Imaginary Lives.

I’ve got a job for you.

I’m sorry?

I just heard you say that the company you work for was sold. I’m looking for people and I can’t hire ‘em fast enough. Starting pay is 90K a year.

Wow. What’s the job?

Easiest money you’ll ever make. Just sitting behind a desk.

Yeah, but doing what?

Setting appointments. Making calls. Basic admin stuff. You’d be working for me and my team.

And what do you do?

I sell machine parts. Essentially, I’m a mechanic.

Oh. I don’t think that’s the right fit for me. I’m a creative: a writer, a marketer, and a brand strategist. I’m really looking for a job in a creative field. But thank you anyway.

I don’t think you heard me. The starting pay is 90K a year.

It’s not about the money.

Bullshit. It’s always about the money.

Not for me. But thank you.

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I’m sitting in the lobby of my hotel in Kent, WA, sipping a glass of Cabernet. The awkward conversation (err, confrontation) that is currently unfolding is a perfect example of why I wanted to avoid this hotel-sponsored “Wine and Cheese” night. But after a long workday, the complimentary glass of red mere steps from my hotel room proves too difficult to resist. So here I am, trying to politely brush aside the attention of a strange man who’s sloshed on free booze and – worse – impervious to social cues.

The “conversation” quickly devolves, largely due to my refusal to acquiesce to his worldview that money makes the world go round. He takes personal affront to the fact that I have no interest in the job he’s trying to sell me, and within minutes, he has resorted to cursing and name-calling. Thankfully, it’s not long before he stomps out of the lobby in a huff, but not before delivering his final assessment: “If you’re just a snob that wants to write about eyeliner, there’s nothing I can do for you!” I laugh, in spite of myself. You’re right, dude. There’s nothing you can do for me.

My week in Kent has been a strange one. I’ve been working as an independent contractor, helping train employees of the medium-size company that bought the small Los Angeles-based accessories brand where I have worked for many years. Not only is the town of Kent itself odd – an industrial district populated by block after block of sprawling warehouses in the shadow of Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport – but the situation is odd, too. For a week, I’m immersed in a corporate culture completely alien to me – taking meetings, interfacing with all types of people and personalities (many of whom are suspicious of me and are not particularly friendly to the foreigner in their midst), and navigating office politics – all the while knowing that my immersion is temporary; that my normal life has simply been put on hold for a few days while I try on this very different life and see how it fits.

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During the week, I find myself daydreaming both about what my life would have been like had I accepted a job in Kent, and what my life will be like once this temporary independent contractor position is over. It brings to mind one of my favorite exercises from Julia Cameron’s seminal book on creativity, The Artist’s Way, called “Imaginary Lives.” Here’ s a synopsis of the exercise, excerpted from the book:

If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them? I would be a pilot, a cowhand, a physicist, a psychic, a monk . . . Whatever occurs to you, jot it down.

The point of these lives is to have fun in them – more fun than you might be having in this one. Look over your list and select one. Then do it this week. For instance, if you put down country singer, can you pick a guitar? If you dream of being a cowhand, what about some horseback riding?

The question I am asked over and over again when people find out that my job is ending is, “What are you going to do next?” And what they actually mean is this: “Have you found another job yet?” When I reply that I’m not actually looking for a job, that instead, I’ve decided to take some time off, they are baffled. They usually manage: “That’s great – good for you!” But their faces tell a different story: one of confusion, skepticism and – often – envy.

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Of course, “time off,” doesn’t mean lying on the couch binge-watching Netflix or spending every day at the beach. For me, it means taking all the time and energy and creativity that I have invested in working for someone else and instead, channeling that effort into exploring my passions and building a life that I had previously only dreamed of. It means investing more time in this blog and on my writing in general. It means producing a brand new play (that I’m still writing) this summer at Hollywood Fringe Festival. And it means allowing myself the time and space to breathe deeply, to reflect on the hard lessons of the last few years, and perhaps, to try on some of the imaginary lives on my list and see how they fit.

