Sunday, November 16, 2008

the bright clear path ahead

I fell into a funk shortly after my last post. it didn't last much more than 24 hours and i do think my hormones contributed something to the equation. yet, when i woke on friday i felt refreshed, hopeful again, energetic. seizing the day, i went to the studio and got more accomplished than i have in weeks. then yesterday i moved a rosebush, and did some gardening. it felt good to move my body, even though i have the sore muscles today to show for my efforts.

it seems i am coming out of weeks and weeks of rest and what has sometimes felt like inertia. even though my emotional world, along with my spiritual and mental investigations, have been very active. why does checking items off a to-do list feel so valuable? and why does spending blocks of time in contemplation feel like it doesn't measure up, like it isn't real work?

for the past 77 days, i have been on a kind of retreat.

in times past, when i had no work and little money, but plenty of time, i felt trapped. certainly in these weeks i have experienced that feeling yet again. i have time to travel: but no money. i have time to go out: but no money.

thing is, i am not meant to be traveling or going out.

in the absence of work (nothing is selling on my websites) i have made myself into a work-worthy project. my cleanse in september kicked off a very contemplative period. soul searching has led to job searching, which has led to even deeper soul searching.

this personal work has been very, very productive.

for perhaps the first time in my life, i recognized that i had reached a significant crossroads. for absolutely the first time in my life, i stopped at the crossroads, sat down and cleared my head. i am still sitting there, my dear readers. no sugar or booze to cloud my view, i seem to be able to see for miles in every direction. at first, the way forward was foggy. the path to the future was littered with fallen branches and leaves. i wasn't exactly sure that there was even a path.

looking back over the landscape behind me, the one i've traveled these 40-odd years, things grew more clear the longer i looked. i started to see the other crossroads i've passed. the places where i plodded on, blindly, when i most needed rest. the streams i waded through, oblivious, even while i was so thirsty. the big signs in the road i didn't notice, distracted by drama, by boredom, by a driving need to be right. i saw alot of murky bogs in my past, a few of which i barely escaped with my life.

then, some encouraging themes emerged. the whole path behind me was not dark. there were lush green meadows as well as frozen, rocky mountain passes. i looked for, and found, some real jewels of information in the journey behind me. just in this last week, sitting still at my crossroads, i realized some truths both profound and useful.

here are those truths, in two parts.

part one: i dream of changing the world, of making an impact in some dramatic and measurable way. to revolutionize the way something is done, to "save" a whole bunch of people. i have global vision and big ideas, i always have. yet what i've realized and am ready to admit is that this desire is driven not just by compassion, there is no small amount of ego involved. perhaps that is not even a bad thing, i'm just saying i noticed it and i am owning it. sometimes it's good to go for what makes you happy, not what you dream about. for me, it is a breakthrough to see that those two things are not always the same.

the second profound and useful part is even more revealing. this nugget serves as a red neon arrow at my crossroads, pointing this way. what i realized is that my most satisfying work has been directly helping individuals, especially teens and young adults. people at that first big crossroads in life. what i love most is connecting authentically, listening, mentoring, guiding, supporting dreams and nurturing ambitions. that work resonates on all levels. that work is a worthy use of my time and talents.

this, what i'm doing right now, sitting at the crossroads, is the work i want to help others do. this powerful, important process of sifting, learning to see, being honest with self, finding the way forward - this is where i am an expert. this is what i have to give. i am moved to tears as i write about it, as i finally see those last dead leaves blown off of my path.

it is clear. i can see now where i am meant to go, where i want to go, where i will go.

behind me, i see my five years of classroom teaching. i know i don't want to return to that. before me, i see high school school counseling, academic advising. work that sustains my interest because, in part, it calls upon what i have lived. i know from experience that working with teens asks you to use everything you have ever learned. as a side benefit, they teach you all sorts of interesting lessons.

i realized during this retreat in my own home that i am more interested in people than business. that MBA i considered in september wouldn't get me to where i really want to be. i have come to accept that my core values have not changed, that they won't change. people always trumps money. in this life, i am meant to accumulate my wealth in social capitol. in this life, all i need is to be comfortable financially and to do meaningful work. all i would do with extra money is give it away, anyhow. and i see now that what i have to give, of myself, my time, is of immeasurable value.

i am wealthy beyond my wildest imagination.

Note: two tools were instrumental in this retreat process. i recommend them wholeheartedly, if you are ready to face, with curiosity and tenderness, any possible answer that may come.
  • i asked for help from five people i really trust and know without a doubt, love me dearly and forever. (for me, that was my sisters, my brother and my parents. i could not have made this request without healthy relationships with each of them). i asked for each person to draw up two lists, one of my strengths/gifts and another of my challenges/weaknesses. i received them gratefully, without getting defensive. this was a difficult and painful tool, but very useful. what i was looking for in those lists is the things that i couldn't easily see. i approached the exercise as research and both lists gave vital information.
  • i read a superb book called making a living while making a difference, conscious careers for an era of independence, by melissa everett. everett's book is more than theory and enviable case studies, as this type of book often seems to be. this book offered real tools and exercises that refined my data, focused my thoughts and opened my heart. i recommend the original, not the revised addition, unless you are looking at moving into environmental fields.
what first steps do i take down this clear path ahead of me? that is exactly what i am figuring out, with gratitude and openness.


Kristin said...

You sound so clear in this post, Tay. What a beautiful thing to see. I imagine that a lot of us would say that you have made a difference in our lives, already. How lucky the future recipients of your guidance will be!

HistPresD said...

This post shows that you have been through a really lucid and thoughtful time. Congratulations. It has not been easy and it is really good to see you coming out of some tough times and circumstances and figuring out where to go from here. Life seems like a puzzle sometimes. Not everyone takes the time to put the pieces together properly, or to figure out how they fit. I get stuck thinking that the problems and roadblocks in daily life are life itself. This is not incorrect, but it is blinkered, only looking at the small picture. One of the biggest challenges is to be thoughtful with what we do with our time and ourselves. I find it to be quite challenging, and think this post is wonderful.

kathleen said...

that post makes the air move through my lungs more deeply...

Holly said...

Yes, my dear, a perfect choice for you. Your ability to sit across the table from someone and see them, really see them, and hear them too and then give with all your heart and optimism exactly the support they need is just what you are a natural at. Sitting alone in the studio day after day, battling with the solitary creative gods is not what you are here for...
I am so happy that you have made this choice and, in retrospect, the last choice too which was what ultimately led you here. Couldn't have done one without the other! all my best, H.

salmonpoetry said...

Tay, I am happy for you to feel such conviction and clarity with what you want to do. the whole need to work, both to feed and house ourselves and to be part of a larger human community, doesn't always have neat and obvious places for people who are creative, complex, and care deeply. i am sure you will make a significant impact for those you work with. i like that aspect of my job, too (most of the time).
it seems that you've found a path that fits your desire and commitment to change the world, but in a way that could be sustainable for you personally and perhaps the most fulfilling way for you to share your gifts.
best wishes as you sort and sift some more

Tay said...

Thank-you for your support and belief in me, everyone. I couldn't get here without my dear friends.