What Major Life Change Looks and Feels Like: Frightening, Confusing, Messy, Horrible, and Freeing. There’s Only One Way Through: Forward.
“I’m looking for another job in software.”
“Why would you do that?”
Silence. She was driving to Carmel. Thinking.
She’s been back in America for about six months. Her friends are asking her what she’s accomplished.
Right now it’s not about accomplishing. It’s about becoming.
Finding another job in the industry you left is a full court retreat.
And it’s perfectly understandable. It’s what we do when we lose our signposts.
Terri’s 62. For the last several years she’s been working in Thailand. Kenya. With elephants. A dream job. People keep telling her she’s so lucky.
They have no idea.
Three years ago, after a long, successful career with gigs with Microsoft and Apple, Terri had an opportunity. It had grown out of her love of, and work with, animals. An elephant sanctuary had invited her to work with them. Three hundred acres, middle of Thailand. Two, three years.
When we face what we love, sometimes we run in the other direction.
She began interviewing. For jobs that she now admits she was overqualified to do. She sabotaged all of them.
In our hearts we are all of us so much wiser than we give ourselves credit for, and this is a perfect example.
Finally, as Terri explained it to me, she stopped interviewing and looked in full at the beauty of the job offer with the elephant sanctuary.
Tossed her stuff into storage. Headed to Thailand. Then Kenya. Changed everything.
When she got back, the world as she knew it closed in on her. Panicked again.
Suddenly, well, I have to have money. Need a husband, whatever.
Really? Why? And after several years doing what you love, was money what did it for you? Is a man or a relationship (with its own set of demands and entanglements) going to make this better? Or worse?
These are the tough questions Terri’s grappling with. When we panic, we often head back to what we knew. Look, I’m grappling with the same questions. Which is why I love interviewing Terri.
I’m going to pilfer her comments about her condition from a comment she posted on a different article of mine on aging:
It’s trying to be someone we were at one point in our time, but like all stages of our life, each has its reason and appropriate way of living it. And like all passing from one age stage to the other, high school to college, college to first job, single to married, etc. there are new challenges and fear. So my question is, why are we — who are mature — not embracing this next stage of change with more grace? I think we are slowing learning that the grace is our own and not something which is bestowed by others. So take it, don’t wait for it be given because it won’t.
Terri’s comment is apt for all of us in the face of moving through transition.
As a coach once said, I’m not that guy any more. I’m not riding my tricycle on my grandmother’s front porch. That person has died. Who is the new person?
For people like Terri and me, for those of us weaned on Protestant work ethics and values, our worth to the world is in metrics. Profit, deliverables, measurable incremental improvements. I understand and have taught these things, still do, even as I begin to question the fundamentals of how this lifestyle costs me, us, the world.
The process of decoupling- which Terri and discussed- from what has kept us grounded is painful. My god. She said that her signposts are buried. What’s coming up are signposts from an earlier Terri. A part of her she buried a long time ago. Not intentionally. It’s just life.
The way she put it is simple: we have to make a living. Those of us who are single, male or female, we gotta pay the bills. We do what we have to in order to survive. Until we step into a possibility.
Like a job working with an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.
This happened to me about ten years ago. Like many women my age I returned full bore to horses. A great and abiding passion of my youth, I threw myself into lessons. That- and working with other animals, which is Terri’s passion as well- opened up a brand new world.
It terrorized me the same way.
I went back to corporate supply chain and paid to get certified in something I don’t care about any more.
It was a waste of time, effort and money because it has nothing to do with where I am headed. I was shoving my head in the dirt while possibility swirled all around me. I could care less these days about corporate supply chain.
Any more than Terri really wants to get another software job. Trading time for money past a certain age, if we have indeed identified what we love, is a criminal offense against our gifts.
But yet we turn backwards.
Because. Same thing that drives Terri, drives me, drives all of us. A need for familiarity and safety. Predictability. Do what we think we should do, not what puts the bird in our chest.
Yet those very things keep the next magical thing from landing.
Another article that spoke to me was this by Felicia C. Sullivan. A fortuitous trip tripped her right off the rails into challenging her assumptions about where she belonged. What she needed. Who she was. And what defines home.
Probably my favorite line out of her piece: I want inconvenient.
I might recommend reading/watching the TED information by Tim Hartford about how chaos engenders creativity. If we don’t shake things up, we’re not likely to see different paths, new ways of being, different answers. When we ask the same questions, we are likely to get the same answers. Because that’s what we want to hear. Those answers validate our choices and it’s low risk.
It’s convenient, just as handing our lives over to major corporations is convenient. At. What. Cost? Please see this. Convenience is expensive. It costs us a great deal more than just our creativity but that’s for another article.
These Big Life Questions threaten to terrify because they cause us to ask ourselves permission to be who we really are, live as we really want, become who we were meant to be.
To walk unafraid into the fullness of our gifts, our brilliance. Terrifying.
As Terri said, as she has begun to back off from joining this, joining that, and treating her Life After Software with the same compulsive GITERDID that she applied to her stellar career, she is beginning to allow things to land.
This is what it looks like when it’s working.
Messy, confusing, unpredictable, terrorizing, frightening, freeing.
Just keep moving forward.