shelf life

My career as a dilettante, though I prefer the word “flibbertigibbet,” began in earnest in second grade.

I hated Brownies. It was dumb, stupid, boring, retarded (sorry, PC wasn’t invented yet):  who the heck wanted want to sit around in an ugly brown beanie, eating third-rate cookies while making flowers out of tissue paper and writing things like, “How are you? I am fine. What is your favorite color?” to pen pals in Sri Lanka?

My dad, trying desperately to save me from a fate he wisely feared would befall me, said, ”Molly, winners never quit and quitters never win.”  

I quit, however,  and never looked back, which unfortunately set the tone for a stream of childhood fancies that I tried and quit – guitar came next, along with a brief flirtation with the kazoo (don’t ask), horseback riding, diving, softball, baking, cleaning my room, ice skating, getting straight A’s – all these and more were notions that just never took hold.

It wasn’t until I hit college that my lack of stick-to-it-iveness (sic) or lack of driving, long-term passion, began to bother me. What on earth was I going to be when I got out of school? How could I focus on one thing when so many interests called to me, like sirens driving me mad with indecision?

After graduation, in lieu of making an actual decision, I took a teaching position in Marseille, France for a year. And that’s when it happened, that tiny whisper in my brain like an insidious stream of smoke from the hundreds of cigarettes I smoked in café s that year, telling me to hurry, that time was running out, that potential has a shelf life.

Needless to say, depression and existential angst set in. Sitting in a French café is, of course, well-documented as the best kind of locale in which to experience existential angst, but there’s nothing erudite or poetic about it. It pretty much sucks knowing you’re headed for failure because you simply cannot make up your mind about what you want to be.  And you’re only 22.

After returning, I got a job as a reporter in DC– I had a direction, but still I heard that voice telling me I wasn’t BEING enough. So I took up Spanish, I volunteered in a reading program for higher-achieving inner-city kids, I partied and dated with abandon, I took a drawing class, I exercised too much and ate too little. Nothing really gave me joy or flipped my switch because I did everything out of a looming sense of imminent failure.  I believed whole-heartedly that what we do defines who we are, and my resume was seriously lacking.

So my 20’s pretty much sucked .  The shelf life  mantra was a Damacles sword that dangled ominously over everything I did or didn’t do. 

My 30’s were so dominated by raising children that I ignored that evil little voice for pretty much the entire decade. When I had time to start listening again about five years ago, what I found in its place was a kinder, gentler voice, one that had perhaps been there all along, “Potential doesn’t have a shelf-life,” it said softly, but with force.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t really ready to believe it. I continued to berate myself for taking up and dropping painting several times, making and not making jewelry several times, starting and dropping yoga, etc.

Then, about three years ago, my sister-in-law invited me to go to a group reading given by a well-known local psychic.  I wasn’t a “true believer,” but I was incredibly intrigued.

Towards the end of the evening, after readings that seemed pretty pedestrian — ”Will I get a new job soon?” "Yes…I see the number nine…it could be in 9 days or the 9th day of the month.";  “Is my dead husband near me?” "Yes, he’s in the room and asks if you’d please get the oil changed in the car.  He’s worried about the engine." — my time came. I asked her my question:

“I feel like I’ve been underwater,” I said, ”raising my babies and then small kids, and for the first time in my life, really, I feel like I’m ready to take on the world, try new things. But I’m afraid if I really go for it, my husband and children will be left behind.” 

She closed her eyes, and after conferring with my “guide” for a moment, she said something that put chills down my spine. “In your past life, you were a woman who couldn’t have children, so in this one you had to completely immerse yourself in them. You’ve paid that karmic debt now – I see you coming up for air —  and you are free to live this life.” She opened her eyes and looked at me, “And this is a life of exploration, experimentation and adventure for you. You have a great deal of power and you can do absolutely anything you set your mind to.”

Holy crap. If she was a shyster, she knew exactly how to get me, right in the solar plexus.  But I’m telling you, no one else’s reading that night came close to mine in magnitude, beauty and sheer, okay, I’ll say it – potential.

Regardless of that reading, today I really, truly know something about myself, something I chafed against, but now I love and accept wholeheartedly: 

I flit. I float. I’m not even slightly afraid to dive in deeply or stay in the shallows, but if the water is too cold or the other swimmers too boring, I look for another pool. It’s how I’m built and how I will always be. It’s not a weakness, not a failure. It’s a strength, this ability of mine to go where others may fear to tread because they might not be successful at something.  If I’m terrible at it and I really don’t like it, I quit. Sometimes I come back later…if I want…if I feel like it. Because I am NOT defined by what I do or don’t do.   I am defined by me. I make my own rules.  I have no "sell by" or "use by" date, and I refuse to be taken off the shelf before I’m totally used up.

Now, I wonder where that brown beanie got to?


21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mollykelash
    May 21, 2010 @ 19:27:52

    Okay, the posts are getting a bit longer — I hope to nip that trend in the bud!


  2. Mix Creative
    May 21, 2010 @ 20:32:19

    Thanks for another fun post…and don’t make them shorter; this is just the right length for this type of story! You have a great storytelling style (very Elizabeth Gilbert-ish).

