When I was 14, I read piles of religious books about waiting. In youthful awe, I devoured chapters on the virtues of waiting for your first kiss, waiting until you’re mature enough to get your ears pierced, waiting until your wedding night to have sex for the first time. Waiting, I determined, would let me create perfect moments. Memories untarnished by anything risky, or awkward, or wanting.
And so, I waited.
At 21, I married the first boy I’d ever kissed. In a perfect dress, in the perfect way. And then I kept on waiting.
I waited to take my writing work seriously with the hope that one day I’d have a perfect team of admiring editors to support me. I waited to travel with the hope that one day I’d magically transcend my sweaty, clammy fear of flying and float through terminals like a poised Grace Kelly. I waited to try yoga with the hope that one day I’d show up to my first class with toned arms and a flat stomach. I waited to speak up about the things that mattered to me, with the hope that one day I’d have a posse of grounded-but-totally-visionary allies to have my back.
When I was 29, I got a call that changed everything. My dad had died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack.
You might be thinking that this is the moment in the story where I have an epiphany about living life to its fullest and doing what my dad would have wanted. But, this is not that moment.
This is the moment where I panic. Where I stop being able to swallow solid food for weeks. Where I spray paint an entire wall of my house with a giant, blue Kurt Vonnegut quote. Where I drink from a bottle of Mount Gay while crying inside my closet only hours before guests are expected for Thanksgiving.
And, this is the moment where I start to give up on waiting. Where I embrace the perfectly imperfect moments that come from taking risks. Because these are often the only moments we get.
So, I travel the world despite the fact that I’m petrified of flying and have put on a few pounds. I take tango lessons in Buenos Aires, eat pastries in Paris, spend an afternoon with elephants in Thailand, and hike to a Hindu temple in Malaysia. I start riding my bike to a quirky yoga place, even though I’m awkward and make an art of falling from poses. I find a mentor for my writing work, someone who encourages me to take myself more seriously. I march for equal rights in the Salt Lake City pride parade. These vulnerable moments begin to add up to something that feels a little bit extraordinary.
As I step outside of my comfort zone, anxiety becomes my constant companion. In these imperfect moments, anxiety is not the fearsome, all-consuming black hole I’d imagined. Anxiety is the grumpy (strangely limbless) cat that floats beside me. I acknowledge it and then try to leave it be. I can’t force it away, but I can stop agitating it. “Stop poking the grumpy cat,” I tell myself. “Just let him float along.”
I begin to open up to friends. I start telling them “I love you” even though this feels weird and unexpectedly terrifying. They share their own stories of giving up on waiting. And I realize that I have never been alone in this.
With other women, I realize that we’ve postponed our lives far too often. We’ve been misled by the philosophy that in order to do what we want to do, we have to already be who we want to be. And look how we want to look. Together, we mourn the missed opportunities, adventures and connections that have come from this endless waiting.
I began living when I gave up on the idea that I could demand perfect moments from the universe.
Radiant moments? Thrilling moments? Meaningful moments? Yes. But, not perfect moments.
It’s not a one-time decision. Every day, I have to decide again that I will stop waiting. That I will take risks, even if the results are messy.
Faced with another wave of grief, with the stresses of the day, or with concerns about the future, I often fail to make the right choice. I slip back into waiting and hoping from the sidelines that things will get better. But, there’s really no such thing as “falling off the wagon” when it comes to creating an extraordinary life. It only takes a second to decide to get back into the arena and start doing the things that scare you. To begin creating imperfect moments with the imperfect people you love.
Life is scarier, messier and more out-of-control than I’d like. But, deciding to stop waiting has given me radiant, breathtaking moments that are assembling themselves into something much more than I ever could have scheduled.