Her work spans a period of over 60 years, and her most well-known contributions took place during the 1930s. But, her work is far from dated.
I have been familiar with it for some time, but it didn’t really resonate with me until I found myself in a situation where I was resisting a change that I needed to make.
Suddenly, her words came to me frequently and with stark clarity. They left me alternately shrinking away from and moving toward change, depending on my temperament.
I was in a marriage that I needed to leave, but I had two small children and no reliable income. My dreams had long before withered from neglect, and I wasn’t sure who I was anymore, or what I wanted. I only knew that I didn’t want a slow death of a life. I did what I could to create a liveable life within the context of the one I had. When that failed, I could feel Nin’s words calling to me from nearly a century ago. I saw her quotes everywhere, and they echoed in my heart.
Some changes are difficult to make. From the outside looking in, it seems simple: if we’re unhappy, we should make a change. But the actual mechanics of doing so can be difficult.
Summoning the courage, fortitude, and resilience to change our lives can seem overwhelming. It may be a relationship, a career, or a lifestyle that requires the change. Regardless, turning our lives upside down can carry enormous weight and responsibility.
Reading her words inspired me. I kept hearing, “And one day the risk to remain tight in the bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I heard those words on repeat in my head because I understood them: at a certain point, it became more painful to stay than to leave.
So I offer these words from Anais Nin that, I hope, will inspire you to choose happiness—no matter where you find yourself.
“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”
You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you’re not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I mean Gauguin decided at a certain point he wasn’t a banker anymore; he was a painter. And so he walked away from banking. I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.”
I think the saddest words are “some never awaken.” But it’s true.
Our lives are precious. We often waste so much of them staying when we should go or leaving when we should stay, depending on our circumstances.
We follow society’s unspoken rules of how we should live our lives, and we forget that these lives are ours to live. We can choose to live them in joy, thankful every day for each breath, or we can live them in pain because we opt to live an inauthentic life.
If we’re lucky, something will awaken us, and we will choose to make whatever change is needed to truly live our lives. We can decide to throw off the shackles of a society that dictates who we should be, and choose to be who and what we love.
Believe me when I say—choosing our joy won’t be easy. It wasn’t easy for me to re-imagine my life. It wasn’t easy to start again. But, it was worth it.
I hope, dear reader, that these words give you courage if you need it.
I hope that the road ahead won’t always be so hard. I hope these words reach out and brush a soothing hand across your soul, the way they once did for me.