Sunday, October 19, 2014

Peace in the Journey (On Being Humbled)

I've been wanting to write for a while, but I haven't because lately, I haven't felt very inspired.  I wrote a post a couple of months ago about being happy, and I'm embarrassed to admit that, once again, I'm not happy.

I keep struggling with the issue of happiness, and every time I write about it, I think that I have the answer, but I don't.  I always seem to think that the next step in my journey is bringing me closer to happiness.  This is something that we all struggle with, I think.  We have been taught that happiness is the destination.  And while I have even tried to instill in the young women I advised and mentored that "It's the journey, not the destination" that counts, I still struggle with the journey.  I still seek that destination.  And for me, that destination equates to happiness.

I thought that if I were in the right place and felt good about my job, I would be happy.  I thought that if men at the very least noticed me, I would be happy.  I thought that if the weather were warmer, I would be happy.  And while some of those things have happened, they still aren't enough. The job is not what I thought it would be, and again, I am learning that because someone is a supervisor or manager, it doesn't mean that person is a leader.  Men do a little more than notice me now, but they're not doing exactly what I want them to, in the way I want them to do it.  The weather is warmer, but the amount of time and energy it takes to get around in this area means more time is spent indoors or in a car than enjoying the weather.  In other words, this is a season in my life where everything is out of my control, and I don't like it.

Found on Facebook
For so long, I have been comfortable.  I was the go-to person at my job.  I knew how to get things done fairly quickly and effectively.  I had settled for an on-again, off-again relationship that gave me the feeling of being loved without the daily sacrifices that one usually makes in a committed relationship.  I arranged my life so that I had as little inconvenience as possible.  I basically made life as easy for myself as possible, challenging myself only to the point where I could pull back easily: take doctoral courses, they get too difficult to manage, take less classes or just take a leave of absence.  Have someone tell me he loves me, that gets too difficult, do or say something to push him away so that I don't have to invest emotional energy.  Move closer to work.  Be friendly, but withdraw or disappear often enough so no one
would actually rely on me for anything.  This comfort I created for myself protected me from being hurt and made me feel almost invincible.  I came off to many as confident, empowered, successful, and smart.

Finally, the facade broke, and I made a decision to jump off the cliff of comfort (I know, corny).  And here I am, in this new place with new people.  I am feeling my way around work, around new relationships, and around this new place that seems to provide everything I need but feels like a mountainous challenge to get to so that I could enjoy it.  I find myself retreating and withdrawing.  I find myself wondering who I really am and if I really am this lovable person that I always seemed to be for the last ten years or so.  I find myself humbled by my experiences - being low on the totem pole at work, my self-confidence misunderstood (and attacked) by some, not being ferociously pursued by a romantic interest.  Every day, it feels as if the person I have been for so long keeps falling away in pieces, leaving someone unrecognizable even to me.  I don't know who I am at the moment.  My support systems have been hiding places for me, and so I don't want to rely on them right now, because I understand that hiding is the same thing as being in control, creating a comfort zone, and remaining safe.

I am not there.  I have not made it.  I am living day by day, moment by moment, feeling intense discomfort and discontent.  I am not there, but I am here.  I know that this part of my journey is meant to take me somewhere I haven't been before.  Maybe I haven't been able to commit because I think I'm a failure at commitment.  Maybe I need to stop thinking that relentlessly intense pursuit is a sign of long-lasting interest.  Maybe it's the little things - small demonstrations of thoughtfulness rather than grandiose romantic gestures - that lead to getting to know someone genuinely and not the image of Prince Charming that has probably sabotaged all of my relationships.  Maybe work isn't the place for me to throw all of my energy into, because in reality, people are more important.  Maybe I need to stop seeing work as a place where I serve the institution or the person I work for, but just as a conduit to serve people in a way that aligns with my purpose.  In other words, I am not there to please those that hired me; I am there to turn on a light for the many people I encounter who cannot see how to achieve their goals.

I am here.  This is just another step in my journey, not my destination.  I am completely out of my comfort zone, feeling emotionally, mentally and spiritually naked.  In this nakedness, I must find peace.  And the peace in this journey, for me, is that this isn't my destination; this is a kind of "threshing floor," a place where negativity can be stripped from me so that I can be made more pure to go into the next step of my journey.

Humility comes as a result of the exposure of ego.  As the negative aspects of my ego are exposed (either through self-awareness or by the actions of others towards me), I am more humbled.  In that humility, I can learn.  As I learn, I am prepared to take the next step.  It's time to let go of the old to receive the new; old mindsets and habits must give way so that I can be prepared to step into a completely new experience.

And isn't that why I turned my own world upside down in the first place?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why I Stand with Ferguson (They May Come for Me Next)


I'd never heard of Ferguson, MO until two weeks ago.

On August 9th, a young man named Michael Brown was shot while his hands were up, demonstrating the universal sign of surrender.  He was shot by a Ferguson police officer named Darren Wilson.  Michael Brown was Black.  Darren Wilson is White.  

