Back in 1998, one of my favorite musicians was Jewel. She had just released Spirit, a brilliant coffeeshop album, and reflected a lot of what she was going through at the time. That same year, she published A Night Without Armor, which was her first collection of poetry. As a fan of her songwriting, I was thrilled to read it, as she explored the fire of first love, the fading of passion, the lessons of betrayal and the healing of intimacy.
I didn’t know it then, but the reason I resonated with so much of her writing was that I had, and was about to go through, similar life experiences. From the preface of her book, she writes:
“I’ve learned that not all poetry lends itself to music—some thoughts need to be sung against the silence.”
When I was younger, I considered myself an intellectual. The authenticity of Jewel and Henry David Thoreau appealed to me. It’s no coincidence I felt alone during those years as I purposely sought out isolation. I thought if I were different from others, I would find the significance I was looking for. I thought the road less traveled was the right way.
A Night Without Armor
Back in high school, I found myself frequenting the bookstores in downtown Evanston, where I would drink vanilla cappuccinos and write poetry. For some reason when I was there, in the heart of Northwestern University, I felt alive. There were many times I’d walk the streets to take it all in—the city life, the atmosphere of smart people, and everything that came with it.
One cold, winter night, I met a homeless man named Gerald. We talked about his story, and it was amazing. He told me he had been living on the streets for over fifteen years, and he had developed a callousness about it. I didn’t understand what he meant, but then he said something to me I’ll never forget:
“You see, every time I lay down to sleep, it’s like a night without armor.”
He went into detail about the fears and pains he felt being homeless, and how he lost so much—his job, his family, his friends. It was one of the most humbling and incredible conversations I’ve ever had. After our time together, I walked back to the Barnes and Noble bookstore where I hung out, sat down with my cappuccino, and started to write.
A Revelation About Life
I used to think writing poetry was merely therapeutic, and it was just me rambling in literary form. But then I think about my encounter that night with Gerald and the title of Jewel’s book, and it started to make sense. Our lives, at times, tend to feel like a night without armor.
Poetry is the result of vulnerability and unprotectedness—much like Gerald described, and also what Jewel writes about in her book. She used to live in a van. She married and divorced at an early age. She was abused and experienced things as a child that completely devastated her.
You might wonder why I’m sharing all of this with you, and the answer is simple. I have a past, and that past is dark and filled with pain. It did, however, help define who I am and what I became. When I chose to accept (and love) myself for who I was, I also learned that I can use it to create without boundaries and expectations.
“Until we accept and approve of ourselves, no amount of approval from others will keep us permanently secure.” — Joyce Meyer
I don’t know about you, but I tend to let the way others perceive me directly impact the way I see myself. Though, over the last year, that’s been a battle I am beginning to win. After we sold StudioPress to WP Engine last summer, I felt a sense of peace around the transaction. Because that’s what it was—a transaction.
While I still spend some of my time each week with the StudioPress core team—being on strategy calls and working with product development—most of my responsibility lies with the community. That is what I love.
I Did It My Way
Over the last few months, I have experienced a sense of freedom that has allowed me to recalibrate—which means I spend more time in “creative” mode and get to focus on new ideas.
When I decided that becoming a freelancer was going to be my next “thing,” I realized that I was working with an empty canvas and had the opportunity to make everything my own. It was a chance to develop a business without expectations.
I love what Frank Sinatra, in his song “My Way,” says:
“To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh no, no, not me
I did it my way.”
So tell me, friends, what does “My Way” look like in your personal life or what would that mean for your business? How would the freedom to be whoever you want—and to do whatever you want— affect the way you see yourself? Close your eyes and imagine a journey without any expectations.