Adventure-ing: Alt Summit

When I got home from Alt Summit I immediately walked into the bedroom and cried. Like the ugly cry where you just stand there, (me with my hands on my hips, purse thrown on the table, coat hanging off a chair) and let the tears run down your face. Why? Because from the very first panel my brain had exploded and I was left to fend for myself for the next 3 days without it. Truth.

Why? Because up to this point I had been gearing up to begin applying for teaching jobs all over the country. I had wanted to do this in grad school, I had thought this to be a wonderful existence. Teaching writing, surrounded by colleagues and students who had similar passions, talking writing and thesis paragraphs, grading papers, having a career and a steady pay check. I had given myself a deadline, I had requested transcripts. The ball was rolling. The only issues: The time consuming CRAP that is applying for such demanding and highly sought after jobs, and knowing that I would mostly likely be shipping off to small, truck stop USA for at least 2 years. Ugh. And then I went to Alt.

The first panel also happened to be where Meg spoke. The discussion was building your community, and she was the first presenter, amazing power point and all. And as I watched and listened and heard people asking questions that could have come out of my mouth, I realized I couldn’t do it all. I can’t be successful here at betterinrealife, successful teaching, successful editing, successful writing short stories and novels, all at the same time. If I tried to do all of that I would a) go mad b) fail at everything c) get divorced or d) all of the above. Sitting in that panel I slowly (no – quickly!) realized I could not and should not attempt to do it all, and that I need to *gasp* choose. Suddenly I was painfully aware that it’s not that as a struggling writer I am so limited by job choices that I can only do what’s handed to me and therefore must wait patiently as a temp, it’s that I have the opportunity right now, right this very moment, to do everything I want, that I am standing at the beginning of many, many paths, going off in many, many directions and until I pick one I’m going nowhere.

And right now I’m writing, and editing, and on the verge of freelance, so why force it? Why ignore the journey the universe is pushing me to begin? Why make it harder on myself? It doesn’t mean that being a writer, like really being a writer (where, you know, I write for a living? vs teach for a leaving?) will be any less difficult, or time consuming, be any less frustrating, or frightening. But it is what I love. It is what I do. It is what I’m good at.

Alt had some rude awakenings, some in your face wake up calls, some disappointments. The kind where the more you know, the more you see, the more you experience can scrape as you learn the ropes, can sting as you realize the world isn’t as you imagined… completely. Realizing the business of writing, the business of blogging, that it can be calculated, thoughtful and, in some ways, competitive was overwhelming at times. But through all of those growing pains I see that I can now carve out my own path as it presents itself, as scary as it may be, I can take my first steps forward.

50 thoughts on “Adventure-ing: Alt Summit”

  1. Hi there. I came back to this post from APW and I have to say, you are so brave. Having these thoughts, making these decisions, and writing about it — I really admire you as I set off on a similar path myself. Thanks for sharing.

  2. well girl, you’ve got me reading your blog post BEFORE I even looked at APW this morning, so that’s something. I’m really excited that you got to go to alt and have this huge epiphany, and can’t wait to read all about where it all takes you.

  3. I can only imagine what kind of eye-opening experience you had there. I’ve been through events like that β€” ones where going in you thought you had a pretty firm grasp about how a business worked, and later left with a completely different view. I think attending Alt was huge for you and will catapult you into something great. I’m fully behind you darling!

  4. I’m reading this at my office job, which I love, and tearing up, because while I love it now, it isn’t what I want in the long term and I’m not sure where to go from here. I’m wearing a lot of hats (academic publishing job hat, freelance journalist hat, poet hat, blogger hat, ‘zine editor hat, girlfriend hat, student hat). So many that I can’t possibly succeed at all of them and still enjoy life, which means prioritizing what I want to do and where I want to be. I’m having a lot of trouble forgiving myself for what needs to be dropped.

    That I am standing at the beginning of many, many paths, going off in many, many directions and until I pick one I’m going nowhere line sums up my entire life right now, and it’s so good to hear someone I respect say it. This came at exactly the right moment for me, and even though I still don’t know what’s next, I really appreciate reading it. Thank you so much.

    1. This response kind of made me tear up. I read it in bed from my phone and then read it to Kamel. My only advice is to roll with it, something WILL emerge, either by demanding more of your time or more of your passion. Life is long. I still want to teach, but I also know that I need more experience and to be a writer first. You can do everything you wish, just maybe not all at the same time. Keep me posted! I want to cheer you on too. πŸ™‚

      1. “You can do everything you wish, just maybe not all at the same time.”
        This is like a mantra for me. One of the very first times I commented on APW the lovely Liz said something along these lines that will always stick with me. I have so much going on right now (2 jobs, 1 freelance-y side job, a wedding to plan, an inherited house to clean out, a kitchen to renovate), and yet I’m standing still in terms of what I actually WANT to be doing. Need to pick something, for now at least. It’s so good to feel not alone, as in real life I’m surrounded by friends that actually know what they’re doing. πŸ™‚
        I’m very excited to follow you over here, have no idea why I didn’t start reading sooner!

