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Free to Choose Everything You Desire

by Tama J. Kieves

The following is a book excerpt from This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love by Tama J. Kieves (reprinted by permission of the author).

“Did you get a real job yet?” my mother asked, right after she’d told me about Mona Rosenthal’s Fortune 500 company and marriage to the plastic surgeon and new button nose. Two thousand miles away, over the phone, I cringed. I felt hot pepper in my blood; tears welled. Why couldn’t my mother look upon my career adventure and say, “You’re doing the right thing, everything will work out, the Force is with you, Luke Skywalker”? Didn’t she know that Joseph Campbell, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, and all the other cool gurus told their minions to “follow your bliss”? Oh, yes, I spent lots of time blaming my unsupportive mother. That way I could avoid acknowledging and dealing with my unsupportive self.

My mother raised questions that I didn’t want to look at. My mother raised questions I couldn’t stop looking at. My mother raised questions that raised the hair on my neck. Her discomfort with my choices amplified and clarified my own hesitation and concern. I already had a wild woman inside insulting every move I made, cackling at my dreams, ripping the dark loaves out of the oven and declaring them half-baked. And rather than admit to having this mad woman inside, I’d just get mad at everybody outside of me who didn’t immediately fall to their knees in admiration. Anything less than admiration seemed like total annihilation to me.

But criticism only strikes a fire when we provide the wood. It’s like Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make me feel inferior without my consent.” It doesn’t matter what someone says to us. It matters that we choose to listen, agree, and seethe. Now my mother might have disparaged my plans, deified the lives of others, and actively chosen not to support my decision to dance blind-folded upon the cliff’s edge—to dance without some parachute, net, or smitten, rich, Jewish doctor husband to catch me in the billowing cushions of his bank account. But no matter what she said or didn’t say, she could not have made me doubt, discredit, or assault myself. That’s my right alone—and privilege. And I did it awfully well.

In fact, I squandered a lot of energy stewing over other people’s opinions of me, and insisting that I’d feel better if only they could see the light. But these days I believe that everyone who unglues me is a “secret doctor” on a special mission from the universe sent to diagnose a self-inflicted ache within my psyche. It’s best not to argue with those “secret doctors” or seek to change their career choices or ability to comprehend your bravery and heroic potential. Wrestle with yourself, if you must, in the privacy of your own mind. Have lunch, dinner, and group therapy with your doubts for as long as it takes to find certainty and harmony within. This can take some time, which is another reason why you’ll want to cut short those heated and depleting debates with others.

Years into my current career, I had an experience that showed me the glory and power of coming to peace with yourself. At a favorite Chinese restaurant, Richard, the high-strung owner from New York City, came by our table to chat.“What you do for work?” he asked, nodding to me. I told him about personal growth writing and creativity coaching, support groups and retreats. His eyes glazed over. “She used to practice law,” piped up my loving companion, eager to uphold my honor. “She graduated from Harvard Law School.” Now Richard stared at me as though I had killed an infant with a butcher knife and had come in gloating over my recreational wantonness. “You no practice law now?” he asked, still staring at me. I tried to shovel in some fried rice so I obviously couldn’t talk and might also look like someone who loved his food and would come back often with lots of rich and hungry friends if only he would walk away and not raise his voice again.

My plan failed. Richard’s eyes bulged as he saw in his mind’s eye the money lawyers effortlessly rake in with their feet up on the desk, as opposed to his fourteen hours a day of sweating oyster sauce and fortune cookies. “What a waste,” he said. “What a waste. How your parents feel? You no practice law now? What a waste.” I was glad he managed to refrain from spitting on me, dragging me through the kitchen’s metal doors and deep frying me, or calling my parents on the spot to address their failure as human beings as well as mine.

Yet, somehow, during this strange scene, I found myself answering Richard’s questions with amusement and ease. I noticed the serenity in my belly, a clear lake with not one ripple to disturb its shining blue face. Somehow, I neither crumpled nor blazed at Richard’s heated sentiments, the very same opinions that might have once sent me wailing into therapy for months. But I’d already had those demons over for tea years ago and we were good friends now. Okay, so not good friends, but not poison enemies either. Richard couldn’t set off a spark in me. I wasn’t giving him any wood. All I could think about was how much I cherished my work life, and how I had never once looked back and wished I’d stayed in the throes of my unsatisfactory legal career. Truly, I just didn’t have a twig to give him.

That was probably one of the most satisfying moments of my life, like replaying a dream and getting the ending just right. I left that restaurant blessing every therapy bill, every Kleenex, and every “secret doctor” that had unnerved me into self-honesty, self-examination, and claiming my own ground. I had at last become invincible in a quiet, beaming sort of way, because I had finally convinced myself of the praiseworthiness of my choices.

And there was no one else left to convince. There never is.

Let people have their opinions, their theories, suggestions, and impressions. Choose not to fight. Live your life.

The lack of self-recrimination answers every irritation.

Tama J. Kieves is an honors graduate of Harvard Law School who left her practice with a large corporate law firm to write and to embolden others to live their most fulfilling lives. The best-selling author of This Time I Dance! Creating the Work Your Love, Tama is a sought-after speaker and career coach who has helped thousands worldwide to discover and live their creative dreams. You can visit her website, www.thistimeidance.com.