Joyful Receiving

When I was younger, I used to think that grown up life was about long periods of stability punctuated by moments of transition (and eating cake for breakfast). As a child of the 1970s (and with all of my white and middle-class privileges), I saw the adults in my life working steadily at a single job for years, advancing up corporate ladders that ended with pension plans.

And then, of course, came the neoliberal revolution, which upended any and all assumptions about job stability and the nature of work. As neoliberalism increased its stranglehold on political and economic discourse, freedom began to mean the freedom to sell labor on the market to the highest possible bidder. Traditional jobs took a backseat to the precarious gig economy. Stability became a pipe dream of the past. We had suddenly achieved the highest expression of human freedom and could all be Uber drivers and Task Rabbits, as well as adjuncts and other precarious academic-adjacent entrepreneurs. Freedom never smelled so good and yet felt so insecure.

But I digress. 

I’m in transition again. Or perhaps I just never left. I’m now convinced that life is mostly about transition with a few fleeting oases of stability in between.

The last time I got a new job in the field of victim services, I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing. Nothing seemed to click or resonate. I felt out of place and misunderstood. The transition felt like yet another romp through the five stages of grief. (Omg I’m so tired of my feeeeeelings.) Ultimately, that job and I didn’t end up being a good fit, both for reasons of culture and the fact that I started feeling like an agent of oppressive and coercive systems. I don’t, however, think of it as a mistake or a wrong turn. I gained some really valuable skills, all of which have made me not just a better job candidate, but a better person as well. Working in victim advocacy added several skills to my resume, including an ability to sit with people on the sacred ground of the darkest moments of their lives. (Let no one ever again try to tell me that PhDs don’t have “people skills.”)

 In November of last year, in the middle of persistent feelings that I was not living my best life, I decided that I was going to be self-employed for real. I had no backup plan or Plan B. I jumped out of the plane without so much as a parachute, making a huge Flying Leap. I threw myself headlong into figuring out how to run and grow a business in ways that brought me joy. I experimented with different services, branded and rebranded myself and my business, hired a business coach, and met the most wonderful and amazing people in the process. I made more money in my business than I ever had. My feelings of desperation receded as I succeeded, though success felt unfamiliar and not entirely comfortable.

This year, as I wrote about here, I started wondering if I had to give up entirely on academia, to let it go rather than continue to chase after it in desperate Wuthering Heights unrequited love kind of way. I felt like a pseudo-academic, narrowly hanging on to the fringes of academia hoping that someone would notice that I still had ideas and work that mattered. What if, I mused, I let go completely of academia? What if I made a complete career change that no longer involved academia in any way? The idea scared me, but I became convinced that I had let go to move forward into the next evolution of myself. Because I’m me, I didn’t let go without a whole lot of kicking and screaming and buckets of resistance. But I eventually reached some acceptance and felt sure of my next steps. I was walking away and this time, I wasn’t looking back. I had just lit a match and was getting ready to flick it nonchalantly over my shoulder.

It was, predictably, in this precise moment that the universe delivered a new job straight out of the sky that fell into my lap like a wartime airdrop but with greater accuracy. I was confused. Hadn’t I just decided to walk away for good? Were my hands not empty? Furious, I hollered at the universe, “Why now? Where was this job years ago when I desperately wanted it?” I shook my fist at the universe in a dramatic old-lady kind of way. The universe, in its infinite wisdom, did not reply.

I think now I understand. My spirit had to be willing to let go completely to bring something greater into my life. The universe could not and would not deliver an opportunity to me as long as I felt desperate, powerless, and wallowed in learned helplessness.

 In February of 2018, I’d written a vision statement for the year. In part, it read:

 “I'm designing creative cultural and critical thinking experiences for curious people. I've taken a big risk and am doing work that only I could do. I've let go of academic editing and academia in general. I'm standing on my own and living my best and most creative, vibrant, abundant life filled with love, money, and creativity. I'm connecting with people and sharing my knowledge and love of Latin American history with them in ways that are engaging, creative, fun, and profitable, including teaching, speaking, writing, and travel.”  

