I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, And Doggone It, I’m Happy!
by Sivan Butler-Rotholz
I am having a crisis of faith. I am not a religious person, I’m more of a spiritual one. (Don’t you love it when people say that?!) I believe that there is some guiding force, be it fate or nature or what have you. I refer to that guiding force as the universe. I believe the universe has a best possible path for me. I try to pay attention to signs, take advantage of opportunities when they arise, and accept with grace and faith that those things which don’t work occur that way for a reason.
When this is your philosophy, life can be quite breezy to maneuver through, and you can find yourself an eternal optimist. Both of those statements are generally true for me. I have what you might call a “sunny disposition,” and while I try to balance it out with a healthy dose of realism, I am generally optimistic because I trust that everything is unfolding as it should.
This is my theology of sorts. Therefore, when I find myself doubting my abilities or my likelihood of success, I am doubting my own beliefs. And so today I find myself amidst a little crisis of faith.
Nearly a year after leaving behind a career in the law to follow my dreams, taking with me a mountain of student loan debt while signing on for a less financially-secure future, I find myself solidly standing at the foot of life’s next great mountain. I have been accepted into three creative writing MFA programs and still have more decision letters coming. I know I am attending graduate school in the fall, the only question is where.
Pursuing my MFA in creative writing has been my dream for ten years, since graduating with my B.A. in the same. I took a little detour through law school, the California bar exam, and a family law practice. As I am describing it to you, I feel like I am actually playing The Game of Life (ala Milton Bradley). I envision myself a pink peg in a little car, rolling the dice, and riding the board on a side loop before getting back to what had previously been one space ahead of me.
This is not about regret.
Were it not for my student loan debt I would say, Were I to do it all again I wouldn’t change a thing. But chipping away at $140,000 in student loan debt while earning a non-lawyer’s salary is an atrocity of sorts from where I stand, and for that reason alone I admit I wish I hadn’t gone to law school.
But this is not about regret.
I feel absolutely blessed to be where I am today. My legal detour taught me the true value of the creative writing MFA. Much like the hero in Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, I had to stray far from what I knew in order to find that what I was looking for had always been in my own back yard. I am thankful to the universe that my path has brought me here today. I don’t regret a step; I have complete faith that everything is unfolding as it should.
My crisis of faith revolves around the future.
Now that I know I’m going to graduate school, I worry about whether or not I have what it takes to make it as a writer. I worry about what “make it as a writer” even means. I fear that I will not find my niche, my foothold in life’s rocky terrain, and that I will never make enough money, that I will never make a name for myself. I worry about whether my thesis will yield a book of poems good enough to be published, let alone critically-acclaimed. I worry about whether I’ll get a teaching job after I graduate, about the likelihood of having to work several adjunct positions all over the place for years before I get a job that pays well and has job security. I worry about making enough money to be able to make the payments on my law school debt, a sum that will grow slowly but steadily while I am in grad school. (For the record, I am only considering MFA programs that fund or are low-cost so that I do not accumulate additional student loan debt.) I worry that poetry doesn’t matter anyway because there are so few people in modernity who read or care about it.
Mostly what this all boils down to is that I worry that I’m not good enough, not talented enough, not dedicated or hard-working enough. If I’m good enough and hard-working enough I will write the book, be well-received, get the job, and be able to pay the bills.
Now, if I can inhabit my own theology, if I can just actively believe in what I already believe in, I’ll be just fine. Because everything happens for a reason. Doors open and close where and when they should, I just have to be present and move ahead. I have to exercise my faith. To believe I had to make a hard choice and take the harder path in order to achieve real happiness and fulfillment in life. I have to trust blindly that everything will unfold as it should. That it doesn’t matter whether or not I’m a “success” financially, critically, or in anyone’s eyes but my own.
Truthfully, all I want in life is to be happy. Money won’t make me happy, nor will success. Doing what I love makes me happy. And I have to be as accepting of struggling to get by as I am of retiring to a villa in Tuscany, as long as I go to bed with a smile on my face and appreciate that, in whatever form and to whatever degree it manifests itself, I am doing what I love with my life.