In the past two weeks, coverage on television and social media outlets has painted a picture of Ferguson, MO as the United States' version of Gaza or Baghdad, as military tanks rolled down the streets and police officers dressed in army khakis and pointed their guns at protestors, both peaceful and angry.  Community members as well as outside supporters and agitators came to the site of Michael Brown's death to demonstrate their frustration with the treatment that African Americans have been subjected to since the existence of what we call the United States of America.  

Over the past two weeks, some of my friends have been very vocal about what has been going on in Ferguson.  There is a core group of people on Facebook who have been daily posting about the events in Ferguson, or about the choking death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, or about the trial of the man who killed Renisha McBride in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, and of course these events cause us to reminisce (sadly) about the deaths of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, and Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, and Amadou Diallo in the Bronx, New York.  Out of my over 750 "friends", about 10-15 of us have been consistent in bringing to light the injustices suffered by people of color, especially this summer, especially at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve our communities.  Some of my friends have asked the question, "Why aren't more White people speaking out?"  And some of my friends have had a difficult time understanding what is happening in Ferguson.  They do know that an unarmed man was shot by a police officer, and some may empathize.  But some of my friends don't get why this is a "Black" issue or a "race" issue.  Most of my friends have been silent about this incident.  And yes, most of my White, Latino, and Asian friends have decided to stay in their bubbles of relative safety and post about babies or puppies or the latest show they are binge-watching.  I am not here to judge others' opinions or their decisions about what to post on Facebook, or to get everyone to agree with my opinion.  I can only express why I choose to share my opinion on my social networks as well as with anyone who wants to engage in these kinds of discussions in person.

I grew up in housing projects in Brooklyn, New York.  My family subsisted on welfare, disability benefits, food stamps,and medicaid.  My father couldn't work because he couldn't see out of one eye, and my mother couldn't work because she couldn't read or write.  Nowhere in that mix of circumstances can one find any kind of privilege whatsoever.  I remember filling out my financial aid applications for college, and it was so easy, because I just wrote zeroes down the page.  But that financial aid application was tied to college applications, which were tied to an opportunity to "get out" of my situation.  An opportunity to experience some of the privilege that I was not born with. Going away to a private university was a dream come true for someone who came from such humble means. This narrative could be anyone's - Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American.  There are people who have grown up in the Appalachian mountains or in rural areas of the country who could have had the same type of experience as me, growing up.  Eating "welfare cheese" and drinking powdered milk, getting the ugliest glasses because that's what Medicaid paid for, and living in apartments or rented homes that were falling apart because that is what we could afford - that could be anyone in this country, regardless of race or ethnicity.

But that first weekend in college taught me something about race.  There is something unique about the experiences of those who wear brown skin of all hues.  That first weekend, my friends and I decided to hang out and get something to eat on the main street of our college town.  As we stood there deciding what to eat, talking excitedly about what was ahead of us for the next four years, my friends - one Haitian-American, one Dominican-American, one Nigerian-American, and me, a Puerto Rican-American - watched as a Caucasian American walked up the street and shouted, "THIS IS WHY WHITE MEN CAN'T STAND NIGGER GIRLS, BECAUSE YOU'RE SO FUCKING LOUD!"

This happened to me twenty-five years ago, this first time I was called the N-word, and I remember it as if it were yesterday.  Up until that point, I had lived a life where I never really thought about my race (or even knew that I was not part of one race, but an amalgam of three), and I never really understood why Black people talked about race so much.  Up until that point, I thought I was different from my Black friends.  But in that moment, each of us from our different countries and with our different (but very similar) languages and cultural traditions, became the SAME to that White man.  We were all NIGGERS.

And that's why Ferguson, MO is about race.  Because, my dear White friends, and friends of White people, a White person is not going to be called a nigger in the street on his or her first weekend in college.  A White person is going to learn about the "Great White People" in his or her history in school, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, while a person like me never learned about Malcolm X, or Angela Davis, or Assata Shakur, or Audre Lorde, or the Black Panthers, or Nicolás Guillén, or Julia de Burgos, or Pedro Albizu Campos, or Lolita Lebron, or the Young Lords Party, until I went to college and became committed to learning about who these people were and what they contributed to history, art, politics, and social justice.  A White person is not as likely to be shot by police, even if he or she commits mass murder (e.g.: James Holmes, Jared Loughner), while an unarmed Black or Latino person is likely to be shot and killed on average twice a week in America in 2014.

That's why I stand with Ferguson, MO.  You may not want to see it, but this poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller demonstrates what happens when we refuse to acknowledge that this country was built on racism and that racism is the cornerstone of the social injustices we hear and experience daily:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
























Sunday, June 29, 2014

Revisiting "Happy"

Courtesy of telligent.com
I wrote about the idea of happiness a while ago, and in that post, I stated that happiness is an emotion, or a temporary state.  I've asserted previously that there is a difference between happiness and joy - as I stated, happiness is temporary (and usually provoked by a circumstance), while joy is a lasting state that doesn't necessarily need a specific situation to bring it on.  Happiness comes from without, joy comes from within.  I still think I am right about this, and while I can't really prove it, I know that I have felt the difference between the two.  But I am now coming to a new understanding about happiness and joy, and how the two states of being can work alongside one another.

