All posts tagged Change

Lists. Choices. Decisions. Oh My!

I  am making a list and making it more than once. Maybe more times than that. In fact I think I’ll split the one list into two or three lists because the decision facing me is bigger than one list can handle.  I’m making these lists to help me answer the question: which way do I go?

“Asking the right question is half the answer.” Aristotle said. So perhaps this isn’t the only way to pose the question. And if one believes the adage, “there is more than one way to skin a cat,” there may be more than one right answer.

Therefore, I’m making multiple lists to help me answer this question: Given the choices presented to me, the opportunities unexplored but in my sight, the options that are still partially formed dreams, and my talents, desires and needs – how do I do “what’s next?”

Bottom line: I’ve been working on my reinvention from a corporate advertising executive to a writer/essayist/storyteller/multi-media person of words for several years. After my one and only layoff I took a year off from looking for jobs because it was pre-recession and the seemed right to take a break, to assess where I had been and make some adjustments for where I was going. Assuming I would live into my 100s I had another half-life to live and I wanted to live it purposefully. Even with that faulty assumption, I wanted to live more in-line with personal objectives.

Post-recession I half-heartedly looked for corporate jobs and non-profit opportunities. Nothing I found made my heart pitter-patter. More often my gut clenched when I read the job description and envisioned the lifestyle that accompanied it.  So I took a part-time job teaching graduate school, a couple consulting jobs and I went back to school. I love school. It has always been a good default for me when I’m not sure what to do.

After receiving a certificate in creative non-fiction I decided to focus on being a writer. One writes to be a writer. But to be a writer that is read and shared takes a lot more than just writing.

I had moonlighted as a writer while working a full-time job in the last century. That makes it sound so long ago, and while that’s true, it feels like just yesterday when the sight of my column in the Sunday paper or the sound of my voice on the public radio station made me fall in love with my creativity each and every time. Not fall in love with me, but with an essence of me that loved being out in the open – fully voiced, fully exercised, and eager for more. I felt alive like I hadn’t felt doing research on salad dressing or writing creative briefs for air freshener.

So I made a deal with an angel and stopped looking for corporate jobs, resolved myself to working for less than waitress wages while teaching at a premiere college because it gave me prestige, validation, a business card and something to talk about at cocktail parties. Nothing shuts down a conversation more than when you tell someone you’re a writer and the only recent evidence you have of this self-claimed title is a blog or an unpublished essay, or file of essays.

Then I set about my reinvention, which lasted well over a year and a half. Probably half of the time was spent learning how to navigate the day-to-day-ness of my totally self-structured, non-corporate life and handling some unexpected speed bumps –who knew that the little country of Liechtenstein would play a large role in my reinvention. I also needed to bring Husband on my journey. This isn’t so easy when Husband is a lawyer – a litigator. Nebulous, finding-your-self and selling your-self journeys don’t fit so easy into an evidence box.

I’m not making excuses for not feeling reinvented yet or ready to be released on my own recognizance as a newly reinvented woman cum writer/media person. I did the assignments – I’m a good Catholic girl, after all – and I attended all the calls, except for the time I was in Liechtenstein. I bought almost all the books, read parts of almost all of them, and all of a couple. The material came fast and furiously – vision boards and cascading goals, the prefrontal cortex and the gratitude journal, false beliefs and negative self talk, the ego and the heart. Who’s talking to whom, who’s taking the lead?

I walked the path each month during the call and fell off the path between calls. Got turned around and retraced parts of the path. Sometimes I just decided to run and catch up with my accountability gang because I just didn’t want to be alone. So even though I don’t feel ready to receive my reinvention certificate today, because 1) I don’t believe I’ve learned all the material, 2) I definitely don’t know how to apply all the material and 3) I believe that I will always be reinventing myself – I must leave this formal reinvention stage of my life.

I leave wistfully and a bit anxiously because I find myself in a state similar to when started: facing opportunities in a new world – a world of writing and media  – and a choice to go back to an old world – corporate marketing. The new world is much more defined than when I started and that is good. There has been movement, successes and a great big wild ride into writing a book that needs to be ridden some more.  The corporate marketing job, which found me since I wasn’t looking for a job as promised in my deal with the angel, is interestingly different than the one I left. It lacks many of the loathing characteristics that made it easy to turn my back on corporate life.

