The Story and the Advice Mosaic

This has been a tumultuous year.  Back in May, I wrote a post about finding our identity and our story – our life story. I asked the question I often ask myself, which is What is your story and where is it guiding you? I had no idea that a few months later I would be making my fourth career change in one year. One more life rewrite.

Always one to be open to opportunities, when this position was brought to my attention I felt I had to continue to take my own advice and be open, once again, to the possibility of change. It was nearing my one-year anniversary of leaving Wichita State University and I felt a creeping doubt within me. I knew that while I was enjoying writing content for a local business, there was still something amiss. I didn’t feel like I had found my true purpose. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference.

As I engaged in the interview process, I kept hearing the words of a longtime mentor who told me during my “career hopping” that my path would always lead me to where I belonged. He even told me he believed my path would lead back to nonprofit fundraising where my compassion, empathy and need to make a difference would make the greatest impact.

I knew in the first minutes of my first interview that I would be making yet one more change. I felt comfortable, the people familiar, the mission close to my heart. Plus, I was provided a small reminder by a young woman I’d once hired as a student assistant when I was at WSU. A brilliant young lady I’d mentored and who has now become a dear friend and one I consider my “spirit daughter,” repeated my own words to me over Great Expectations sandwiches at Watermark Books: “I always remember the words you said to me, ‘Listen to your heart and follow your gut. Don’t be afraid of change because it could lead to the place you are meant to be.’”

It was then I realized another aspect of my story has always been to encourage others to write theirs. Sort of a subplot, if you will.  What follows are the lessons and advice I find myself giving to others, especially those trying to find their path and either just beginning to write their story or tackling that rewrite:

  • Be open to possibilities. Something you never imagined yourself doing or experiencing could be the undreamed dream of a lifetime.
  • Never fear change. Life is always changing – the path always twisting. Listen to your heart, follow your gut and have faith.
  • Do not build your own obstacles. Never let age, experience, gender, race or any other self-made brick of doubt stand in your way of trying something new, accepting an opportunity or taking that leap of faith. We tend to be our own worst walls.
  • Nothing is given. You must work for what you seek and work hard. The benefits of a strong work ethic may not be visible in the beginning – be patient.
  • Remember, we all have wings. Some are just more aware of their ability to fly and cannot wait to try; others have been told for so long they could never take flight, they’ve folded their wings in fear; while some just flat-out refuse to believe. Always believe.
  • It’s your obligation to encourage and lift up others along your journey. No one succeeds on their own. No one. We are all in this together.

All of these have been a part of my journey—a chapter in my story. No, I am no sage. This advice is a mosaic born from shiny, multicolored and fragile bits and pieces of guidance offered to me through the years, which I molded and revised into mantras that move me onward. This encouragement I now offer to others after learning hard life lessons, facing my own fears and doubts and finally learning that the greatest battle I ever face is the one within myself. Each failure is a lesson learned. Each journey a highlight on the map.

Sure, there are times I forget my own advice, as we all tend to get caught up in daily stressors and lose focus of the story. What I have found in this past year is that the story is never truly finished. While there will never be pages torn from our life-books, there will always be rewrites, there will always be plot twists. And, there will be times we tuck our wings in self-doubt, find ourselves standing with a self-made brick in hand, believe the whispers of frustration by our own egos, fail to bring others along in the journey and overlook open doors.

Yet, if we are true to ourselves and our faith in the journey, we’ll find ourselves living the undreamed dream of a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

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Easing a Restless (Writing) Heart

I have prided myself in staying with a job or career for a length of time. I’m not one to jump from job to job or change careers on a whim. I worked in retail for eight years, as an office administrator in the dental field for fourteen, and in higher education for eleven. So, when I took the leap into teaching, which proved an erroneous choice, only to return to education and fundraising, I thought I’d made the right choice by returning to a familiar path. Possibly, this is the path I was meant all along, or is it? Suddenly, I am faced with a restlessness unknown to me. Where has all of this come from? Why this insatiable need to discover the right path?