Over the past few years, I have had numerous people tell me that I wasn't happy, and that they want me to be happy.  Many times, they equated happiness for me with being partnered.  Unfortunately, the very few times that I have been partnered weren't the happiest times in my life.  So I am not sure that being partnered would make me happy, but I do think that the right person in my life will add to my happiness.  That is, if I have some happiness for him to add to.

In my previous post on the topic of happiness, I pretty much insisted that I was happy.  I lied.  I wasn't.

I'd moved to western New York (what most people call "upstate") several times; once for college, once when I was married and my husband basically told me that I was going with him or else, and, once that fell apart - because, hello, too controlling - once more for graduate school.  The final move took place during the time said marriage was falling apart, so no, I was not a happy person, though I am adroit at keeping a smile on my face regardless of the circumstances.  I wasn't one hundred percent sure where life would take me once I'd completed graduate school, but I never thought that I would live in western New York for THIRTEEN years.  THIRTEEN.  So many negative things associated with that number.

Long story short: I really wanted to move to the DMV region (DC/Maryland/Virginia; not the Department of Motor Vehicles, obvs) after grad school (actually, way before that, but I'll get to that later), but I was busy doing a 1,000 hour internship, a 20 hour per week graduate assistantship, writing my Master's thesis, and studying for the National Counselor's Exam while trying to apply for a job.  Well, I applied for one job, and I ended up getting it.  It was a sweet gig, and since the standard of living was low and my credit had taken a beating during grad school, I decided to stay just for a little bit to get back on my feet. That "little bit" turned out to be a longgggggggggg thirteen years.  I hated it there, I knew I hated it, everyone I knew knew that I hated it, and I never felt settled there.  However, I tried to make the best out of a less than ideal situation. I joined a church, a book club, a gym, a library.  I went clubbing for a short period of time, ha ha.  I moved a few times to try to find the "right" feeling.  I was like the Prince in Cinderella, looking for the perfect fit for the glass slipper I was toting around.  It was never right.  No matter what I did or how hard I tried, I felt that something was wrong deep inside of me.

I hated it when people pointed that out, because I was never sure if they understood that I wasn't happy because I was in the wrong place.  It felt like people were accusing me of not being happy, as if I had deliberately chosen unhappiness.  And in some ways, I can admit that I did.  I chose to stay in western New York for so long because I was afraid to fail in the place where I actually wanted to be.

The DMV region was always the destination of choice for me.  I remember visiting Virginia Beach with my sister when I was nineteen, and then again as a graduation gift with my sister and nieces.  I loved the trip, and as a poor kid growing up, I hadn't been too many places outside of New York City.  I visited the DC area again with a friend, staying in Fairfax this time, and I enjoyed it. All three times I thought it was more so the fact that I was on vacation, but those experiences stayed with me for a long time.  Previous to moving to this area, I had never stayed a full week here (as I have during other vacations). However, something kept drawing me to this area of the country more than any other I'd visited, and for over twenty years. But life took me the long way to reach this destination.

Even my short stay with family in Maryland this year still didn't feel right, as much as I'd wanted it to, because I had quit my job and just decided to move, so yes, the risk needed to pay off.  But I understand now that it didn't feel right because it was just a stop on the journey to where I am now.  So when people would ask how I was feeling, if I was happy with my decision, it was difficult to say that I was happy.  I was happy with my decision to leave western New York.  As a matter of fact, it felt like this:

Courtesy of Tyrese Gibson's Facebook Page, LOL
But I still wasn't where I wanted to be.

The job I took here in Virginia was not the job I wanted.  Correction: it was not the job I THOUGHT I wanted.  As a matter of fact, I was thinking of withdrawing from the search process the day of my interview. I drove to my interview exhausted, with a headache, and knowing that I had to do a presentation that just felt like too much for a job I wasn't that interested in.  I give all of the credit to God, because before I went in there, I prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to do the interview for me.  I walked in and immediately felt that I was in a good place.  People seemed genuinely happy to meet me, and I walked out of the interview, sans headache and funky attitude, knowing that if I were offered the position, I would take it.  I literally went through five different interviews for this position. All the while, I did not really know that the job was what I wanted to do.  But when I got the offer, and then got the salary offer, I realized that this wasn't about the job function.  This was about going from a place where people were resentful, or maybe even unaware of my value, to a place where before people even knew me as a person, I was valued.

Circumstances also required me to move quickly, so in a matter of a twelve days after receiving the offer, I was moving just my clothes, shoes, and some dishes into my new apartment about ten minutes from my job (in DMV traffic.  So, heaven.). I have been here for three weeks now, and this is worth sharing: I suffered from insomnia for the entire time that I lived in western New York - waking up at 2 or 3am, and staying up for 2-3 hours, consequently being exhausted and more often than not, late to work, which caused me to be stressed out and feel depressed.  Previous to that, I'd slept like a baby.  For the past three weeks, I have been sleeping on an air mattress with none of my furniture or the things that make a home comfortable, and I have been sleeping like a baby every single night.  Every. Single. Night.

