Many people claim to embrace change. They love it. They thrive on it. They seek it out.
My theory? Many of these people are full of it. Change is scary, no matter which way you look at it. Disruption of the norm is always a bit tumultuous.
I’ve always been one who is not afraid of a little change; a new haircut, a new recipe, driving a new route to work.
But the big things in life? I’ve always been loyal and true. You might even use the term “staid”.
Dating? I’ve been a long-term relationship gal. Even when I wasn’t totally emotionally fulfilled or invested.
Living quarters? While I may have loaded up the U-Haul truck a time or two, I’ve always made my house my home for generous amounts of time. At least long enough to hang my hat, or, er... pictures.
Cars? I’ve only had four, and I'd probably still be driving my last if not for that unfortunate *blush* fender-bender. When I left the green machine on the salvage lot, I felt pangs of remorse and regret. Why hadn't I been paying more attention on the highway that morning? We'd only been together a mere seven years! I was going to drive him (yes, him...he even had a name) into the ground! My plan was foiled. I even sheepishly took pictures; hood mangled into a menacing looking grimace.
And my jobs? Well, you might call me Dedicated Employee #1. One of my first jobs was a cashier at the local CVS/pharmacy. I was sixteen years old, fresh-faced, and eager to learn. Each year I worked my way up the shaky aluminum ladder and found myself with more responsibility. I caught on quickly and actually enjoyed counting out drawers for the upcoming shifts and swinging around my newly acquired manager's keys. CVS kept a position for me throughout college, and even four years after. My loyalty had paid off, and when I finally turned in my stiff and unfashionable red employee vest and 20% off discount card, I had to swallow the ever-growing lump forming in my throat.
It wasn't until I found my true career path that I finally began to question this concept of loyalty.
One year after I graduated college, I found what I thought to be my dream job. A marketing assistant at a little travel/outdoor publishing company. In fact, my loyalties to an old college friend secured me the position.
I loved it. I loved the people, I loved the location (minutes from my home and the beach!), I loved the hours, and most importantly, I loved the work. I'd found my niche, and within several years, I'd found a more suitable position within the company for my long-term goals.
Each year brought about change (new books, new authors, acquiring new publishing companies). I moved through it gracefully; bending, swaying like a willow tree. My hard work garnered me several promotions; the responsibility made me content and fulfilled.
But suddenly, my happiness ceased.
Soon, the company began a downward spiral. We acquired a New York City publishing house, which brought about new genres of books, new breeds of authors, and a new echelon of employees. The small-town, positive aura had dissipated, and a new dark vibe took its place. The courtesy and respect that employees had for each other was replaced by snarky tones, sarcasm, and callous demeanors.
My work began to feel rushed and shoddy. The authors I worked with were self-absorbed and impatient, and the new employees that filtered in around me were rude, ruthless, and had the impression that all the “older” employees were a bunch of dimwitted country bumpkins.
Years before, my ideas were accepted with enthusiasm and approval. Now, when I voiced opinions in meetings, I was met with new policies and procedures, and "we'll sees". I was no longer able to treat my books with time and careful consideration. I felt like I was pushing widgets out the door. And no matter how proficient, capable, and accomplished I was...I merely wasn't good enough.
Quite simply, I'd become wallpaper. I'd melded into the furnishings; unrecognizable, even to myself.
I now served no purpose to this organization. I felt like a rebellious teenager, who was one outburst away from getting kicked out of her home.
The reality was, I'd stayed too long. I knew it, and it was a bitter pill to swallow. The hordes of my co-workers who'd left before me had known what I hadn't. I'd been rendered useless.
During this time, my mother was in the hospital being treated for complications due to her cancer. It was days before Christmas, and I'd made the trip to the 8th floor to visit her.
She wasn't in her room. I was scared. She never left her bed, never mind her room. Before the panic really set in, one of the nurses popped her head in. “Looking for your mom?” she inquired. I nodded, hoping for the best, praying not to hear the worst. “She’s down the hall in the piano room. They're having a little Christmas sing-a-long."
My mother? Signing with people she didn't know?
Now there was a change. My mother wasn't one to step outside her comfort level and interact with strangers—especially strangers who were likely sicker than she. And caroling? This I had to see.
I quietly watched from the doorway. Cancer patients of every color and creed, bald heads bedecked with colorful scarves or bandanas— or not. Someone gracefully stroking the ivory keys, while the others sang out familiar words of the season. My mother in the middle.
I watched for a few moments, before I tearfully walked back to her room. I'd remembered being a little girl, playing with my dollhouse, and suddenly looking up only to catch my mother watching me from the doorway. It had always embarrassed me—having been jolted out of childlike play--tarnishing the moment. I didn't want my mother's moment of cheerfulness to be ruined by prying eyes. She'd looked fear in the eyes many times after her diagnosis, but this was different. I knew she'd have been apprehensive about caroling with strangers, and I didn't want her to second guess herself.
With tears streaming down my face, I sat in a chair in my mother's room. Tears were normal here. The nurses were kind and empathetic.
I started to think about my mother, looking her fears in the face. I started to think about all the nurses and doctors surrounding me who were working to help all these sick individuals. I started to think about their purpose in life as opposed to mine. For the first time in a long while, I started to think about true change in my life.
Not long after, I started volunteering for Special Olympics Connecticut, an organization to which I'd always inexplicably been drawn. I knew that purpose would come to my life if I could just use my skills to help those less fortunate than myself. There wasn't an open position within the organization at the time. So I took photographs at events, I wrote biographies for the athletes attending National Games, and I did whatever was asked of me. I prayed a little. Ok...I wished, and I hoped, and I prayed. A lot.
The job finally came. And my life changed.
I cried my way out the door my last day as a book publicist. Leaving the familiar and the secure was gut wrenching.
I also cried all the way home my first day as a grant writer. Had I done the right thing? When would I feel like I fit in? Would I become wallpaper again?
I just celebrated my second anniversary at Special Olympics. I am doing my very best to serve a misunderstood and ignored sector of our society, and I truly believe that I’ve found where I need to be. At least for now. I am so proud of myself for casting my fears aside and accepting the biggest challenge of my life. I left behind all that was safe for a complete risk, and I came out stronger and more focused.
Alan Cohen, the Chicken Soup for the Soul guru, once stated, “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”
My own life change has taught me that there is no such thing as can’t—only won’t. If you're qualified, all it takes is a burning desire to accomplish—to make a change. The ability to make a change comes from your mind, and your pure desire to move forward. When we do the impossible, we realize we are special people. People of mediocrity ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don't know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to.
You can have anything you want—if you want it bad enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with a singleness of purpose.
There are some people who think that holding on makes one strong, when in fact, I believe that sometimes what makes one strong is letting go. Letting go doesn’t mean giving up, but rather accepting that there are things that cannot be. There are things that we never want to let go of, things we never want to leave, dreams we thought were ours to fulfill. But letting go isn’t the end of the world, it’s the beginning of a new life. And the past is all experience.
The only person you are destined to be is the person you decide to be. We’re all tested in different ways each day. Life twists and turns on a dime.
The great M. Scott Peck, acclaimed author of The Road Less Traveled, said, “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of ours ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
So get out there and find out what lights your fire. Where do you need to be? How do you need to change? Find your calling…and go for it.
And for God sake, don't ever become wallpaper.