Is this restlessness a symptom of mid-life and all those nagging questions that arise when we are faced with the brevity of our lives? Do we truly need to secure the answer to the question—what is my purpose? Yes. At least for me, that answer is yes. I do believe we all have a purpose and are placed upon our paths for a reason, but it is up to each of us to know our path and be content in its geography. Whether our paths lead us to worldly fame, community celebrity, or a profound contentment within our family or circle of friends, to have a purposeful life is deemed the goal. I do not fear death, but what I do fear is drawing my final breath with the thought of not fulfilling my purpose or questioning if my life was enough. Life is a gift and to treat it as such is the catalyst of my purpose.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t quite understand this sense of purpose. I chalked it up to “what do I want to be when I grow up” and tossed in on a back-burner.  No one has time for purpose when ones only goal is to have fun, be daring, and memorize when and where the two-for-one drink specials are in town. I’m sure I thought my only purpose was to attend as many concerts, have as much fun, and drink as much beer as humanly possible before I turned thirty. If that was my purpose, well I can honestly say I was quite successful.

It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I began to question my path on this earth. Why am I here? What am I supposed to accomplish with this life? Throughout my twenties, I’d rarely written a word let alone a poem or short story. Once a large part of my being, putting pen to paper had all but disappeared except for the stories I created in my mind, counting characters instead of sheep, etching them upon the right hemisphere of my brain until they exploded in word stars above my bed at night. It wasn’t until I began my pursuit of the long-eluded college degree that my writing returned. After my first English class, the graduate teaching assistant asked me if he could use one of my papers as an example of good storytelling, then proceeded to question why I was majoring in health administration. But, it wasn’t until my second and third English professors asked me the same question, followed by “you should be writing.”

One would think that would be enough. To have your passion encouraged and somewhat validated should set you on the path with a vigor and with fire, and it did as I switched my major in the middle of my sophomore year to English. My new career goal became to teach in higher education, but by the time I earned my bachelor’s degree and began the pursuit of my master’s in creative writing, life threw some large and life-changing obstacles in my way. Those hurdles lead to my newfound career in fundraising and eleven experience-gaining and incredible years with Wichita State University. I wasn’t teaching at my alma mater as I had once dreamed, but I was learning, growing, and making my way.

If you’ve been following my mermaid path, you know where it went from there—to secondary education. I’d continued to feel strongly I was meant for the path of teaching, only to discover this was not my purpose. I returned to fundraising and management, but the restlessness did not go away. It intensified, kept me up at night, bore holes in my confidence and left me anxious and feeling as if I’d misplaced something. It was like losing your favorite pen and spending weeks upon weeks sticking your fingers between sofa cushions, turning over laundry bins, and noticing you need to do a better job of vacuuming under the beds while all the time knowing it had to be someplace you were forgetting to look, somewhere right in front of you.

Then, I attended a session as part of college readiness workshop for juniors in high school. I’d been wanting to hear the facilitator speak. The session was “Leading with Purpose” and as part of the session the highly engaging young man brought up a PowerPoint slide with one word on it: Purpose. He asked everyone in the room to close their eyes and think about what their purpose might be and what first comes to mind. I decided to join the students. I closed my eyes and without hesitation, as if spoken aloud—tell and share stories. Tell and share stories. Not teach, not nonprofit fundraising or community engagement, but tell and share stories. Just as I was coming to the realization I’d possibly remembered where I’d last placed my favorite pen, the facilitator had us open our eyes and encouraged a few of the students to share what first came to mind. He forwarded to the next slide: Passion. He had us close our eyes one more time. What is your passion? You can guess what first came to my mind: writing. I had found my favorite pen. It had been where I’d placed it all along, in the drawer of my writing desk for safekeeping.