People ask about this new move that I made, and it's been difficult to verbalize how I feel.  But I know now that feeling valued is something that I needed in a workplace.  Being in a place where my supervisor is constantly acknowledging the totality of my previous experiences - where in the past people either downplayed or completely ignored it - means a lot to me.  Being in my own apartment in a place that has been attractive to me since I first visited over twenty years ago feels right.  

I wake up in the morning, and I think, "I'm happy".  

Here's my new definition of happiness.  Happiness is when your inner peace and joy align with your outer circumstances.  And now that I am happy, I can't even begin to imagine how many more good things will come into my life, because everything on the inside of me is finally conspiring with the universe on my behalf.  



Saturday, June 21, 2014

A New State (Get Yours)

Courtesy of my lovely friend and former student, Mah-G, a magical human being. :-)

State commonly refers to… the present condition of a system or entity…
(Courtesy of everyone's friend, Wikipedia.)

I just started a new job in a new state last week.

Over the past six months, I'd written a few blog posts about my decision to leave the job I'd had for almost seven years and move to a different state (which you can read here, here, and here, if you are so inclined).  In those posts, I touched on some of the practical aspects of unemployment, but mostly, I discussed the things I was learning throughout that part of my life's journey.  I thought that once I found employment, I would write a post about the end of that process, but what I find interesting is that I don't feel like there is an "end" to write about, besides saying, "I got a job" after almost six months of being unemployed.

So, yes, I got a job, and I started it last week.  I moved to a new apartment in a new state.  But that's not the end of the story.

I keep getting asked the question, "How is your new job?" And to be honest, I don't have a great answer. So far, so good, is the best answer I can give.  I like the people, and I like that my schedule is flexible and that I can wear jeans on Fridays (Yay!). I like that my new supervisor seems to be someone who will help me grow professionally and who is a down to earth, confident woman of color with no apparent ego issues (More yay!). Other than that, there isn't much I can say. I'm thankful to be employed.

While part of the reason why I left my previous job was because it was really just time to go, another reason was because my spirit and soul were not being fed in that region of the state (or country, but go with me here).  I needed to leave from that place because nothing was changing around me, and everything within me was screaming for change.  I felt as if I was dying inside, and honestly, I don't know if I ever didn't feel that way for the thirteen years I was there, I think I just tried my best to deal with the situation I was in.

State commonly refers to… the present condition of a system or entity…

So yes, I took the plunge and moved, first to a state where I had family and friends, and now to the state where my current position is located (thankfully, still close enough to family and friends).  And I really don't know what I expected to happen between the time that I left my previous job and now.  I thought I would probably spend more time writing my book.  I thought that I would read more and work out more.  I thought I would have some type of epiphany and discover what I was supposed to do.  I thought that some of the people I met along the way would be people I would become friends with.  I thought I had found a new mentor.  None of that really happened.  I really just moved to a new state and started a new job, and there is nothing magical about either of those things (if we're being pragmatic, which I am not prone to be).  

This process of going from being employed, to unemployment, to being employed again wasn't really about work, if you ask the people who know me best.  They would say that I have worked really hard and that I deserved a break.  And even I would say that I moved so that I could focus more on family, both my immediate family as well as the family I hope to have one day.  However, I learned how much I value work while I was unemployed.  I didn't do any of the things that I thought I would do during my break because I spent so much of that time focused on work: looking for work, doing part-time work, working on my job-search skills, networking, working on letters to help people get into school so that they can find meaningful work, and doing housework.  I viewed the six months I had off from work as more work, and I took on any and everything that would make me feel like a contributing member of society.  I didn't rest and relax as much as I could, or should have.  And I don't regret that. I don't apologize for it.  Even though I wasn't gainfully employed for half of this year, I was busy working to get to where I am today.  At this new job and in this new apartment in this new state; both a physical state as well as a spiritual, emotional, and mental state.

State commonly refers to… the present condition of a system or entity…

If there is anything that I learned in the past six months, it's that putting yourself in a position to receive something new takes work on your behalf.  It doesn't just happen because "it's meant to be".  I do tend to use that phrase often, but in reality, if I had not put in the time, energy, or effort to pack up and move, or to create the Excel chart to keep track of my job search, or to connect with any and everybody I needed to support me in this process, I would not be here today.  I believe that people and events do align to create the opportunities for new things to happen in our lives, but that only works if we are open to those people, and if we play our part at those events.  Nothing happens to me that I have not set in motion to occur.  You have to make your destiny, and along the way, God, people, and situations will lift you, hold you, and guide you towards that destiny.