      2. I love the idea of “You can do everything you wish, just maybe not all at the same time.” It’s just a matter of patience and balancing. We’ll all get there, one day.

        Thanks, also, for dropping by my blog! I’ll keep you posted, and I look forward to seeing how things go for you also!

  5. I could see this on your face as you sat on my couch. Part of it may have been the conference fatigue, but you also looked a little gripped. Gripped and gorgeous, so there is that.

    Open doors, paths and choices…. Oh my.

  6. I agree with Meghan, I felt like this totally resonates with the person I met on Saturday. You did seem in the midst of processing all this.

    I know this feeling so well. In a different way, this is how I felt when I decided to get my PhD, to really make a commitment to going after what I wanted, despite what anyone else would say. Enjoy this moment; it’s a magical time!

  7. Another poster over from APW. I love your story! I left my job and my field to move back home and go to grad school for something completely different. In my case it’s accounting, which sounds terribly sensible and practical and not at all something that should be scary, but it was easily the most scary thing I’ve ever done.

    I have this cheesy favorite quote from You’ve Got Mail, and it always comes to mind when I see people doing things like this:

    “You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life.” And that’s really one of the scariest and most amazing things you could do! So good luck!

  8. Can you add Exactly buttons to the comments? Because I feel *exactly* as Kristin does. I’m blessed with a job that I like that probably has a future…do I want that corporate NYC publishing future? Not sure. But as I struggle with my inner dialogue , trying to figure out what direction I’d like to take, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone.

    Lauren, you go girl. Go with your choice, go for broke, go for your own success (not to be confused with society’s “success”). Go write.

    And good luck with the wedding plans!

  9. Love this. Love it. So raw and personal and … real.

    I’m so excited for you … even as I realize how scary it can be. Heck, I’m doing a bit of it myself right now … in a completely opposite way. You have all of these solid “I want to do” things … and I’m not even sure WHAT it is that I want to be doing … but I know what I AM doing isn’t it.

    It’s one of those … where to I go from here deals. Like you said, standing at a point where a dozen paths branch off, just waiting for you (or me) to choose one.

    I’m so thrilled that you’re brave enough to take that first step. And then take another. Maybe, just maybe, I can learn to follow your example. =)

    Also … there will be celebrations of this … you know, when we’re in the same state! Promise. ::grins::

  10. “Teaching writing, surrounded by colleagues and students who had similar passions, talking writing and thesis paragraphs, grading papers, having a career and a steady pay check.”

    Ahh. This was my dream too. I’m not an aspiring creative writer, so that was going to be it for me. Ph.D., a little respect, grading papers, helping the next generation craft their writing. It sounded so perfect. Actually, it still does. But my universe pushed me in another way too. I still mourn the path not chosen sometimes, I really do.

    And especially now, because I’m starting to think that this path I’m on isn’t the right one for me. I chose love over career (I still have a career, just a different one) and now I’m in a career/job I don’t love. I still have time to make changes, but it’s so hard to jump into the unknown.

    It sounds like you have a lot of opportunities open to you right now… good luck πŸ™‚

  11. Ooof. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling:

    “…it’s that I have the opportunity right now, right this very moment, to do everything I want, that I am standing at the beginning of many, many paths, going off in many, many directions and until I pick one I’m going nowhere.”

    I have no advice, but thank you for articulating this. I guess, for me, I just need to pick something and go with it. Or pick all the things (re: grad school apps, volunteer apps, actually writing what I want to be writing) and see which one takes off running and follow that one.

    It’s like, for the first time, I am really believe that you can be anything you want to be, and that’s damn scary.

  12. This resonates, hard. You and Meg are on fire today. I’ve been in school all my life and am finally at that crossroads of actually starting a Career but am searching for the passion that’s missing. Thanks so much for the wisdom and inspiration. It’s a nice kick in the pants this morning. πŸ™‚

  13. Good for you. Seriously, it’s a Very Big Deal to have made some sort of decision about the path you want to take in the future. And it’s a HUGE deal that it came upon you all at once! So good job on the processing and the deciding. I think, from what little I know of you, that you have made a good decision & the rest of us are lucky that you will continue to write. Not that you wouldn’t be a good teacher, I’m sure, but it’s wonderful that you’ll be able to dedicate yourself more fully to something for which you obviously have such a passion.