    In my family, we refer to your flit/float syndrome as being a “serial hobbyist”. My father has it, and I believe I inherited it from him: we dive in passionately to a new hobby, only to burn out when we’ve explored/indulged the poor pastime to its limit.

    The advantages to being a serial hobbyist: you nearly always can add something to party conversations (“Oh! Neuroscience…yes, I studied that in Grad school.” “I, too, had a Spanish language partner…”). Plus, my husband says it keeps the marriage fresh to have an ever-changing spouse.

    These days I’m more aware of my, er, condition and have learned to wade in slowly to new passions, and to find the mini new events within a hobby to keep it fresh.


    • mollykelash
      May 22, 2010 @ 16:39:52

      I like the serial-hobbyist moniker. I think I’ll use it, if that’s okay! And I’m with you on it making one a good party conversationalist and interesting spouse. The funny thing is, my spouse is the exact opposite — same hobbies and interests as when we met. Opposites attract, I guess!


  3. Dean
    May 21, 2010 @ 20:45:50

    Molly–another great piece (and not too long–be kind to yourself, inner critic)! We must have been separated at birth (a terrifying thought no doubt for you let alone your parents).

    I’ve spent decades trying to come to grips with stick-to-it-tiveness, sampling the news biz, PR, guitar, piano, sports, blogging, photography, TV broadcasting, environmentalism, grad school, thoughts of more grad school, etc.

    Even today I say to myself wait until the dust clears from Sara’s Bat Mitzvah this weekend (prepping for it has put the rest of life on hold for months!) so I can refocus on a list of things I want to do, careers I want to explore, etc.

    You’ve come to terms with it all better than me–thanks for giving me hope that I can do the same.

    Hey, I realize, this reply is way, way too long! Sorry.


    • mollykelash
      May 22, 2010 @ 16:35:51

      Dude, I think my parents would have been pleased to have such a son! 😉 You ARE just like me, esp the whole “to grad school or not to grad school” thing. Coming from an over-educated such as mine has made me feel a little naked without a graduate degree….But, what would I do with it? By the time I was done, I would have potentially lost interest in the area of study anyway and there goes THOUSANDS of dollars that should have been spent on kids’ college educations….see, I’ve thought this through! 😉


  4. LoAnn
    May 21, 2010 @ 21:32:48

    Great post Mollie, I find myself nodding at certain things you say, agreeing, talking to myself. Loving it alot. Thanks.


    • mollykelash
      May 22, 2010 @ 16:32:03

      I am SO glad you love it! I hope I can sustain this new passion of mine…at this point, I have more ideas to write about than time, so hopefully it will continue!


  5. Mary Bock
    May 21, 2010 @ 23:08:46

    Thank you, Molly, for putting it in words. I’m going to give myself a hug (or two).


  6. Ellen Shriner
    May 22, 2010 @ 14:06:56


    I’ve enjoyed seeing what you’re doing with this blog–good insights, great stories–exactly what I want from a personal essay, which is what I consider a good blog to be.

    At 55, I still wish I knew what I wanted to be. So I very much identify with the theme of Shelf Life, and like you, I’ve been and tried a lot of things and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon!


    • mollykelash
      May 22, 2010 @ 16:30:22

      Thanks, Ellen! I’m just pleased that you’ve been willing to take the time to read my long entries. It means a lot when other writers actually like what I’m doing 🙂 And keep on trying new things!


  7. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    May 23, 2010 @ 00:51:53

    Phew, thank heavens you redefined potential. I think potential just gets better over time for us experimenters and writers. Now all our experience partying, smoking, travelling, mummying and whatever else it was we were doing can be woven into fab tales like this one.

    PS. I must have been the same woman as you in the past life too.

    PPS. Just make sure you don’t quit blogging!


    • mollykelash
      May 23, 2010 @ 17:13:47

      You were there during that year — there were a lot of fun times, too, plus we had all that incredible freedom, to navel gaze, travel, do whatever. Glad you were there to make it more fun!


  8. Ellie Rogers
    May 23, 2010 @ 16:21:19

    Love it.


  9. Angie
    May 24, 2010 @ 14:39:16

    So funny! You’re such a gifted writer… Have you thought about writing a book? Then, maybe a movie will come of it. Julia Roberts could play you. 🙂


  10. Lars
    May 27, 2010 @ 16:45:12

    I disagree. Your deeds and doings do define you. Alliteration much? Just because it is not always the same deed, it doesn’t negate the action and what you gain from it. Your deeds & doings are what you gain from them and become you. Others may not see it to define you , but you are defining yourself through them.


    • molly kelash
      May 27, 2010 @ 17:33:51

      That’s definitely one way of looking at it, Lars, and I actually agree. The point I was trying to make was a little different in that that I’ve finally learned that what I do — the length of my resume, if you will — doesn’t make me a more or less worthwhile or important person. My VALUE as a human being is not defined by what I do for a living or through my hobbies, in other words. But as you say, I am DEFINITELY shaped by the things I choose to do…like going to PARIS in 8 weeks, baby!


  11. Fuzz
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 14:09:56

    You mean I’m NOT broken??

    Very enjoyable read, Molly. Eerily similar story to my own. I have a twin blog to this which I have left up on my home page. I would be chuffed if you read it!

    Be reading you . . .


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