I woke up one morning and DECIDED that the life I was living was no longer the life I wanted to live.  I CHOSE to step into many unknowns, with faith in God and the support of my family and friends.  I BELIEVED that wherever I landed, I would land safely.  And I TRUST that this is not the end of my story that began December 22, 2013, when I drove away from the state, and the condition, that I'd inhabited for thirteen years.  I KNOW that this is only the beginning of something new and great, and my soul and spirit are excited to see what new adventures await, in this new state of being that I have worked to reach.

A new state.  Get yours.  It takes work, but it's worth it. 


Friday, April 11, 2014

Reunions

The Class of 1989 at our 25th Year Reunion
Last weekend, I attended my high school homecoming.  This was our 25th year reunion.  It seems almost unimaginable that I have been out of high school for that long, and though so much has happened since that June day in 1989 when I walked on the stage to "Pomp and Circumstance", homecoming always brings back wonderful memories of those younger, more carefree days, reminding me of who I am at my core.

The prospect of attending a high school reunion is often portrayed on television sitcoms as fraught with anxiety about several things, such as the inevitable weight gain or hair loss we have undergone, or the question of the level of success we have reached and if it is comparable to our peers' successes.  I'll be honest; even as I remembered how much I enjoyed my 20th year reunion, I still felt the same anxiety that usually transpires on those sitcoms.  While I was excited to attend the events, the Facebook event page showed that a lot of people were going who I was not close to in high school.  I imagined I'd be sitting at the bar alone, sipping a drink and watching my classmates trade fond memories and ask each other, "Who is that?" while watching me nurse my glass of Chardonnay.

I was also anxious about something else. There was a possibility that someone would be at those events who I'd told last year never to contact me again.  Since that moment seven months ago, I'd been concerned about this particular reunion.  He had broken my heart repeatedly, and while I had moved on from my past in many ways, I wasn't sure what my reaction would be if I did see him again.

It took me a long time to get ready on the night of our first event last Friday night, more so because my anxiety was making me feel physically sick than any kind of vanity.  But something made me go despite my fear of seeing him again.  I told myself that I wanted to go, that I wanted to have fun, I wanted to see my classmates even if they didn't remember me, and, somewhere deep inside, I wanted to know if I'd gotten stronger in the time since I broke off that connection completely.

He was one of the first people I saw when I walked in.  I was surprised by what I felt; a level of comfort that someone I knew was there, as opposed to the fear, or maybe even brokenness, I thought I would have felt.  But before I could even decide if I was going to walk past him or stop and at least acknowledge him, another classmate came up to me and said hello.  Then another, and another.  And little by little, almost every person in that room greeted me with a hug and a "Hi, Patty" (a nickname I don't remember earning in high school, but that's what almost everyone seemed to call me that night).  And before I could get very deep into socializing, he came up to me as well, giving me a long hug and telling me a whole lot of stuff that was just as sophomoric as if we were still in high school.

I moved on.  And I socialized, and had fun, and truly enjoyed being in this space with these people who I was not currently friends with, but who, for some reason, made me feel welcome, and even cared for. While I knew this person was there, I genuinely could not see a reason to let him, and the things he'd done to hurt me, ruin my night.  And I definitely had a great night.  (Let's just say YOLO was in full effect.)

At one point during the night, however, he came up to me and shared some news that took some of my breath away (and not in a good way).  He asked if we could get together before I left town, and I said okay.  We got together a few days later, and he shared a few more details.  As he did, I sat there, feeling like one boulder had settled into the pit of my stomach and another on my chest, so that I was not able to breathe.  He then asked if he could be a part of my life again.  We had a long conversation about what was wrong with our relationship and what the point of reuniting in any manner would be.  I was very clear that he'd had more than enough chances to do the right thing as it concerned me.  And while we both said we still love each other and still think about each other every day, I was still dubious about his true intentions for wanting to start over.

I went home and cried - I had held my emotions throughout the weekend, and with the additional information I'd been provided, I had more to be upset about.  And I cried, and cried some more.  And then I got angry. I felt a slow, long, simmering anger that continued throughout the week, threatening to manifest itself through Facebook rants and Twitter subtweets.  (Instead, I shared less emotional and more philosophical perspectives on accountability, love, and the like.) Of course, I asked myself if I could possibly start over with this person, someone who I'd felt emotionally and psychologically abused by, someone who had no empathy or compassion for anyone but himself.  Despite all of that, I did have to admit that I still felt connected to him.

During our lunch meeting, he asked me if there was anyone else that I was excited about.  If there was anyone that I loved or could imagine being with.  He asked (not for the first time) that if I loved him, how could I possibly be with someone else?  And I thought about that.  I wondered if I would be living a lie if I moved on with someone else.  Part of me wondered if he was right, and we were supposed to be together because somehow, even when things were hard or horrible between us, we still found a way to reunite.