At the end of my week in Kent, I tagged on an extra day in Seattle with no agenda other than to relax and explore. I took a long walk through the city and ended up at the Space Needle, buying a ticket to a museum I’ve wanted to visit since it opened: Chihuly Garden and Glass. The museum and accompanying gardens are not very big, but I lingered there for hours, immersing myself in the color and detail of every piece. Later, while flipping through a catalogue in the museum’s café, I was struck by this quote from the artist:

I discovered my first collection of beach glass on the shores of Puget Sound when I was four or five years old.

I’ve never stopped collecting since.

As a Pacific Northwest kid, I’ve collected my fair share of colorful beach glass. But as I read that quote, I realized that over the course of my life, the things that I’ve been collecting more than anything else are stories. Stories both real and imagined, both my own and other people’s. And now, as I prepare to move forward on to this next, more exploratory phase of my life, stories are the things I’ll continue to collect. They’re what I’ll continue to figure out how to bring forth into the world. And they’re what will inform my next steps, including any of those so-called “imaginary” lives I might decide to try on.

Until next time, friends.

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42 thoughts on “Imaginary Lives.

  1. I really love this. It’s can be so hard to stick to your passions in life, but I’m never satisfied with settling for money either. I hope you keep your creativity flowing and never cash in on a desk job!

  2. That is Agent Carter level of class there Sarah. Shame on you for beating up and bleeding out little womanizing warehouse wimps. You do know I would have gladly paid my Catalytic Converter for a ring side seat just to watch you punch that sucker and laugh as you chased him out of Kent upon his little sister’s Vespa scooter.

    🙂

    • Brock, your comments always make me laugh! The hotelier who hosted the wine event profusely apologized to me after this incident happened. She said she felt like she should have intervened but she also said that it was very clear that I could take care of myself. Haha!

  3. Chihuly is amazing – love his stuff, but I’ve never seen it in ‘real life’.
    Good for you for taking time out – that’s amazing too 🙂

    • Oh my goodness Jesska you must! The art is so much more beautiful in person. Take a trip to the Pacific NW and you can hit both the Museum of Glass in Tacoma (Dale Chihuly’s hometown) and Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle. You won’t be sorry!

      • It’s a long way from Berlin, but I hope I’ll get there one day 🙂 And I’m sure you’re right – the photos are fantastic, but actually being there’s always different

      • You’re right! Berlin is quite far. 😉 I visited your city in the early 2000s and I was absolutely charmed by it. How lucky you are to live there! Well, all I can say is the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. is absolutely beautiful – especially in the summer time – and if you have the opportunity to go, you should!

  4. I need to get a job in the first place. I’m 17 and job less. Sounds surprising??? Well it isn’t. I see places that say that there hiring, i send in an application, and never hear anything back from them. My goal in life is to do what I want to do. I get told that I need to this job or this job, but I just want to do what I want to do.

    • Hi Alex,

      I really empathize. It’s so hard to find a good job at your age. A lot of companies won’t want to hire you because you’re so young, but keep trying! Don’t rely on just submitting applications. Think about places where you want to work and ask if you can speak to the person responsible for hiring. Talk to everyone you know and try to get someone who already has a job to recommend you at their place of work. And never lose sight of your goals! Always keep them first in mind and make sure that everything you do is moving you one step closer to attaining them. I know at 17 you probably don’t feel like you’re very young but you are, so try to have a little patience as you continue to work towards achieving the things you want in this life. Good luck to you!

  5. Another wonderful post. Glad I had already finished next weeks post before I read yours. Writing is my passion, and my dream is to make money doing it. I’m so happy for you to have the opportunity to do it.
    Also, the Chihuly Museum is one of my favorite parts of Seattle. A little pricy to get in, but very worth it.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you Jeff! Agree the Chihuly Museum is a bit pricey, but absolutely stunning and in a great part of the city. I think I lingered long enough to make it worth the cost of admission. Thank you for reading.