  14. Oh man, I feel like you got inside my head and wrote exactly what I needed to read. Thank you for this.

    I’m in a somewhat similar boat: took a leave from grad school, working full time, trying to choose what passion to follow, and feeling scared about having to make a choice. I actually created and posted a syllabus to my blog so I’d be a little more disciplined in this exploration of my dreams & life!

    I think you’re really brave for sharing your revelations about yourself and the writing/blogging communities, and the fact that you’re a little lost right now. I will be checking back to read more!

  15. Lauren, this post is amazing. Thank you so much for it. I think sometimes when I see people who I feel have really “made it” in terms of their life’s passion, I hear a tiny voice that says, “Well good for them. They deserve it. They worked hard for it. But that could never be you. You’ll never get that chance and even if you do, you won’t be brave enough to take it.” It’s really good to hear the perspective of someone who’s still choosing from possibilities, determined to make them happen but also a bit scared.

    1. I am noWHERE near “made it”. Like no where… so don’t feel like it’s impossible or for other people because it’s totally for you too! Even if you don’t actually believe it right now. Trust me. I have a small handful of readers (hi readers!) compared to other blogs (apw? please, I am a speck to meg). But it doesn’t mean I can’t have a career. And it doesn’t mean you can’t either! You can! But you have to do it in your unique way… and that’s the trick… it doesn’t work to try to follow other people’s paths. That will just frustrate me with disappointment – and I’m pretty sure it’s the same for everyone.

  16. you and i are sharing some kind of weirdly similar, long-distance wavelength, girl. i wrote something extremely similar this week and arrived at the same conclusion. if you need a buddy in the same spot, reach out, i’m definitely one for connecting and trying to figure sh*t out together, no? alt sounds like an amazing experience…so glad you left with clarity and a spark!

    1. YES!!! Having had drinks with the both of you, I know you’ll get along SO well. You’ve both got funny, driven and hopeful down, with just a touch of realism to keep you from being too adorable and therefore annoying.
      Also, you two can bond over Chicago. And then, Lizzie, you can convince Lauren to visit Texas. And then we’ll all go out for beers. It’ll be epic.

  17. Thank you for being brave enough to share this Lauren. I have been lavishly away at a masters, hoping to someday get my phd and have been finding myself so unmotivated, for the first time in my academic life. You have inspired me to give this some serious thought because if I can’t be psyched about doing it, maybe it’s not what I should be doing, or maybe I just need to light a little fire inside me and get to work. In any case, thank you. And I wish you so much good luck!

  18. The universe is calling….and it’s saying, “Don’t worry, darlin’, we got this.”
    (The universe might be southern….)

      1. You just described me, which is why you neeeeeeed to be in Texas. For at least a little bit. You and Kamel come stay in our spare bedroom and can snuggle Maggie the Wonder Dog.

  19. I feel like this, in a way, but with more uncertainty, I think. I’m about to start the last year of my teaching course, and although I’d thought: “I want to be a teacher” since I was 17, there are moments when I wonder if I actually do. Maybe it’s the 4 months of summer holidays talking, and I’ve forgotten how much fun (er, not sure if that’s the right word) I was having when I was interacting with the students, but I’m not sure.
    And if not teaching, then what? I used to love writing, as a kid. And now I blog but I certainly don’t feel that it’s a serious thing- more like a fling on the side.
    Ha, and then there’s the people who haven’t seen me in a long time and say: “But didn’t you want to be a vet!?” And I have to explain, again, how I hate science.
    So I think if you have the opportunity to do the thing you love, and make it ‘the thing you do’, then you’re lucky! And should do it! Because that’s awesome.

    1. can i live vicariously through your teaching life? until maybe one day I have a classroom of my own? It’s still up there in my fantasy land future… so you never know.

      and sometimes a job is just a job and people are really happy with that. it affords them the opportunity to travel, have a home, raise kids. And that’s totally ok.

  20. I just gatta say, I felt the exact same way about a year ago. Maybe a lot of us do around this age? At the time I felt like I could leave the country, or get a real job, or go back to grad school, or work on a farm, or start a business, or start having babies – and I couldn’t just pick one! Finally, I calmed down a little, (after freaking out for, like, 8 months straight) and tried to see what was in front of me. What the universe was telling me to do. I listened. I finally picked one, put all my energy into it, and now everything is pretty much falling into place. But you have to hit that hard place where it’s like F*CK what do I do? Anyway – that cry you had when you came home might be one of those moments you always remember as a turning point in your life. And with the way things are going for you, I think the universe has some awesome stuff set up and waiting for you πŸ™‚

    1. I was thinking the SAME thing. My 20s have been *full* of this. And I hate it. I’m craving 30. Somehow, being 30 will make me all put together and smart and shit. Unfortunately, I still have a year and a half to go before then. Perhaps I should give myself some homework in the meantime.

