In February of 2019, I stepped into a seemingly parallel universe. I didn’t see it coming, I was on a pathway heading in an entirely different direction, but then I decided to make a radical shift because I saw another version of myself through a crack in my world.
On this side of the crack, it’s possible for me to show up for myself without sacrificing my kids, my marriage, my identity. There’s this magnificent slice of time, a shift in the march forward of what my life is supposed to be, where I can slip through, and suddenly, I see a magical, technicolor world in front of me. It’s a bit like the vibrancy of A Wrinkle in Time. Who knew this parallel universe was here all this time?!
It’s not always pretty and seductive. Sometimes, the tone shifts, like the background music in a movie – it becomes menacing and dark. Maybe I have abandoned my children right at the time when they need me most. Maybe my marriage won’t survive this dramatic shift, the claiming of myself. Maybe there’s not enough room in it for this new version of me. Maybe my friendships are simply proximal and they can’t stretch this physical distance.
Here’s what I do know, though:
- I am waking up in a way that (mostly) feels empowering and right. I hate the word “right” because I generally don’t believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way, and – like so many things in my life right now – surprisingly, it fits here.
- I’m recognizing the sharp edges of my shift as simply that – growing pains that are a natural side effect of my forward movement. They’re not signs that I’ve taken a wrong turn, they’re me and the world around me settling into a new normal, a new rhythm, a new dance.
- I’m still me, at my core. I feel liberated to express myself more fully right now, and it’s still me underneath my new work clothes, makeup, my new physical pathways like my commute and my professional expression.
- Something has jolted awake in me that has been yearning for this shift for a long time. There’s been a dormant plea within my soul to express myself more fully, to claim my life as my own, to embody my world rather than simply take the default, to resign myself to what my fate appeared to be.
How exactly did I get here? I almost fell into these dramatic changes. I wish I’d had more intention, more vision, more foresight, but I didn’t. I did what I’ve always done: applied for a job without much thought that I’d actually get it. Or that I’d take it. It was a bit of a whim.
I sincerely liken my job applications to a bit of a hobby. Working as a career coach has that side effect – there’s actually great value to submitting for positions, interviewing, and keeping my finger on the pulse of the job market so that I could advise my clients, recognize and articulate their emotional experiences, and stay current with technology like applicant tracking systems. Plus, as someone who has worked with countless people who have gone through layoffs, I viscerally understand that every job is temporary and I always, almost reflexively, keep my job pipeline open.
So that’s how it started – a not-very-serious submission. And then I was swept in this flow, this ease. I practically skipped through the interview process, likely because for me the stakes weren’t very high. I showed up as myself rather than as someone who was contorting myself to fit into the shape that the job allowed.
Here’s another element that’s important: I liked everyone I met in the process. I often talk to my clients about the key variable in a job being WHO they’re with rather than WHAT they’re doing. That’s proven to be true for me in this role. Plus, it felt like coming home to me – back to higher ed where I’ve spent the bulk of my career. I heard a truism recently: all sickness is homesickness. I don’t believe that literally, but maybe a significant part of our emotional pain is homesickness. I could exhale as I went home. I understood the seasonal cycle to the year, the tension and collaboration between faculty and staff, the eager brightness of students launching themselves into the world as well as the stumbling pain of students grappling in the darkness of “should”s.
What exactly has this dramatic shift cost me? It’s financially costly because right now I’m living in two places. During the week, I stay in a studio apartment in Denver, and on the weekends, I’m at home in Fort Collins. It’s tough to straddle two homes, to stay emotionally connected in both places, to physically juggle those locations, schlepping my things back and forth – curiously, it’s my shoes that plague me the most – somehow the shoes I need are inevitably in the other house!
It’s also taxing to navigate a new city. Denver has always been just 75 minutes (on a good traffic day) south of me, yet I’ve rarely visited here. It’s disturbing, particularly the contrast between people with means and people who are struggling on the street. I’ve walked by several people who are tripping on drugs, strangely often barefoot, wandering in a haze, clearly off in another world. I’ve been cursed at, smiled at, mournfully beckoned. One day, someone dressed in Buddhist monk clothing thrust a bracelet on my wrist, spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand, and demanded money. Now as I navigate my new neighborhood, I occasionally see a cluster of people dressed in monk robes and cut them a wide berth.
So, here I am. In a new place – urban grittiness instead of serene hometown. With new people where the political landscape of this new workplace swirls around me. Wearing new clothes – I’ve literally gone from yoga pants and bohemian tunics to corporate uniform and hair products cluttering my bathroom. Adhering to a new schedule and someone else’s agenda.
It’s crazy, right? To go from managing my own schedule with my own sweet office to a 9-to-5 existence with projects I didn’t outline. I’m not just okay with it – I love it! You know what it is? It’s not the substance of my life, it’s the exhilaration of reinventing myself – of going from the comfort of sweatpants to the unfamiliarity of stylish shoes, of stepping into newness, of upending my old habits, and showing up in a whole new way to my own life.
It’s far from perfect, but it’s mighty fine. Mostly because I’m stepping into something rather than coasting. I’m much more interested in how my external circumstances are awakening things in me that have been dormant for so long than I am in dissecting whether this was the best path for me or not. I’m here. I’m walking this path, and I’m embracing what’s in front of me.