However, I have steeped myself in the creative expression of my life and exploration of the world. I know I do not want and therefore will not forsake my dream and passion of expressing myself through writing, of connecting with other women through words, of feeling alive by seeing my words in print or hearing my words spoken. I won’t do this because 1) I believe my talent lies in connection through communication and I can make a difference that way and 2) I won’t disappoint myself by walking away.  Goodness, I have a book proposal waiting for an agent. Life’s Too Short –And So Am I will be written!

All this means that I need analyze to what the corporate opportunity can bring to my table to make the feast better, not just fatter.  So it’s time to go back to my lists, which I will check more than once in collaboration with my best collaborators, much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Dorothy: Now which way do we go?
Scarecrow: Pardon me, this way is a very nice way.
Dorothy: Who said that?
[Toto barks at scarecrow]
Dorothy: Don’t be silly, Toto. Scarecrows don’t talk.
Scarecrow: [points other way] It’s pleasant down that way, too.
Dorothy: That’s funny. Wasn’t he pointing the other way?
Scarecrow: [points both ways] Of course, some people do go both ways.

Wizard of Oz, 1939

There’s nothing that wearing a pair of red shoes can’t solve.

Living and Loving Life in the Middle

“What’s your book about?” my long-time friend Pete asked.

“About how my worldview – or at least my dreams – has been informed by sitcom characters. I always wanted the life of someone on TV – That Girl, Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, but now there isn’t anyone on TV like me anymore – a boomer working women in transition.

“You’ve been in transition for a long time,” he chuckled and pushed me through the revolving door to the restaurant.

“Yes, and,” I started and stopped. I wasn’t quite sure what came after the “and.”

It was five years ago that I proudly and boldly told everyone and anyone that I was in transition. Fresh off a layoff from a job that led me to a desperate depression I decided to hangout in transition for a while before jumping to a new destination.  This hanging out in the middle is a concept I had read about years ago during an attempt to “find myself.”

In Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, author William Bridges posits that transitions start with an ending and have an indefinite middle period that is uncomfortable and ends in a new beginning.  The middle period – he calls the neutral zone – should not be sped through or the change you seek will not happen, at least not the way you want it to happen. Basically you have to be willing to swim in the deep end, traverse the dessert, live in no-man’s land for as long as it takes to process the ending and creatively find the new beginning.

“I’m in transition” is a certain, yet open-ended response to the “what do you do” question posed at every turn in the road. Fluid and interesting.

My first attempt at figuring out my life led to a career coach who I met at a fashion show for workingwomen. I hoped she would help me find a place to express myself without feeling censored.  And she just might have been able to do that if I hadn’t really needed counseling to get over a recent firing and subsequent loss of confidence.

Next stop on my career trip-tik was an EST like weekend with my travel buddy Lynnette. Lynnette and I had been to Hawaii, Australia and Dallas together. Dallas is where we both began our post-MBA careers hawking salty snacks and where I was fired. Lynnette knew me from the bottom up and inside out. She was the only person who could get me to do things that I really didn’t want to do because they sounded corny or hokey – like going to a sheep shearing, Waltzing Matilda- singing hoedown in Sydney or attending a weekend retreat aimed at unlocking our human potential– because I trusted her with my sanity.

So one Friday evening we entered a nondescript hotel in Schaumburg, a suburb of Chicago famous for its mall, along with 20 other seekers. Each of us carried the required boom box and empty notebook. We were assigned roommates and had our first meeting in an empty conference room, save a table and two chairs for the retreat leaders.

Before we begin whatever we’re going to begin I ask,ed “Are there bathroom breaks?”

I had heard that in the EST movement of the ‘70s Werner Erhard wouldn’t let anyone go to the bathroom during the marathon enlightenment sessions. Just thinking about that filled my anxious bladder.

“There will be bio breaks. But please try to not leave the room until then,” the male leader replied.

All seekers sat on the floor with space between each other so we were on our own carpet island. We went through exercises that had us walking backwards in our dreams, conjuring up our child self and writing letters to our tormentors. Boy, did the guy who fired me get a mouthful.