      I think part of what’s been so hard for me is that I never was one of those people who only saw themselves with one career, on one path, and they could only achieve happiness via that route. I have many interests, and could’ve made a career from a number of them. I just ended up taking opportunities that came along, and while that was great in some ways, it meant that I never had the need to *make* my own opportunities and fight for what I really wanted to do. So . . . yes. I do feel a bit stuck where I am, for a variety of reasons, and I do feel uninspired. But . . . eh, I don’t really know how to end this. Pretend I typed something in a very, very profound manner.

  21. Lauren,
    Today is the first day I have read your blog (although I have been meaning to because the title caught me the first time I read it). Serendipity, truly. I’m an English teacher, editor and would-be writer. The universe is strange that way and I hope that you feel it pulling you in the right direction.

    I don’t know if you are aware of the national 826 programs, but you luckily have a branch in your neck of the woods: http://www.826chi.org/

    This great place combines almost everything you mentioned, writing, teaching, creativity, talking about writing. It may not be the end-all of your career dreams, but it could be an outlet. 826 is always looking for volunteers (not that I’m signing you up for more work!) and they do great things to make writing fun.

    I’ll be back, you can add me as another reader.

    1. This is a great idea! I’ve always wanted to volunteer there/be involved with 826 Valencia BUT I never had enough time because of my job. So here goes my hope and prayer that I can quit my job come March …. yes. MARCH. It may be delayed for a variety of reasons but I’m hoping hoping not. I can feel my job holding me back from so many other opportunities as the week goes by. It’s promising and at the same time frustrating.

      AND YAY I’m so stoked to have another reader. πŸ™‚ I’m finally starting a blog roll and you’ll be added to mine!

      Where was your venue in Seattle? I grew up there and have plans (in my head) to move back someday.

      1. We got married on Lake Union at the Lake Union Rowing Club. Most of our guests came from out of town so being on the water with views of downtown, Gasworks & the Space Needle was the perfect location for us. What about you two?

        1. You know – I totally knew that already. I saw your photos on apw! haha. The Lake Union Rowing Club was one of our possibilities. But then my parents visited the garden court in the Fairmont (the old 4 seasons) and with our small # of guests we’re able to stay under the minimum but get the swank reception experience. We’re getting married at Holy Names Chapel (my highschool) and I honestly think it’s going to be my favorite part. πŸ˜‰

          1. The HN chapel is going to be perfect, and how could you say no to the Fairmont? Total swank. You’ll get some beautiful pictures up on Cap. Hill too – so many great places to duck into an alley and with Volunteer Park so close… I’m missing Seattle now. Please tell me you’re doing market-something (like fresh flowers). When is the wedding?

  22. Awesome. Just….awesome.

    I’m always telling my little sisters and high shcool kids that one of the hardents yet most important things we can learn to do is choose between good options. I figure if I tell them this enough, my advice might rub off on me and I’ll get better at it myself. πŸ™‚

    I remember an APW post about the road not taken…it’s hard to choose when there’s nothing but possibility in front of us, when sayign yes to one path by necessity means saying no to another. But if we don’t do it, we end up going nowhere at all, being paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice.

    So I applaud you for making a choice, for going with you gut, and for letting go. And don’t worry, if I’ve learned anything in my worldly 27 years (ha! wise, that’s me!) it’s that we always have the option to change our minds if our current plan/job/goal/direction/shoes just aren’t working for us. I’m not anywhere near where I thought I’d be 10 years ago, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

  23. Oh my goodness!!! I can’t even tell you how proud I am of you for this amazing discussion that YOU have fostered through this blog! And even if it does apply to the writing world, it is also stuff that is going on in so many peoples minds and lives. Ali brown and I were having this exact conversation yesterday, although I don’t think I had as much focus in figuring out the “just not at all the same time!” aspect. I very much am touched by the comment about “forgiving myself for things that need to be dropped” as I’m struggling with that right now as I pick a path and feel totally boogled by the whole process. I love you my bestie and go girl!!!

  24. Such truths you speak. For starters, I loved meeting at Alt and having a few moments to chat. And, secondly, I think all of our minds were collectively blown. I’m not sure mine has slowed down since I got on the plane to SLC and I definitely shed my own tears this week. Alt both inspired me to take risks – wild ones, previously unimagined ones – and humbled me to such an extent that I almost feel paralyzed to take those risks. I’m still chewing it over, figuring out what it all means, and definitely realizing for myself, too, that the time is coming where I’m going to have to, for lack of a better phrase, shit or get off the pot. I can’t possibly do it all and be it all and do it half as well as I’d like. Tough choices undoubtedly lie ahead, but whenever I look back in life the tough choices were oftentimes the ones that led to the most happiness and the most peace. Follow your heart. When the brain gets in the way it often thinks it knows best, but your heart knows it all. xoxo

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