  6. This was a phenomenal piece. Honestly, the struggle between creativity and conformity to money is often too frequent in the lives of many people in this generation. Obviously, you want to pay bills however you also want to be able to explore your passions in the same breath. It’s a sucky position to be in, but I envy you for staying true to your passions. I ended up academically dismissed from college due to low grades, left school and began making money and haven’t been able to really do much else since. My passion is my writing but too often I’m surrounded by the judgmental opinions and stares of needing money and not following my “hobbies”. Thanks for sharing your strength! It’s much appreciated.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Jackie. I really empathize with your situation and I’ve been there. Honestly, it took some pretty intense life events including the death of both of my parents four months apart to shake me up and make me realize how short and precious life is. I think figuring out how to do what we love and pay our bills is one of the greatest challenges we face, but don’t give up! Have you ever read the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? If you read it and commit to the basic exercises in the book (morning pages, artists dates) it will change your life. Wishing you well. 💗

  7. Beautiful piece of writing……you have inspired me to try a bit harder myself, and to definitely explore the five other lives to lead within my chronic pain blog to lift spirits. Keep on writing and posting for us!

  8. The way you described yourself.A writer,Marketer and brand strategist resonated with me.The first two are correct.Just graduated with a new small job for a few months so i can’t tell if i will be a brand strategist yet.

    Also,i have been planning to post on money on my blog just today,so what a coincidence that you’re not in it for the money because i am going to cover that.

    my blog is theresonjournal.odipodev.com Have a look now that you’re free.

    Nice read 🙂

  9. Thank you for writing this, I’ve really enjoyed reading it and love the photographs. I love your guts to do something you want to not feel you have to just do something for the money! Good luck x

  10. Amazing. I love this post and can totally relate to it. So glad to hear someone else gets it. Who cares about a big paycheck if you’re spending most of your life wishing you were doing something else?
    I’ve been meaning to read The Artist’s Way and actually thought of it this morning. That quote you took from it reminds me of the car crash scene from Fight Club when Tyler asks the space monkeys what they want to do before they die..
    Best Wishes!
    Lauren

  11. “If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them? I would be a pilot, a cowhand, a physicist, a psychic, a monk . . . Whatever occurs to you, jot it down.

    The point of these lives is to have fun in them – more fun than you might be having in this one. Look over your list and select one. Then do it this week. For instance, if you put down country singer, can you pick a guitar? If you dream of being a cowhand, what about some horseback riding?”

    Magnificent writing! We live our lives unnaturally, we chase the material and forsake nature, discovery, exploration,creativity, design, we forsake the stuff that moves us.

  12. Wow this post resonates with myself so much. I too have had an interesting couple of years and one day found myself at the same exact museum for the first time, contemplating the next chapter in life, and here we are, living that so called “imaginary life”. It is real, if we want it o be so. I am transitioning to Life Coach, how about you? Thanks again for sharing.
    Tika

  13. So glad I found your blog-your essay is captivating and you write with an authenticity that has captured a lot of people. I hit the pause button too, and can identify with people’s reactions. After being in corporate world for a lot of years, some people felt I may have suddenly lost it. I’m heading back to work now after a year off. Best thing I have ever done, and I wish you well on your personal sabbatical.

  14. I enjoyed this piece very much and I could definitely relate to the “it’s not about the money” sentiment. There is not enough money to inspire me creatively or altruistically (!). In a culture that depends upon selling us things that we do not need or want, this is a frightening and sobering concept. I am so glad that I found your blog! DWD

  15. Enjoyed this post and the others I’ve read about the various transitions you’ve recently been faced with in life. I too am adjusting to life changes and “curve balls” as of late. Keep up your wonderful writing! And loved seeing your pics from Seattle (I just visited for the first time last month and loved it).

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