Now begins another journey, albeit familiar. I’ve accepted a position where I will spend much of my time creating and revising content. I’ll be writing and pushing the right hemisphere of my brain into overdrive, something I’ve not done since my days in graduate school when the writing spilled forth on the page and the stories in my head pulsated and pushed to be born. Plus, I’ve volunteered for a community project gathering the stories and history of an entire neighborhood, which I am hopeful will result in my being able to tell and share a few. We shall see. What I do know is I feel confident, hopeful, and somewhat at peace with myself. I will be telling and sharing stories. I will be writing for a living. The restlessness has subsided.

Lesson Planning Became a Lesson Planned for Me

We live and we continue to learn moment by moment, day by day, and choice by choice. These lessons we learn are not lost, not futile, if we truly learn from them by gaining experience, recognizing who we are, who we are not, and who we can be and grow. At the end of the lesson, especially if it was difficult or unexpected, we must give pause to self-reflection, acceptance, and an understanding of the importance of keeping the lesson within us always as a reminder. It has been a while since I’ve made choices that put me in a situation to learn something about myself, who I thought I was, and where I thought I was going. It’s funny how it all works, how we ready ourselves for the path we knew lay before us only to discover we’d forced ourselves, and sometimes those we love, down a path never meant for us. How did we get there? For me, I was lost and failed to recognize it.

I spent nine weeks learning a valuable lesson about myself and what I thought was best for me and what I thought was my destination. My drive to give up a lucrative career with WSU and follow a long ago dream turned out to be just the latter: a long ago dream. The dream to teach was the dream of a different mermaid, a younger, less experienced, somewhat selfish and naïve mermaid. I am not the same woman who dreamed this dream while pursuing her degrees in English. I have changed in many ways, and yet I failed to adjust the dream to the woman I am at this moment in time. Pursuing the path of a classroom educator was in actuality dreaming the dream of someone else.

Sure, my circumstances were not ideal, from my choice of school to the lack of support and preparation, plus there were additional questions I should have asked and situations I should have better recognized. For seven weeks I continued to push forward, refusing to fail while stumbling on a path not mine, squinting through the glasses of an idealist, and forcing myself to live a dream I knew in my heart no longer belonged to me. As I prayed for guidance and searched my frustrated heart, I faced myself in battle, brandishing weapons of self-doubt and torturing myself for my foolishness. Finally one morning I heard whispered in my ear, “Patience you need to find. Selfishness you need to lose. Look upon your life and see.” Clear as the church bells during weekday Mass with my sixth grade class, this whisper helped me to recognize and accept my lesson of humility.

The lesson was difficult, but needed. In my headstrong pursuit of a career change, I was blinded to many aspects, such as how this change would affect my most significant relationships, specifically my parents and husband, and the life I loved to live. Most importantly, I was blind in recognizing how the dream no longer fit the woman. The dream had become that garment we keep in our closet, the one that hangs there year after year in hopes it will one day adorn our bodies, all the while knowing we are only clinging to a memory. The dated garment will never truly fit us because we have changed and not just physically. It was time to place the garment in a donation bag to be discovered and worn by someone else.

It was then, through the brambles of my decision, I discovered a quiet trail which led me to a path I’d seen and even set a timid foot upon only to deny its journey. A path revealed to me exactly one year ago, but I was not prepared as there was still this lesson to be learned; the path patiently waited for me.

I’m at peace with the lesson because I needed to acknowledge how I’d begun to take people and circumstances for granted and how the gifts I’d been given had grown in ways I’d not even understood. I am not a classroom educator, but I am a one-on-one mentor and advocate for students. I love to write and read and allow words to fill my days, but I am not a teacher of grammar and reading comprehension, at best I use my words to help and encourage others. I am a daughter whose everyday life is filled with the friendship of her parents and not a daughter who is good with only seeing them once a week, if that, due to inflexible work schedules. I need them as much as they need me. I am a wife and best friend to a man who supports my ups and downs, but relies on my infinite ability to look for the good to keep him at balance with hope, just as I rely on his ability to not always look on the bright side to keep me in check with reality. And I love my community and draw strength from its relationships, its ever-changing inner borders, its willingness and struggle to grow in diversity, and I need desperately to be a part of it, completely. I can give much more to my community in return for what it gives to me.