Then I got past my emotions, and I thought about something else.  I thought about how friendly all of the men were throughout the weekend.  I thought about the men who let me know, to varying degrees, how attractive they thought I was.  I thought about those two men who checked to make sure I was okay on Friday night before I drove home.  I thought about the ones that I'd connected with after the reunion through Facebook or phone conversations, and how, in some ways, I felt more supported and more cared for after last weekend.  I'm not discounting the connections with the women - we always seem to be genuinely happy to be together - but it was what I noticed about the men made me realize something.  Those who were at our reunion events with their wives and significant others enjoyed being with them.  Showed them off in some ways.  Had fun with their partners.  Those who were there alone were attentive and enjoyable to be around.  I felt warm being around these people.  Not hurt, not anxious, not fearful.  And these men reminded me that men can be good; men can be caring and concerned about someone other than themselves.  They reminded me that I don't have to settle for someone who says he's always loved me, but was never able to demonstrate that love in any meaningful way.

Most importantly, this past week of reunions gave me the opportunity to assess where I am mentally, emotionally, and spiritually after having moved to a different state earlier this year.  The purpose of moving was to remove myself from a toxic environment and create opportunities for personal and professional progression.  After seeing this person, I was anxious that reuniting with him would take me back to a place I thought I'd moved past.  I thought that maybe he was supposed to always be a part of my life in some way, regardless of how much he continually hurt me.  And for a few days, I lacked the peace and contentment I'd experienced since making the decision to change various aspects of my life. But when I thought about what I've learned about myself in the past few months - specifically that I took a risk to make my life the absolute best it could possibly be, and that I AM BRAVE, and that I refuse to SETTLE and be stagnant - I realized that some reunions should not be prolonged, because they aren't meant to create new and meaningful connections.  Some reunions are meant to take you back from where you came.  And while going back to the place you once called home is usually enjoyable, going backwards never is.




Friday, March 21, 2014

Child-like Faith

Gift from former students
I am counting the months.  If you've been counting with me (which I have no idea why you would be; that's kind of weird), this week makes month three of unemployment for me.

I honestly had no idea what I was really getting myself into when I decided to pick up and leave a place I had inhabited for thirteen years, in a matter of four weeks.  I gave away tons of stuff to whomever would take it, packed up in a matter of days really, rented a U-haul, and my awesome brother and nephew drove my stuff 350 miles to its current storage place, my mother's basement. I spent a few weeks with family, a week on vacation, another week with my mother, and then I moved more stuff to my brother and sister-in-law's home in another state.  And here I am, still job searching and still trying to figure out where I'll land (see last month's post here).  I've had a few phone interviews, a few in-person interviews, and had a few really encouraging meetings with people who have authority to make hiring decisions, including one with a woman whom I have identified as a potential mentor. And yet, I find myself concerned with many things.

"Are my brother and his wife regretting their decision to allow me to stay in their home?"

"Am I not casting my net wide enough?  Should I actually be searching in other states?"

"How will I pay my bills next month, if I don't have a job by then?"

"How will I pay rent when I do get a job?  The cost of living is way higher here!"

Obviously, these are questions and concerns anyone who just decides to quit their job and move to another state would have.  There are nights when these concerns keep me up for hours.  I absolutely hate being dependent on others; I am one of the most independent people I know.  There are times when I feel like a burden, when I can't believe that I would impose myself on my family the way that I have.  And I have mentioned to some of my closest friends that I feel like I made a mistake giving up the security of a tenured job, one where I was hugged and told that I was loved on an almost daily basis.  While these feelings have been with me throughout most of this period of unemployment, I never really articulated my actions as a mistake until very recently.  But then I read a devotional email that brought me back to the reasons why I did what I did:

From Today's Word by Joel and Victoria Osteen, March 17, 2014:

"God is strategic. He has laid out an exact plan for our lives right down to the smallest details. He knows the people you need to meet in order to fulfill your destiny. He knows who is going to give you a good break and who is going to put in a good word for you. He knows when someone is going to need to be there to help you out of a difficult time. God has it all figured out. He is not vague or approximate. He is orchestrating your life right down to the very second, causing you to be at the right place at the right time so you can meet the right people that He has ordained before the foundation of the world."

As I stated earlier, I had a meeting a few weeks ago with a woman who works as an Assistant Dean at an institution I would love to work for.  Not only does this institution have a great reputation, it has a doctoral program with coursework that most closely matches the coursework I completed during the Ph.D. program I left without completing, credits that would most likely transfer. She was introduced to me by my brother's next door neighbor, who happens to be her boss.  While it was not a formal interview, we were both well aware that a position is opening up in her department, so I was prepared for an informal interview.  

While it was already amazing that my brother lives next door to her boss, what happened next could have only been divinely orchestrated.  (I learned later that she never looked at my resume, which was sent to her prior to our meeting.) When asked the requisite, "tell me about yourself" question, for some reason - I do not know why or how - one of the first things that came out of my mouth had to do with where I got my Master's degree.  I never start to answer that question in that way.  But this time I did, and she automatically responded with surprise and a certain professional level of glee: she attended the same exact Master's program! Then she asked if I had a graduate assistantship there, and when I told her I did, and where, she had the same assistantship! And she even knew someone who I'd worked with, and certainly demonstrated that she felt the same way about this person as I did.  (Long story, you had to be there.  But be glad you weren't!)

