It’s April. Spring showers, wildflowers, coming out of dormancy, beginning again. It’s also the 18-month anniversary of my return to corporate America, and the date by which my younger sister told me I’d better be out of it again.
I have always been better at doing what I was told, than determining what I would do. I have dreams, but I view them as the things I can’t wait to do when they pop up right in front of my face, not things I go out and make happen. It’s an approach that explains why my decision to travel around the world petrified me: I had made a statement of intent, and now I must follow through. It was exactly the opposite of what I was used to.
During the first week of this trip, I was terrified. I tried to be patient, but any forgiveness I happily show another person isn’t a generosity I bestow on myself. In calls home to family, an ‘auntie’ said to me, “you know you can always come home.”
This struck me as possibly the most ridiculous thing anyone had ever said to me. Of course I would not go home. Face-saving aside, who takes three steps forward into a dream and then turns around? Not THIS chick. And saving face isn’t an aside. I was not going to give up – not on the trip, and definitely not on myself. I had come this far. It was only the beginning, but it was still pretty far.
This wasn’t the first time someone had said such a thing to me. In grad school, out of my element, in a new town decidedly more conservative than any I’d been used to, in a program that forced me so far out of my comfort zone I began to drink regularly for the first time in my life (at the age of 30), I sought counsel from a mentor back in Seattle. She said a very similar thing, “if you are this miserable, why don’t you quit?”
When my auntie told me I could just go home, the first thing I heard was, “if you’re miserable, why don’t you quit?” It was ridiculous, and a revelation, and true: I could quit. I could go home, and no one would be bothered by it. Except for me. As much as I was out of my element in trying to catch the Transmilenio in Bogota, as much a failure as I felt for not having conquered the world three days into seeing it, I just needed to know there was an out, in order to find the ability to continue.
And so, last July, when I showed up for a family vacation 10 months into my new job and six months into literally dreading every single day of it, into waking in the night riddled with the buckshot of anxiety that tore up my confidence, into driving to the office and sitting in the parking lot willing myself to open the door and go into the building, I was slightly more prepared for someone to ask exactly what one sister did.
“You know you can quit, right? It sounds miserable.”
This time, I knew. And because I knew, I had started working through what the plan should be. How to turn the three steps forward into ten, into 20, into, potentially, a path to the door.
The project that was making me miserable was more out of my comfort zone than foreign transportation. It was amorphous, relied on resources who were poorly managed and had no people skills, and required the involvement of literally every area of the operation. I couldn’t articulate it, let alone lead it. I had no guidance, no mentorship. I was bogged down.
But here is what I knew: I don’t like to give up. I hated what I was doing, but I didn’t want to let it get the better of me. I had, by July, outlined the most significant milestones, the release dates and deliverables, and put regular routines in place to track them. I had found a mentor who could help keep me out of the weeds. I had taken three steps forward, and was continuing to put one foot in front of the other.
No one wants to see a resume with a job that lasts under a year, so I wouldn’t leave before October. I had a significant deliverable by Sept 30th, and I was requesting permission to work remotely for a month. I would wrap up the first and if I got the second, I would stick around a little longer. I had my out, so I could continue to work.
I delivered the first, they delivered the second. And during October, from my remote work escape to the Pacific Northwest, I had my mid-year review, during which I was told something that caught me by surprise: I was knocking it out of the park.
How could I be this miserable, and successful? Because the metrics by which these things are measured are vastly separate. Delivery despite the cost it takes on my self is workplace success, but not a personal success. Unlike delivering myself successfully around the world, which was almost pure joy, where each fear conquered was a gift to the person I had once been and was becoming again, each milestone conquered at work was another little weight on the scale tipping in a direction way from who I am. I will pull the scale back into balance, but only by hanging off the edge of it and pulling it back down.
So here we are: April. Month 19. A time for growth, for rebirth, for new buds and sweet smells in the sun coming out. A time, perhaps for coming out of the cocoon as a butterfly and flying away. Only time will tell.