We talked to empty imaginary chairs, walked in circles and reversed. We shared intimate details of our lives with total strangers. If the moments weren’t intimate enough we were encouraged to go deeper, to find the root issue.

We made collages on large poster boards. They represented who we were and wanted to be. We wrote anthems that we would declare to the group, only when we were ready and able to believe them.

At night we listened to tapes on our boom boxes and some of us crept into the halls and shared secreted snacks. I stole outside and had a cigarette. One of the bad habits that I had identified as holding me back from my true potential, and possibly my future husband.

On the last day of the weekend we sat on our carpet island and closed our eyes. The leaders took us on a guided journey.

“Imagine a suitcase and open it up.”

We were told to put anything that bothered us, nagged at us, hurt us, or held us back in this suitcase. This could be your mother, boss, extra 20 pounds or slow drivers who always end up in front of you when you’re late. Take the bad and pack it away. I threw in a pack of cigarettes among other items I can’t remember.

“When you are finished packing your suitcase, close it and lock it with a key.”

“Now stand up and throw that key away – in the ocean, the trashcan or field. Throw it away where it can never be found or retrieved. Now pick up that suitcase – no matter how heavy it may be – you can pick it up – and open your eyes. Walk to the door and leave your suitcase next to the door. And take a short break. We’ll meet in 15 minutes for our graduation.”

And so I packed, locked, threw away, deposited, and took a long needed bio break.

During the graduation ceremony I stood in a circle with the other seekers cum finders and when I felt moved by the emotion, I stood in the middle and declared:

“I am a happy, fulfilled, smoke-free woman.” I cried. I left the circle, went outside, and lit up.

Pete is right. I have been in transition a long time. And I’ve moved to some new things while still developing others. . But maybe transition is my destination – to always be exploring and sharing my exploration. Wouldn’t that be a kick if where I’ve always belonged, is where I’ve always been leaving?

I tell myself (and Pete) that I’m okay with being in transition. I’m moving and creating, not stagnating.  And I’d like to tell the circle of seekers that today I could truly declare: I am happy and smoke-free (11 years now!) As for the fulfilled part – I’m pretty full, but there’s always room for more.

 

 

Starting resolutions on January first is highly touted and over-rated. First of all, you have to navigate New Year’s Day events replete with resolution land mines starting with the traditional meal of pork, sauerkraut, and black-eyed peas. Don’t forget the cornbread. Or if you are me…carbohydrates and left over Christmas cookies. Don’t forget the peanut brittle.

Then you have to avoid the clutch of the couch as one football team after another hikes, runs, passes, tackles and with any luck, scores. The couch isn’t the real culprit in breaking my annual vow to exercise more often beginning now. It’s the tortilla chips and guacamole dip that stop me from taking a spin around the park. That and the bean dip and the spinach dip. Don’t forget the chicken wings.

It’s hardly worth opening the Rosetta Stone box with all those French CDs you received for Christmas or starting to practice the piano, again. There are too many distractions from downloading new apps on your shiny new iToy to uploading your profile on the latest social media sites, can anyone get me an invitation to Pinterest?

Speaking of social media – January first is definitely not the time to restrict the number of waking hours you spend on Facebook, Tumbler, and Goolgle+. Quite the opposite. Before setting limits on your digital socialabilty you need to inform all your friends, fans, and stalkers that you are going off the grid for an amount of time/day (half-hour, hour, afternoon – god forbid). If not they may think you have died, shunned them, or just plain become anti-American.

No, January first is not the day to start or stop anything. Easing into the New Year without any major changes that could stop your heart or start people talking about you is not a good idea. Personally, I suggest taking anywhere from a full week to an entire month to gradually introduce yourself to your resolutions. Give yourself plenty of time to warm up to each other. If you need to slow down during resolution execution, do so. Better to take things at the right pace then to force a fit.

Resolver beware. My advice may be sound – as my intentions usually are – but so far by following this plan I’ve yet to take up yoga or cook at home more often, and forget digitizing my photos. And I’m okay with that because in the process of working off one set of resolutions I discovered Pilates, started eating healthier takeout and decided that my carefully sorted and dated pictures didn’t need to be scanned to hold my memories safe. More than that I learned that sometimes it is good to forget the resolution and just move forward.

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