I was four short months out of college, a nervous 22-year-old sitting across a lacquered office table from the #1 most intimidating person at our company. A company where I desperately hoped to succeed. He was astonishingly smart, accomplished, seemingly never caught off-guard or unprepared. I’d won an hour of ‘mentoring time’. It felt like winning the chance to do a TED Talk or fly to Mars. An opportunity, for sure – just one that feels scary as hell.
Towards the end of our time, he told me how important it is to get honest feedback from your colleagues so you can continually improve.
“So…… I guess I have to ask, then: do you have any feedback on our conversation?”
He didn’t even need to pause to think.
“Sure, I can give you some feedback.
I really think you should have been taking notes.
I wouldn’t be as concerned that you won’t remember what I have to say.”
(This is the point where you think to yourself, F@&#%!)
The guy had a point. We talked for nearly an hour, and I remember precisely two things he said:
#1) Don’t rely on personality or charm: be prepared, work hard.
#2) Fear not. It’s one of the most repeated phrases in the Bible (I was surprised he mentioned this), and it’s one of the most important things we can do in life…don’t let fear drive your life. Fear not.
Even with the note-taking faux pas, I lived to see age 23 at his company. And 24, 25, 26, 27, 28. Promotions here and there, team change, eventual career change to move to HR. That’s where it felt like I’d arrived.
I’d teach and run classes on supervising or professional development, show TED Talks on vulnerability, help with innovation initiatives, write all-company emails with lines from poetry or hip-hop songs, get to call really solid people with the great news that we had a JOB for them. All while working for one of the most respected and loved women at the company, and with a fun, talented team.
It seemed like the best job ever.
And I felt successful. Smart. Liked. Wanted. Things I’d
possibly definitely been chasing for awhile.
But as the months passed, I felt increasingly unsettled. I’d read phrases like, “the road not taken” or “your one wild and precious life” and get all this weird gypsy wanderlust. I’d study innovation theory about positive disruption, how real change and growth often happens when we intentionally disrupt the status quo to try something different, and wonder if I’d ever choose to disrupt a status quo that was so comfortable. Money, promotions, responsibility, success started to feel unappealing. I craved more time with my friends and family, which seemed silly, since I already had ample vacation and a lot of flexibility.
Everything on paper seemed seemed great. Wasn’t this exactly what I wanted? I couldn’t imagine leaving. I’d probably never find something so good. I might not be successful. The people wouldn’t be as wonderful. Maybe they wouldn’t accept me like they did here.
Suddenly, it didn’t seem like I was staying because I wanted to stay. I was staying because I was just too scared to leave, to make a change. As you know, these are completely different motivations. Desire vs. fear. Intention vs. defaulting. And again, when you realize you’re scared of something, you have those two basic choices, right? Run away scared, or face it. Running away from the fear looked like staying put, staying comfortable, taking no chances, and not knowing what was outside of this comfortable little world I’d built for myself. Moving towards the fear meant…kicking myself out into the unknown to see what I’d find. Faced with these two options, the only thing scarier than taking a risk was staying put, knowing I’d let fear call the shots. That’s when you know you need to make a change. And sometimes, I don’t think you can reason your way through why you feel something or want something. It seems like sometimes we just feel what we feel, want what we want, logic and planning and ‘financial responsibility’ and resumes be damned. 🙂
So I quit. Saw what it was like not to work, to commit myself to pretty much anything outside the corporate priorities of success and achievement. And it was awesome – lots of firsts, first-time-in-too-long’s, and more-than- I’d-ever-made-time-for’s.
Visiting 22 states, Nicaragua and Canada with family and friends.
Karaoke until your voice is hoarse.
Stargazing, wildflowers, sleeping outdoors.
Kayaking, paddleboarding, barre class, riding a bike again.
Driving for Lyft, renting my car out, fun little odd jobs.
Starting a blog thing.
Going on dates.
Not being a redhead.
Admitting worries, asking for help.
Drinking every possible beverage in the shower.
Finishing The Office, finally.
Getting an HR certification, rolling over a 401(k).
Cooking, reading, walking, because you have the time.
Launching our etsy jewelry shop.
Preventative surgery, facing doctor phobia.
Seeing Tyler, Brama, Lauren, Edith and Christina get married.
Sharing a beer with my grandpa for the first + last time.
Broadway and Ramen and exploring for Ali’s 30th.
Spending time with my parents in their recent retirement.
Conversations with no agenda and in no hurry.
And never regretting making the leap to do it all.
To experience this time without a thought of work in the back of your head, saying Yes so much more than No, being so much more present and available to what life has to offer…it’s been a tremendous gift. I think I loved life more than I ever had. I think I liked myself more than I ever had.
And I think that if this time off has taught me something, though, it’s the beauty in not reflexively running away from what scares you. To take more risks, because it’s quite possible that things will work out better than you expect. To hold on to the hope that even when you don’t know where you’re going, you can end up okay. To believe that life, the universe, God, are relatively generous and reasonably good. To try believing that, maybe, something good can work. Not that I think this optimistically consistently, or even most of the time probably. I’m just starting to get that it’s probably the better way to go about life. You can’t change everything in just a year. 🙂 Moving into 2016, thank you for hanging out with me this past year in any way you have. One of the very best parts of sharing these experiences has been getting to connect with you. I didn’t expect to feel so not-alone in all this.
I hope 2016 is a great fresh start for you, a reset if needed – whichever way you’re headed. And I hope it’s a year that’s way better than you could have ever planned or expected.
Fear not, as they say. Happy new year! 🙂
“Let’s make this happen, girl,
We’re gonna show the world that something
Good can work, and it can work for you –
And you know that it will.”