The Surprising Benefits of Setting Your Sights Lower
Then, on September 11, the world became drastically unfunny, and lampooning what I saw around me for a living was out of the question. Nobody felt like laughing, anyway. Soon after, my husband's company toppled and he lost his job; I had no work for the immediate future, and we were broke.
My sympathetic sister took me out for a cheer-up lunch. As we lingered over coffee, it became apparent that Mexican seafood and a lazy afternoon weren't going to mend what was wrong with me. In the weeks after the tragedy, a career as a comic actress seemed doomed, and without it I didn't know who I was.
Pulling a beige paper napkin from the dispenser to write on, my sister asked me what I wanted to do. Like a sullen first-grader, I shrugged and mumbled, "Nothing." She asked what I liked to eat. What was this strange curve she was throwing my way? I considered for a moment before answering "Cookies are good, I guess." But I didn't want a career in cookies. If anything, I needed less to do with cookies altogether. She fired off increasingly specific questions: what I like to read, wear, think about when I'm relaxed, and on and on. It was sweet of her to try, so I played along, tossing out answers like "honesty" and "things with fringe," which she promptly took down on the napkin. In the process, I invented fantasies of playing with kittens professionally or getting paid stacks of money to try out sumptuous new spas in breathtaking locations.
A pattern started to take shape: We were uncovering a hidden longing for fun. I know it sounds vague, but it didn't matter. What mattered was the awareness that I had always suppressed any urges that seemed to have nothing to do with my career, and even though my work was comedy, I didn't really let myself have any fun. I'd been busy setting my sights on things like international stardom and couldn't help but be dejected when I didn't get there. I decided on-the-spot that I was going to make myself a necklace.
After I sketched a rough design, my sister turned the napkin over. She asked me what was the smallest, least distressing action I might take in order to start making a necklace. "Well," I began, flustered, "I guess I'd have to find a bead store." She put pen to napkin and wrote: (1) Get out telephone book. (2) Look up beads. Of course, I would have arrived at this eventually, but seeing it written down like that served to quell the anxiety a bit. Instead of straining to see some distant end result, I focused on the easy part that was as reachable as my kitchen drawer. I had just set my sights lower.