In May of 2019, I had just quit my 9-5 job in order to work for myself. It was the biggest leap of faith I had taken at that time, and I woke up in a panic during the first few weeks afterward. “What have I done?” and “I wonder if I can get my old job back?” and “What happens if I fail?” were among some of the thoughts that assailed me when I was spiraling into the Sunken Place.
My entire life I have found comfort in reading, so I threw myself ever more into self-help books and memoirs of people whom I admired. I would go to a cafe in Austin called Patika nearly every day, like it was my job, and read those books and write down notes in my journal. Reading Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, You are a a Badass by Jen Sincero, and How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, brought a sense of peace among the chaos that was my life at that time.
These successful individuals did so well on their own terms, they actually wrote books teaching others how to do it! I knew I was in good company, but as soon as I closed the books, the sense of impending doom hung heavy about my shoulders.
Life has a funny (not like funny ha-ha, more like curious funny) way of sending just the right person at just the right time, who says just the right thing.
One day at Patika, I happened to sit next to a beautiful woman, who was glowing from the inside out. She was journaling, and I felt like I had to say something to her. “Are you writing in your journal?” I asked, ever the Captain Obvious.
“Yes,” She replied, “I do this every day just to get my thoughts out.” She had a depth of presence that I so enjoy finding among people. She didn’t seem annoyed that I had interrupted her; instead she held my gaze, as if sensing I wished to learn something from her (though I knew not what.)
“That’s so cool,” I said, “I write in my journal too. I’m reading a book that says its a great way to stay grounded.” I was unsurprised when the woman told me she, too, had read that book.
“What are you reading now?” I asked her, and her answer started me on a new chapter in my life.
“I’m not reading anything. About a year ago, I decided it was time to stop learning and start doing.” I was speechless – this was a concept I had not yet considered. Stop learning? It seemed impossible, and counter-productive.
Luckily, the woman said more. “I feel like the self-help books are wonderful, but they say the same things in different ways. At some point, you have to move beyond reading the things you know, over and over again, and start putting them into practice.”
Our conversation ended shortly after that, and though I did see her at Patika a few times again (I learned, unsurprisingly, that she is a life coach,) I only remember that her name is Sylvia, and that she was beautiful inside and out.
Now it’s September of 2020, almost a year and a half since that unexpected encounter. I took Sylvia’s words to heart, and I did what was for me at the time, a brave and scary thing: I took a break from reading so much, curbed my dependence on books, and turned my attention toward the real world. I began to practice what I had spent so much time learning.
It was in the practice that I became more confident in my abilities, and in my higher power. It was in the doing that I wired in new ways of living, happier ways of living.
It is not enough to read about confidence, growth, and transformation – one actually has to throw oneself into the kiln of change, and feel the fire, in order to become, and become again, and become again, a better version of themselves.
I am currently reading three or four books – I guess reading is something I may not ever put down completely. But Sylvia’s lesson I did not forget: I make sure to balance my readings with actions, and not to depend only on written words to find security and comfort. It is my intention to find harmony between attaining knowledge and practicing it. I feel like for me, that balance is not 50/50; I feel like practice should overtake learning, because practice means living, and learning can take us away from life.
I read a beautiful thing that helps me sum up this concept. It is known as the Perennial Philosophy, coined by Aldous Huxley. Perennial means, “lasting or existing for a long and apparently infinite time,” and this philosophy is called Perennial because it is echoed in every point of civilization.
Here it goes: “1) There is an infinite, changeless reality beneath the world of change; 2) this same reality lies at the core of every human personality; 3) the purpose of life is to discover this reality experientially: that is, to realize God while here on earth.”
It is the third bit, “the purpose of our life here on earth is to discover this reality” through our experience of life, that Sylvia was saying all those months ago. She had learned so much from reading, but told me there comes a time to start practicing and experiencing what I believed to be true.
You see, believing something is one thing; knowing it is another. I now know – though sometimes I forget – that life is good. Because I took the chance of putting all those pretty ideas about goodness, trusting, having faith, and doing my best, to the test in my own life – not just in my mind – I know for a fact that they are true. And I get to keep knowing, because by some grace beyond my understanding, I keep waking up every day and get to live again.
Do you find it hard to stop learning and start practicing? Do you, like me, find comfort in learning things, and find it a little scary to experience those lessons in the real world? Let me know in the comments.
Thanks for the experience,