• 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.

    • You have to follow your heart and do what you love, otherwise you’ll be working in a law firm, with your loan all paid off, miserable, and then one day someone will steal your stapler and you’ll have to burn down the building.

      Be a broke writer and be happy!

      • Judy

      • March 30, 2011 at 8:38 am
      • Reply

      Nice column! I was thinking the other day that the best thing about my life, aside from having my daughter, was having had work I loved. You’ll manage the inevitable doubts. You already are. Do what you love. And three! I want to know which.

    • I agree with Hollye. You will go postal if you don’t follow your dream. As my Mom would say you can always fall back on the law if needed but I am secure you won’t need to. I have always followed my dreams and I love where it is has taken me. Live modestly and spend little until you feel secure and then go forward well prepared. I know you will succeed.

      • Sivan

      • March 30, 2011 at 12:08 pm
      • Reply

      Thanks ladies! You’re all right, I know it. And I know in my heart of hearts I will never practice law again. I would go postal. Spot on.

        • Spring

        • April 7, 2011 at 8:10 am
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        I love you so much sweetheart. You are one the most self accepting and strong individuals I know. You are going to do great because you are following what you love and want to do not something that someone is heavily suggesting you should do. I will be the first in line to buy whatever you write!

      • Laura

      • March 30, 2011 at 1:28 pm
      • Reply

      Congratulations on getting into several programs, Sivan! From where I’m sitting, you’re a woman who is achieving her dreams. Just a couple years ago you were on the other side of the country practicing law. Now you’re living in NY and writing. Not bad. I think a little self doubt comes with the territory when you are shooting for the stars. But your attitude is healthy and I have no doubt you will succeed (whatever that ends up meaning). <3

        • Sivan

        • March 30, 2011 at 1:54 pm
        • Reply

        Thanks Laura! Here here!

      • Maya Elashi

      • March 30, 2011 at 2:48 pm
      • Reply

      many have said it, but I like Bobby McFerrin singing it most of all: DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!
      I am happy to hear you already know the answers to your challenges … Trust yourself, The G-d/d-ss does!

      • Jesse

      • March 30, 2011 at 6:26 pm
      • Reply

      Be happy about the three programs. I know that you researched choices, applied where you are interested, and have the mettle that any program would be happy to have. I see it as your Aloha moment! Good times! JL

      • Mitchell Sommers

      • March 30, 2011 at 7:43 pm
      • Reply

      Congrats on the three programs you got admitted to, Sivan. You’ll do great.

      As far as law school and the loans, I don’t think I’d recommend to anyone that they go to law school, or take out debt to do it, unless they were absolutely, positively sure they wanted to practice law and even then I’d tell them think it through, again and again. Starting salaries suck at all but the tippy top of the profession, jobs are scarce, and it can be a brutalizing way to earn a living. I don’t regret my law school education one bit, and I’ve built up a decent practice, but were I your age, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t travel down that road.

      I realize I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but for anyone reading this, hear my words: Don’t. Go. To. Law. School.

      But having said that, since you went ahead and paid for the education, be grateful that you have it. The knowledge and the critical thinking skills will always serve you well.

    • EXCELLENT! And, don’t look now, but… you already ARE a writer!

      • Lezlie

      • March 30, 2011 at 10:26 pm
      • Reply

      Sivan – pretty sure you have nothing to worry about. You’re a brilliant poet and the money’s not real anyway. <3

      • David Lacy

      • March 30, 2011 at 10:38 pm
      • Reply

      I love this column and feel you are making absolutely the right decision. It can be weird to say it aloud but it’s already true … you ARE a writer —

      and it will be even cooler to see the type of writer you continue to evolve into.

      One day you’ll have several collections of work published and be teaching creative writing somewhere and I’ll ask you if you remember us little people. If you answer in the negatory I’ll be pissed.

      • Nancy W

      • March 31, 2011 at 6:52 am
      • Reply

      So proud of you Sivan! We’ll be looking for your first published book of poetry and know you’ll go far. Keep us posted as to what school you decide on. I can see your smile in Michigan!

      • Hecubus

      • March 31, 2011 at 12:13 pm
      • Reply

      “That it doesn’t matter whether or not I’m a “success” financially, critically, or in anyone’s eyes but my own.”

      This is so true.

      I believe that if life isn’t scaring you at least a little then you are doing it wrong. The important thing is to keep the fear in its place and don’t let it influence your decisions.

      The mountain is tall but it all starts with the first step…then the next. And the next. Anyone who has ever read your poetry has no doubt that you will be great in your MFA program and beyond.

      • Sherlie Magers

      • April 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm
      • Reply

      Hi Sivan nice to meet you. Sounds to me like you are “sooo” there! One of the hardest lessons we learn (if we are lucky) is for us to trust ourselves. You are questioning yourself, and that is smart. Ahhh…to trust that you are good enough is a dubious goal…Congrats! Hat is off to you!

      • Sivan

      • April 5, 2011 at 8:43 am
      • Reply

      Wow, I am honored and thrilled about all the comments here! THANK YOU ALL FOR BEING PART OF THE DISCUSSION!!! That’s what iPinion is all about! You’ve made me smile and laugh, think and reflect, and helped me remember to trust myself. You are simply amazing readers to interact with, and wonderful friends!

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