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Change can be hard and, for some of us, it can make us feel sad, scared, and almost paralyzed with uncertainty about how to move forward. If you’re standing at one of life’s many crossroads, take the time to think about where you are and where you want to go.
The last time I walked away from a college campus–as a student—was in March of 1993 and I had half of a master’s degree under my belt. I was also about half-way through my first pregnancy, very large and pregnant with our first child, Jake (who, by the way, is now more than half way finished with his own master’s degree, while I have yet to complete mine).
I never imagined it would take 24 years for me to finally decide to get back to school and finish what I had started. Truth is, with a busy family and a demanding career, I just wasn’t ready to make the sacrifices required to go back to school.
But things change.
Children grow up, we lose people we love, jobs come and go. And we change in the process. I wish I could say I “embrace change,” but that would be a (really big) stretch. But I can say that I’m learning to approach change a little differently and I’ve discovered that focusing on just one brave step can be the key!
Taking a single, brave step can lead to another, then another…
Two and a half years ago, I lost my mom. We had 32 months with Mom after her diagnosis with Multiple Myeloma, and—even though I worked full time as a VP for a local non-profit–I spent much of my time (and even more energy) focusing on her care and soaking up quality time with her. Then, as they tend to do, my two little boys went and grew up on me! One son, then the next, went away to college, leaving me with even more time on my hands.
That season of change left me wondering what in the world I should be doing with my own life.
Starting a new journey can take courage, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Not realizing it at the time, I started planning my own “first brave step” that would lead to many others. My step was a solo trip to California’s Central Coast. It was a short get-away, and it was just a couple of hours from home, but for me—especially at that time—that step felt like a giant leap over a mountain crevasse.
I’ve traveled on my own for work lots of times over the years, so it wasn’t the traveling alone that was new. The difference was that I had never gone somewhere fun…all by myself. This retreat, though, wasn’t about having a good time. The grief of losing Mom was still fresh and the pain seemed inescapable. My boys were moving on with their lives, and my job was no longer bringing me the fulfillment I craved. No, this trip wasn’t about fun. This get-away was about self-reflection, reconnecting with God, and re-setting my life.
After convincing my husband that this was in no way an attempt to get away from him…and after my grief counselor said she thought the idea was spot on…I packed up my car and set out.
I was just gone a couple of days, but they were glorious. I ran on the beach in the warm November sun. I walked up to my favorite lunch spot, Splash Café, and enjoyed a sourdough chili bowl…all by myself. I prayed a lot, and did a bible study focused on grief. I created a vision board which helped me picture what I wanted my next year to look like. I read…just for fun! And I watched the gigantic orange, pink, and yellow sun set over the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Just me…and a nice glass of merlot. (Ok, maybe it was just a tiny bit about “the fun”!)
And…I started writing. In the movie Forrest Gump, when Forrest started running, he didn’t stop for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours! That’s how I was with my writing! I wrote and wrote and wrote! (And I still do.)
Turns out, just like Forrest and I both get a runner’s high when we run, I also get a “writer’s high” when I write! I started a blog (www.flutteringby.me, named in honor of my mom, because I’m convinced she sends butterflies my way to say hello).
My first, brave step of taking a solo retreat did, indeed, lead to a whole host of other moves in the right direction. They didn’t all pan out in the way I had hoped at the time, but I have faith that they all took me to the exact place I was supposed to be. Here are just a few:
Applied for a new job—Less than a week after my retreat, I learned that a certain job was coming available. Not just any job! This was a position I’d been eyeing for years. Since I had prayed for renewed inspiration in my current job, or another opportunity altogether, it seemed clear that God was leading me to this new organization. Surely this job had my name written all over it!
Didn’t get that new job—Long story short, someone else’s name was on that job! I’m a logical person, and I sometimes find myself trying to understand and apply logic to God’s plan for me. Uh huh. In this case, I like to imagine Him shaking his head gently when, once again, I tried to make sense of His plan, rather than simply trusting it.
Re-engaged with my current job– Sometimes I think it took more courage to realize that I was, indeed, in the right place. A change needed to happen, but it was needed within me, not the job. After my bruised ego healed, I came to realize I was already working in the right place for me. Truth is, I had been going through the motions while I juggled my job, along with my family commitments and time with my terminally ill mother. What I really needed was to re-focus and re-engage in my current position, and guess what: I’m loving it!
Pursued writing opportunities–Outside of work, I started seriously pursuing my new writing interest. Stepping out of my comfort zone, I reached out to people (like Arianna Huffington), publications and online platforms for writing opportunities. These writing adventures FILL ME UP. When I have the occasional career advising session with local college students, I always encourage them to develop meaningful interests outside of work.
Joined Toastmasters (Yikes!)—After decades of plugging my ears and singing “lalalala” if I heard the word “Toastmasters,” I shocked even myself when I reached out to a local club. I’m a closet introvert, even though the Myers-Briggs assessment says I’m (barely) an extrovert. Toastmasters is a great place for sharing my writing pieces, improving my overall communication and leadership skills, and for stretching my normally quiet and introverted self.
What you see depends on where you sit.
I like to say, “What you see depends on where you sit.” From where I’m sitting these days, I see it’s time for another brave step. It’s time to go back to school and finally get that master’s degree.
I’m excited to think about what I’ll learn, and I hope to gather new writing material, too! On top of that, I’m looking ahead to the future where I might, some day, like to teach an occasional class at the college level and fill the rest of my time with writing projects. (Of course, teaching would be an even braver step for this introvert, but who knows!)
So, what’s your brave step?
Whatever “brave” means to you…give it a try! Whether you’re 25 or 50 or 75 years old, today is a great day–it’s the perfect day–to look at your life and decide which single brave step can move you closer to the tomorrow you want for yourself.
“We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.”
Follow Cheryl at www.flutteringby.me.