The lessons we learn are vital to our inner and outer survival. I discovered the following quote in my social media feed the same day I heard those whispers in my ear:

A mistake which makes you humble is much better than an achievement that makes you arrogant  – unknown author

 Which then led me to recall this quote by C.S. Lewis: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

 Inner and outer survival is bound in humility. Once again, lesson learned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remove the Blinders, Take Your Eyes From the Path

January has come and gone. And with it, a lot of reflection mixed with determination and hope and always with a side of turmoil. The beginning of a new year always instills a sense of hope as we review our past year, even our past life, to understand and plan for our future. We are determined to face change or make change, as well to renew old promises or kick those aside for newer, more attainable ones. But, all of this comes with those nagging fears of change.

I spent the holiday break resolving to rediscover my purpose and to be even more open to possibilities. Now, I’ve always been someone who is open to possibilities, as it is something I encourage in others, especially young people. Remove any blinders as you walk your path. Blinders can be the goals and expectations others created for you, which you may somewhat agree but don’t necessarily see yourself obtaining, yet you continue down the expected path. Or, blinders can be the degree you worked so hard to earn, which you now forcibly follow down a narrow path, unaware of differing roads you could and should take. Blinders can be pre-conceived notions about who you are, the religion in which you were raised, or the stereotypes you’ve grown accustom.

It took me until I was thirty years old to realize I was wearing my own checkered set of blinkers. There is nothing more freeing than removing those blinders and seeing all around and along the path and especially the ability to recognize there are other paths available in which to travel, even if just for a moment. Without those blinders, I discovered it was not too late to earn my degrees. Sans blinders, I discovered a different career path other than the one I thought my degrees would govern. And with my peripheral vision extended, I was able to walk beside or join others on their paths and be open to the mosaic of humanity.

Our lives are short. And to move through this gift we’ve been entrusted while wearing blinders seems wrong, not to mention bleak and somewhat cowardly. Yes, there are many who find comfort in their blinders. The job of blinders is to help focus on the simple path ahead and not to be spooked or distracted by what is passing alongside the path. Blinders maintain control, better able to ignore what is beside us or behind us. Stay the course, no matter what.

Blinders work well for and are essential to the successful outcome of a racehorse. Those leather patches are fitted on troublesome horses for their own safety as well as the safety of their jockey. But, there is no jockey determining our course. We are determining our course. The blinders we find ourselves wearing are those created, patched, and attached to us by society, our families, our environments, and ourselves.

Secretariat, considered the greatest race horse of all time, wore blinkers, but the majority of his life was  contained, either by fences or centered on an oval race track. If we consign ourselves to one path, where is it we are truly going? A quote I keep in my personal “Quotes of Thought” list is by Marcus Buckingham, the man who founded the Strengths Revolution in the workplace, and while the quote is referencing a career or work path, I feel it is relevant to life:

“The best way to find out if you’re on the right path? Stop looking at the path.”

If our focus is only on the path in front of us, we may discover we’ve been on the wrong path all along. While some may argue straying from the path leads to temptation, corruption, or getting lost along the way, I believe if one has faith, that faith will remain steadfast no matter the path. Unless you’ve chosen a path void of kindness, compassion, and love, and if that’s the case, your faith was never guiding you to begin with. Faith will always be tested, but it will never completely abandon you.

So, have faith and remove the blinders. Free yourself from running forward, eyes focused only on the path in front of you. Be brave. Be willing to take paths strewn with rocks and debris, especially the dirt roads, as those can be the most challenging, but the most fun and enlightening. Be curious of other roads, look around, enjoy the different views, and join others on their paths. Life is vast and should never be limited to one, narrow, blinders-on, path.