Finding Yourself in Your Parent’s Basement

If you knew your identity (not what you do but who you are), would it give you the strength to make tough decisions, the clarity to focus on what’s important, the determination to persevere?

It did for me.

* * * * *

Eighteen months ago my wife and I stood in the kitchen of our townhouse in Leesburg, Virginia. The stalled economy had plunged my painting business into an abyss of debt. The value of our house had submerged more than $100,000 below the price we had paid for it. And we were facing a long, slow winter, with no work in sight and seemingly no way out.

My identity as “business man,” the façade I had hid behind for so many years, had some major cracks in the foundation. You could smell the dust from the shifting concrete, feel the tremors arriving from some faraway place that would bring it all down.

“We should move into your parent’s basement, dig ourselves out of this hole,” my wife said quietly. “And you should focus on writing.”

* * * * *

Starting over is grueling work, and no place more so than in our society where being established and achieving financial security are virtues rarely questioned. Still, we did it. With the help of a few miracles we got out of our house, passed the business on to someone else and moved back to Pennsylvania. The six of us (my wife, my four kids and me) settled into my parent’s one bedroom, one bath basement.

The first few nights, going to bed on a makeshift mattress in the living room area (we nestled the four kids into the only bedroom), I would lie there and stare at the ceiling.

I’m 32 years old, I thought to myself. This isn’t what I want for my kids, for my wife. Are they destined to remember their father, shake their heads, and whisper to one another when they get older, ‘He just couldn’t figure things out.’

Those were long nights.

* * * * *

Yet even in the midst of what many would consider a tragedy, my identity began to emerge. As I allowed my own false self-perceptions to slip away, I started seeing something.

I started seeing me.

I was writing every day. A few co-writing projects came through. A few freelance projects. Even when we were down to one months worth of income and I started freaking out, my wife just shook her head.

“This is what you’re supposed to be doing. You love it! We’re all happier than ever! Keep going.”

And because I finally knew who I was, it gave me the strength to make tough decisions, the strength to stop looking for “regular” work and to keep writing. For the first time in my life, I was focused. Decisions became clearer. Perseverance was fun.

* * * * *

No matter how long you look, you won’t find your identity in what you do. You’ll only find it in who you are.

Are you willing to let all the masks fall off?

Today’s post comes from my new blogger friend, Shawn Smucker. If you take two minutes to read anything today, read his work. Insightful, faithful and true. He’s the bomb. I’m guest posting for him, so comment here and then skedaddle to his spot and read about being surprised by pain.