With our meeting off to a great start, we talked about my experiences, and she asked me what I wanted to know about her, her department, and the position.  I had done my research, so I was able to answer these questions (VERY IMPORTANT LESSON - you can't go into any meeting without doing your research about the person as well as the organization).  It became clear throughout this meeting - a 30 minute appointment that went well over an hour - that not only could I relate to this woman, but she was a great model for the type of professional I could grow to become.  She began to make statements that sounded as if she were trying to sell her institution to me.  

Finally, I asked her for advice on my job search, because I wanted to demonstrate that I believed her time was valuable and that I was grateful that she spent it with me.  She encouraged me to apply for the position, stating that she saw a good fit for her department. She asked if there was some temporary work I could do in the meantime, because the position doesn't start until late spring.  I told her that I was doing temporary work and explained what the work was, and in that instance, I seemed to be teaching her something about the higher education industry.  She told me to appreciate the opportunity that I have to take some time to explore other areas of higher education and to be grateful for this time of unemployment, because it isn't something many people can do without having real concerns (because my concerns, while real, are not as pressing as I know other unemployed people's concerns are).  She said this was a blessing for me.  

Within this conversation, although I never mentioned my spiritual beliefs, or the sense of connection I felt with this woman, I did share something with her that I haven't shared with anyone.  I told her that, when people at my former institution would ask what I wanted to do in my new state, I would tell them that I wanted to work at her institution.  I told her that I didn't have a clue as to how or when that would happen, but that I said it as a little child would say that they want something to happen.

That's the kind of faith it takes to do something so utterly brave (or crazy), like quitting a tenured position and moving to a state that you're not even sure you can financially afford to live in.  Child-like faith doesn't ask for all the details.  Child-like faith expects to win.  Child-like faith believes in what is good, in what is right and true in one's heart.  

I looked at my bank account dwindling this week, and thought about that meeting that happened a few weeks ago.  I thought about the nonexistent paycheck that I thought I would be getting from my last job, because I was confused about how pay periods work. I thought about that job that doesn't start until a few months from now at the institution I want to work for.  I thought about the job I just interviewed for that maybe isn't the best fit for me.  I thought about what my family might think if I turned down a potential offer because I don't want to settle.  All of the concerns came up again, mostly financial.  And then I read this earlier this morning:

"And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us by Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:19

Now, I have read this Scripture many times, but reading it this morning brought me back to the last time it really came alive for me.  I had been recently separated from my husband, had started a Master's program far away from my family and everyone I knew, and had spent a semester as a graduate intern, having taken a $22,000 pay cut.  During the break after my first semester, I was thinking of quitting my Master's program and going back to teaching because I couldn't live on the very small amount of pay I was making.  I remember reading this Scripture, and soon after, I received a phone call from the director of my department saying that he wanted to promote me to a full-time position, and double my salary.  It was enough for me to finish my Master's degree and move forward in my life in a way that I was not able to while I was married.

Child-like faith understands that the answers may not be clear at first.  Child-like faith understands that you may not know everything, but you have a deep sense of knowing within you that you are taking the right step at the right time.  

Today, I went downstairs after my morning yoga, and I saw an envelope with my name on it.  I opened it, and it was a check for the work I had done last month.  A nice-sized check that I can use to pay the bills I was concerned about, for at least the next month.

Child-like faith believes that where God guides, He will provide.

I'm sharing this because, although we may not all share the same belief system, we have to know that the road map to our purpose lies within us.  We have to quiet ourselves from all of the concerns, the worries, the doubts, and the fears, so that we can hear that Inner Voice telling us what the next step is.  

Child-like faith believes that our journey to our life's purpose begins when we take a step, not knowing what the next step will be.

So I continue on this path, returning to the faith that little children have.  Because a child knows what we adults often forget: that if we believe, anything is possible.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” - Matthew 19:14




Thursday, February 20, 2014

Home

Courtesy of www.craftyindividuals.co.uk
I feel like I'm sitting in a confessional.  "Bless me Father, for I have sinned, it has been two months since I quit my job, and these are my feelings."  These days, I count time based on when I left my job, and the city/town/village/boonies I lived in for thirteen years.  In the first month, I moved, spent the holidays with family, went on vacation by myself, and slept A LOT.  Woke up at ungodly hours of the day (11am for me is just lazy) and spent the day in pajamas until I could motivate myself to take a shower.  For most of this time of unemployment, I have not worn make-up, used a curling iron, or even wore pants.  Leggings all-day, err-day.  I have spent more time in the house than probably the entire amount of time I spent in my last apartment.