In March, I’d written a blog post in which I’d reimagined my new non-academic life. I’d decided that my job title should be Director of Creative Cultural Inquiry and Critical Thinking Experiences. I didn’t know at the time what that might mean and I still don’t quite know. But something about it resonated with me, so I wrote it down. The job title became like the flashing light of a lighthouse in the dark. A lot of times in my business, I wasn’t quite sure where I was going. But seeing the flashing light felt comforting. I knew where I was headed, even if I couldn’t quite see it through thick fog, rough waves, and violent storms. I knew that the flashing light would lead me towards a safe entry into an unknown harbor. Believing in that flashing light became an act of faith.

Fast forward a few months later and I have a new job as the director of a study abroad program in Mérida, Yucatán. This job is a first for me in many ways, but feels so aligned and matches my skills, knowledge, and work style almost perfectly. Right now I’m on the learning curve and have more than a few moments where I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, but I know I’m going to be not just good at this, but actually really great. I feel like I’m going to be challenged and grow in some new ways. And I’m thrilled.

I am quite convinced that this rather sudden turn of events occurred when it did because of the internal work I’ve been doing around becoming a joyful receiver. I’m a tremendously good giver and love giving to people and causes I believe in. However, I have often been a less than joyful receiver. Receiving gifts in the form of love, money, success, or abundance makes me feel vulnerable, uncomfortable, and seems sends a secret signal to every single personal gremlin I’ve ever struggled with. When receiving a gift, the gremlins sidle up next to me, demanding to know who the hell I think I am to have X thing. As I’ve written about, success (and other goodness like joy and love and money) can feel so unfamiliar that the minute we (I) have it, we’re (I’m) throwing it out the window like a hot potato.

I’m working on becoming a joyful receiver. When I receive, I use the following mantra: “I gratefully and joyfully receive X thing into my life. I deserve X thing and it’s okay for me to have it.” I’m practicing being mindful when good things in life make me uncomfortable and sitting with those feelings instead of doing my best to divest myself of X thing before I get too used to having it.

Works in progress.

In the meantime, here are some changes to my current business offerings.

Shut Up and Write

I can’t even tell you how much joy I’ve received from hosting Shut Up and Write sessions. I’ve absolutely loved growing a community of people who come together once a week to write for an hour. I’m delighted to celebrate people’s successes and hear about their triumphs. I am, however, going to have to change the time, as I’ll be at my new job. I’m thinking about either a very early morning session or perhaps an evening session. I’m also considering hosting an early morning session and an evening session on alternating weeks. I’m so committed to the idea of continuing to host Shut Up and Write because it absolutely works to help people get writing done. Stay tuned.


I’m really happy to tell you that I’m still doing my online writing retreat! This is absolutely the way I want to show up in my business right now and the thing that’s bringing me the most joy. The last time I hosted it, people got so much out of it that they asked if I could be a monthly offering. I’m delighted to tell you that I’ve figured out how to do that. Inspired is now not only being held monthly, but also as both a one-time deal and as a subscription. 

So here’s the new deal:

I’ve figured out the dates for Inspired for the rest of the year. I’ll be hosting it once a month. Here’s the upcoming dates:

August 18, 2018
September 15, 2018
October 13, 2018
November 17, 2018
December 15, 2018

Here’s how it’s going to work:

You can either sign up to be a one-time participant for $47 OR as an ongoing subscribing member for $40/month.

What do you get out of Inspired?

I have, of course, written a blog post about how great my online writing retreats are, but in case you’d forgotten, here’s a quick list of what you get.

You get to make a serious commitment to your writing so you can do your best work.
Structured time to work on your writing, with snack and lunch breaks (as always).
A great community of people to help you through the rough patches.
All-day writing support and constant cheering from me. 
You make serious progress on your writing project.

And seriously, this thing works. I’ve had many people tell me that they get more writing done during one day of my online retreat than they have in months. I’d love for you to be a part of this great community and help you get your writing out of your head and into the world.

Register here: