It’s a gray November morning and I’m about to learn two important lessons on doing what you love and having guts.
The scene unfolds like this….
On top of the checkered table cloth sits three coffee cups; two creams, one decaf. A glazed apple turnover and a vanilla tart. Three forks; two un-touched, one with maroon lipstick stains.
Three hands hold onto coffee mugs; one warm and rough, one cracked and small, one soft and dainty. The hands of my mother, my grandmother and me.
We sit at a patio in a small “french” cafe having brunch. My grandma pretends we’re somewhere in Europe as the Bachman’s employees water plants around us in the indoor cafe.
This is about as “snooty” as my Northern Minnesotan grandma gets. Still, she eats the corners of the turnover with as much grace as she can muster … that is until she talks and food sprays everywhere.
Grandma is peppering me with pastry dough and questions as she covers the basics: job (when are you going to be rich?), boyfriend (when are you getting married?), apartment (when are you going to buy a house?), books I’ve read (when are you having babies?!).
Some of these questions I take with a heavy grain of salt (I hope to be just as inappropriate when I’m 86), and yet some of them lead to meandering answers full of uncertainty and mild panic.
I find myself trying to explain why work is stressful lately and how I don’t really want to settle down yet and I’m not sure if my boyfriend is “the one” and no, I don’t know what my next career move is and maybe I should travel now while I’m young and — oh crap — I have NOTHING figured out, do I?
Grandma gently puts a hand on my wrist and gives it a few squeezes. She leans in close and then gives me two important pieces of advice….
It was all very simple, really.
Grandma starts matter-of-factly, “Ashley, you always wanted to write a book. Where’s your book? Go write a book! It’s not hard, just sit down and start writing and then get it published.” I try not to inundate her with the sobering statistics of failed writers, and instead take an “okay, grandma” approach.
She then tries to convince me that my mom also wanted to write a book and that we should write one together. (My mom is shaking her head.) I joke saying that we could take turns with each chapter. She feels like that’s been done.
This is my first piece of advice from grandma: Ignore excuses. Do what you love.
Grandma continues, “You can invent something! Your uncle invented many things when he was younger but he never had the guts to do anything about it!” I look at her skeptically. She doesn’t seem to notice.
“You know neon lights? Your uncle was the first to invent neon lights, but he never told anyone and there you go - someone else did it and became rich!”
Again, I take the “okay grandma” approach and let her know that I once had a great idea for a retractable extension cord, until later I found out that you can buy one on Amazon for $29.99.
“See!” she says, “you could have been rich!”
This is my second piece of advice from grandma: Invent something. Have guts.
What struck me most about that coffee date with grandma was the simplicity of everything she said and did. Most of it truly isn’t grounded in reality (it’s really not that easy), but at the same time, what if it was?
Sometimes we can get overwhelmed by seeing all of the obstacles ahead of us. Mostly this is a defense mechanism. It’s also a pain in the ass. You can look at what stands in your way and use it as an excuse to not start, or you can ignore excuses, do what you love, probably fail hard and break through to something beautiful.
We invent things all of the time. Stories, outfits, recipes, processes, drawings, feelings… it’s about making something. What grandma was giving me was an excuse to think big and create fearlessly and to not stop there. Sharing our creations with the world takes guts, but it enables us to share who we are with the world. (And according to grandma … become rich as well.)
So what if we just did what we said we were going to do? I’ll admit, I’m a chronic planner and non-risk-taker. But the frankness and naivety of my grandma’s advice was refreshing. Stop worrying about the game plan, just throw the pitch.
If only it were all as simple as grandma says.
Maybe, sometimes it actually is.