Why are you so obsessed with me?
When a 2009 song lyric pops in with a memo from the universe
In one of my favorite dharma stories, two monks are walking through the woods when they spot a treacherous river crossing in the distance. A woman is standing at the water’s edge, desperately needing help to reach the other side.
In some tellings, the woman is a leper; in others, elderly and frail; in others still, a concubine. It doesn’t matter which description: these monks are strictly forbidden to look any woman in the eyes, let alone touch one.
What to do? Let her go it alone and possibly drown, or break the rules to help her across?
This Substack started this summer when I reached a river crossing of my own. I had just lost my Favorite (Former) Client, and I didn’t know how to move through the choppy financial waters ahead. I was afraid of drowning, getting pulled under by business currents I could no longer keep up with.
So I started writing again. I wrote to understand what happened, and where I could go next. I wrote to help carry others across the same river of uncertainty and doubt. I wrote to form a new identity that wasn’t so entangled with the big corporate tree that had been licensing the IP from my second book, Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One.
In the introduction, I quote sixth-century BCE Greek philosopher Heraclitus:
“No man ever steps in the same river twice.
For it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
My mantra while writing the book was, “If change is the only constant, let’s get better at it.” I knew things could change at any moment, and I was tired of feeling like I was steering through my career in a leaky raft, getting knocked around by every wave.
After the book generated my first two licensing deals, for seven and a half years, I worried every Christmas that the next contract renewal would be our last. Renewals happened at the end of the year, representing a six-figure paycheck in a single deposit. Beyond that, they also led to a solid handful of speaking engagements each year from internal teams who resonated with the material.
I loved working with these teams. I understood them. I, too, had worked at the company for five and a half years, before striking out on my own in 2011. I knew how to speak their language, and they appreciated me for it. I felt like I was operating in my zone of genius when working with them, and I was grateful to do so from the better-fit container (for me) of self-employment.
I’m a speck of dust in the Former Client’s universe. Meanwhile, they were the sun that my business orbited around, with no complaints. Every engagement, every keynote, every workshop, every phone call was joyful. They paid on time. They didn’t negotiate my rates lower than what I stated. They were prompt with communications, right up until the end when they were going through their own changes and contractions.
When they reach the riverbank, the monks are divided in their course of action. The younger monk sticks to the rules, ignoring the woman as he charges across the river alone. When he turns to look behind him, he is shocked at what he sees.
The elder monk carries the woman across the river, breaking their sacred vows.
He’ll never live this down, the younger thinks.
When the elder monk reaches dry land, the woman thanks him profusely and they part ways. The two monks resume their three-mile journey back to the monastery. The younger broods the entire time, simmering in anger and disappointment.
When the Client announced that we had reached the end of the road in June, my primal survival fears kicked in, alongside identity crisis part deux, parallel to the time I left my full-time role there twelve years earlier.
Where do I go from here? Who am I without them? I had been so warm basking in the glow of their big brand.
Even after I left my full-time job there, I answered thousands of questions over hundreds of podcast interviews about my time at the company. Just this week, two separate hosts suggested this be the focus of our hour-long conversations. Did you know I wrote a third book last year? I mentioned before hitting record. They didn’t. Let’s stick to the script and well-worn stories you’ve been telling for the last decade. 🙄
In the last five months of Rolling in Doh, I have spilled a book’s worth of material—over 50,000 words—rehashing every angle of this inciting incident, searching for insights while awkwardly groping my way forward.
At least until a song lyric popped into my mind last week. It wasn’t on my headphones making actual sound; it was a clairecognizant moment dropped silently—and even playfully—out of nowhere and into my mind, sending a memo. I hummed the tune.
🎵 Cue: Mariah Carey’s “Obsessed” (yes, please hit play to recreate the trilling in my ears):
As I trekked up the hill with Ryder to our usual spot, my Former Client spoke to me through these song lyrics, flipping their luscious highlighted blonde hair around as if they were Mariah clapping back at Eminem.
“I was like, why are you so obsessed with me?
Boy, I wanna know . . .”
I shook my head in recognition, laughing.
Why am I so obsessed with them?
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