This is not me.  I am (or was) used to getting up early to do my morning yoga, eat breakfast, run out of the house, work, go to school a few times a week, run errands after work, and trying to look my best doing all of these things.  Some days, I could barely breathe.  I spent so much time doing something, and I am in an interesting place right now.  It's not good.  It's not bad, and people tell me that I am in the best place to do things for myself right now.  But when you are used to always performing, always striving, and always trying to please others (let me keep it real), resting is not part of the vocabulary.  After a while, you (at least I feel this way) start to get paranoid that people think you're a lazy bum.  Are you searching hard enough?  Why don't you have a job yet?  Why are you still in bed?  This is what the second month looks like.  Not really knowing what to do with myself, except that I know what I should be doing.  My close friends know what I should be doing.  But somehow, all of these feelings of guilt for not working my butt off every single day begin to eclipse my purpose and my head is filled with so many doubts and fears that it isn't clear enough to do what I should be doing, which is writing my book.  Or, you know, enjoying life.

I don't really want to get to the third month of unemployment, but it will be here in about four weeks. While I am starting to feel a shift - it could be the well-paying temporary work I got, it could be the weather, it could be the email inviting me for a phone interview - I am so ambivalent about what I'm feeling, who I am right now, what my purpose is, and where I will land.  I am meeting new people, catching up with old friends, and spending more time with family than I'm sure they really want.  But I am also missing people so much.  I spent about one month with my mother, with whom I had not spent so much time in the past ten years.  And at the age of 42, I feel as attached to her as I did when I was five.  While I have no children of my own, I had hundreds of students who called me Mama G, Mom, or Mommy.  Leaving them feels like I ripped out pieces of my heart and scattered them in so many places.  (For Harry Potter fans, it's like leaving little horcruxes everywhere!)  And there are some people I miss who I didn't even think I would miss so much.  We take so many things for granted - the every day conversations, the meals eaten together, even just passing each other in the hallway - that when those things don't happen anymore, it's like someone pulled the rug out from under you.

Someone told me yesterday, "You turned your life upside down."  I never thought of it that way until my feelings started to betray me.  When I decided to leave my job and the area I'd lived in since graduate school, I was so happy to do so.  I knew it had gotten stale, and that really, there were NO men for me to meet and fall in love and get married and have babies and live happily ever after with (I haven't given up on this dream yet!).  I knew that there was nowhere for me to go in my current job.  I knew that if I stayed, my spirit would have been crushed.  So all I felt was peace and happiness.  In the last couple of weeks, I was slapped with reality.  I don't have a job.  I actually don't have a permanent address.  I am staying with family, but ME, I'm HOMELESS.  Me.  The person who valued her space and her independence.  The person who valued being strong and secure.  I did turn my life upside down, and while so many people have said that what I did was brave, I don't feel so brave right now.

I told my sister I was afraid that I'd made a big mistake.  She said that I did what I needed to do at the time, that of course I would have some regrets.  Maybe this happens to everyone; actually, I'm sure it does, but I am usually so sure of myself that it's strange to feel so discombobulated.  The easiest thing I could do is go back.  I was job searching yesterday and found a position open at my old job, and for about half a millisecond I considered applying for it.  I had to talk myself out of it.  I thought about how I have an approved leave of absence from my doctoral program, and looked up a department I'd interviewed with at that institution to see if there were any openings.  I thought about going back.  And again, I had to tell myself that I never even wanted to live there in the first place and that when I interviewed for that job, I was so nervous that I would get it and have to live in that godforsaken place, but I interviewed anyway.  (Thank God, I didn't get that job.) 

So why am I sharing this?  Because, as with all things in life, there is a lesson.  I think I'm still learning this, but today, when I told one of my dearest former students "I don't know where I will land", she said, "Somewhere they are going to want you; no doubt you'll definitely be somewhere, because somebody needs you!"  And just like that, I remembered.  I remembered that I left because I was no longer needed where I was.  I left because my assignment was up.  My most vulnerable students, my first semester freshmen, were almost all doing well academically.  My sophomores and I had developed great relationships, but they actually needed me to leave so that they could grow up - several of them have told me that my leaving has forced them to do so.  My juniors and seniors, for the most part, were comfortable with advocating for themselves and planning for their futures.  And my women's leadership group has an amazing team of young women who understand the mission and goals of the organization and are more than capable of carrying the vision forward.  My friends had either left, or had other pursuits that were taking up their time, and I no longer felt supported, personally or at work.  It was time to go.  

Moving forward is hard.  Yes, in the beginning, you might feel some peace.  That is what God gives you so that you have the strength to take the risk.  But in the transition time, you will feel doubt.  That's when I keep reminding myself that God brought me here, and He will not leave me.  I'm not always going to be in this state of emotional purgatory; and yet this is where I need to be right now - to be cleansed of old thoughts and habits that related to an old lifestyle, and to start again, pure and ready to embrace the new assignment God has for me.  

The feeling of homelessness happens when your soul and spirit are unsettled.  That feeling of not knowing where you will land will go away when you land in your new purpose.  And wherever your spiritual feet touch the ground, that will be home.  It's not always where your friends and family are, or where you have job security, but where your spirit says, "I am home.  I am where I need to be for this time in my life."