• PHOEBE

On Progress

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

I'm spending the summer in London, my hometown. It has been almost seven years since I left the city for the US, and this trip is the longest period of time I've stayed here since then. Being here has, as they say, got me in my feelings: a mixed-bag emotional maelstrom evoked by happy times with old friends, the upheaval of life lived out of a suitcase, and the real-time poignancy of summer itself.

It's hard to resist bouts of nostalgia - my feelings about London are irrevocably linked to memories of my childhood, teens and early 20s, after all. Following an instinct to seek the throughline that connects the 'me' who left London with the me who's here right now, I've succumbed to rereading journal entries I've stored in the various digital clouds in the intervening years: Brief, sporadic braindumps based loosely on Julia Cameron's Morning Pages exercise, which I scan in search of narratives and patterns, long-forgotten bright ideas and lost trains of thought.

If you've never practiced Morning Pages, I'd highly recommend giving it a try: It's massively therapeutic to start your day by getting all the nonsense in your head out on the page. And even though going back to read old entries in a fit of wistful nostalgia is expressly not the point, it's also fascinating to to able to track your own neuroses (and moments of brilliance!) over time. As you might expect, many of my own dilemmas - especially once I'd moved from LA to New York - were focused on money and work: Am I doing enough? Am I doing it right? What should I being doing next?

When you're self-employed, it can be hard to feel like you're making progress. There's no promotion to earn, no payrise to bag, no annual review to help you assess and reset. On good days, with big wins and exciting meetings, this doesn't present a problem. On bad weeks (or months, and sometimes even years), the lack of clear markers can be immensely demoralising. The professional becomes unavoidably personal, and you are left feeling you only have yourself to blame.

And yet when I look back on the tumultuous trajectory of my own career, I can see that the things that didn't work out were clearly never to supposed to. Many of the projects I tried to execute were, in hindsight, the result of absorbed dogmatic thinking about how things are 'supposed' to develop and grow–even when that vision of success bore no reflection on my own skillset or personal goals.

There's a fine line between intuitively knowing when something isn't right for you vs. giving up at the first sign of adversity. The older I get, the more I trust myself not to cross it. As I attempt to navigate the transition between the 'me' who left London seven years ago, and the me who is moving into a new stage of my life here today, I keep returning to a quote from the German writer Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe:

"When you trust yourself, you will know how to live."

With this in mind, I remember that true progress is simply the process of really getting to know yourself. Of coming back to yourself. Of realising that most of the 'failures' were simply lessons, which taught you how to live.

FURTHER READING

Morning Pages, Julia Cameron Read

Design For Living: What's Great About Goethe? New Yorker Read

The Artist's Way,  Julia Cameron Read