The Power of Instinct

One way my husband and I have made the freelance life work for us is using the “divide and conquer” approach to childcare. One of us watches our four kids–or the ones who are at home at the moment–while the other works.

Since I went freelance five years ago, that system has served us pretty well. Neither of us has much “alone” time or “alone together time”– actually, we don’t  have any — but our kids seem very happy. And we don’t face the enormous childcare bills many working couples do.

Sometimes, though, it gets tricky. Last week, my mother’s brother, Terry, passed away. The service was planned for a burial ground almost three hours from my house. My husband and children had never met Terry because of sad circumstances that would take too long to explain here. We decided that I would attend the closed casket funeral with my son, who is two years old, and my husband would stay in New Jersey and pick our three girls up from school. My parents and brother would be coming to the service, so I thought my son would be happy to see them and would not really notice what was going on.

When we got there, cold winds were whipping, and the temperature was dropping. The cemetery was huge, and my mother had arranged for a limousine to drive us to the gravesite. It was warm inside, and, as we waited for the other guests to arrive, I opened the door to sit down with my son.

He usually loves any kind of car or truck, but this time, his reaction to the huge black limousine, driven by a somber looking driver, was instantaneous. He put up a huge fight, started crying and would not stop, until we stepped back out into the cold. A toy truck my father had brought and a pack of Pez I’d tucked away in case of emergencies did not help. There was nothing anyone could do to get him back into the limousine.  I ended up driving to the burial site with my father and brother in my dusty white minivan. The service was short and uplifting, but my usually curious son would not leave the arms of my brother. He kept his head hidden. As we left, he said, “We don’t go to the graveyard.” I didn’t know he would realize where we were, but he’d probably seen a graveyard on a Halloween show.

Clearly, I’d been wrong about how my son would experience the service. He may not have known exactly why we were gathered, but he understood it, on a primal level–and the entire life force inside of him resisted it.

What does this have to do with freelancing? It stuck me, as my son reacted, how much, as adults, we suppress our most basic instincts. Coping with the demands life places on us often requires us to talk ourselves out of how we feel. There’s a positive side to this: Sometimes, it enables us to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and get past inner hurdles. And sometimes, our inner instincts are selfish, and we are better off focusing on the needs of others. But often, doing this can lead us to ignore what we know to be true, to our regret. I can think of a few professional relationships I entered that I knew, on an instinctive level, were best avoided–but talked myself into anyway.

As creative people, we need to keep our inner spark and inspiration alive–and often that means listening to that inner voice. My two-year-old son had no choice but to do this. He hasn’t yet learned the intellectual arguments we use as adults to make ourselves do things that we’d be better off avoiding. I’m going to try to follow his example more often.



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