surviving? I’m not saying I’m an expert; my well-stocked goodie cupboard and my well-worn debit card would certainly beg to differ. But I think the secret may just be a change of punctuation. What do you do when you’re tired of living in survival mode and you want to rediscover some sense of fulfillment or joy?
You make, do.
I am a firm believer in the creative process, however that may look to you. In our increasingly technological society, we get further and further away from the process of making things. We buy everything pre-made, pre-packaged, pre-styled. We buy instant mixes and put them into small appliances that are designed to complete one specific task. We don’t make enough things anymore. There is a special satisfaction that comes from making something with your hands whether it be sewing, knitting, woodworking, beading, or some other type of crafting. When you’re done, you’ll have a physical something to show off for your trouble.
If you aren’t the crafty type (though I don’t think this should stop you from giving it a try!), there are lots of other ways to explore your creativity. Take voice lessons or try learning an instrument. Maybe you’ve had an idea in your head for a story or a novel but you’ve never put that pen to the page. Start a blog or a journal. Audition for a play or volunteer at your local community theatre. The important thing is to get your creative impulses active and moving.
That’s the making. Connected to that is the doing. You could argue that drinking and shopping and chowing down are all examples of “doing” things, and you’d be right. Kind of. But it’s the kind of things that you do that are important. Remember, you want to thrive, not just survive.
I think what I’m trying to say is that instead of just doing something, you should do something hard. Going for the pleasure, for the comfort, and for the excess is easy. It’s easy to microwave a Hot Pocket; it’s harder to make a meal from scratch. But which one is going to be more satisfying? Which is going to give you a sense of accomplishment at the end?
This is intimately connected to the creative aspect as well. Creativity isn’t easy. I love sewing and enjoy making new outfits for myself or other performers. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t ripped out hundreds of seams or had items where the fit wasn’t off. I’m still trying to figure out necklines. I’ve sewn a needle into my finger on more than one occasion, and my trusty old Janome has heard more than its fair share of profanity. But when you struggle at something, it shows that you have investment in it; it shows that you care enough to work at it.
Pretty obvious, right? Most people know that things you have to work for have greater rewards and are probably better for you in both the long and short run. But knowing is not the same as doing. I know that I’d be better off jumping on a treadmill instead of sinking down onto the couch with my Netflix, but my Planet Fitness membership card is gathering dust while I’m all caught up on How I Met Your Mother. Netflix is easy. Netflix is comfortable. It doesn’t strain me or challenge me. And it certainly doesn’t bring me joy. It’s about surviving.
To get out of the survival mode you have to make, do. Stop looking for the things that are going to give you pleasure and start looking for the things that are going to give you fulfillment. Make something. Do something. Stop rewarding yourself with things you enjoy and focusing enjoying things you find rewarding. And before I start to sound too much like a life coach, acknowledge that there are going to be times where practicing this, making and doing, is going to really fucking suck. And when you get to the times where it really fucking sucks, be brave and decide to do it anyway. That’s my plan anyway.
I’m going to give this whole “make, do” thing a shot, because I’m tired of surviving when I should be thriving. I’m not saying I won’t slip. Let’s be real: there are some days that nothing but a stiff drink and a trip to Sephora.com will make ok because that’s what I’ve always done. But that doesn’t mean I have to keep doing it. In fact, maybe that’s what that little framed sampler was trying to say all along: “It’s never too late to be what you might have become.” And what you might have become isn’t about a specific dream but rather about being your best, most fulfilled, most engaged self. And just because it doesn’t look like what you thought it would look like doesn’t mean that it’s not exactly perfect, just the way it is.
Tags: Creativity, Creativity Takes Courage, Georg Eliot, Henri Matisse, Hot Pocket, How I Met Your Mother, I Am, It Is Never Too Late To Be What You Might Have Been, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Lana Del Rey, Make Do, Making Do, Miss Jaye, Motivation, Netflix, The Great Gatsby, treadmill, work hard, work hard play hard, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, Young And Beautiful