Yeah, I’ve been in a funk. I don’t like it there. No fun whatsoever. I get down in the dumps about the state of the proverbial this, that, and the other…and yes, I have a lot of life to sort through. I have friends who think I live a charmed life, and while I don’t want to necessarily pop that balloon…cuz balloons are happy and who doesn’t like happy?… it’s not the whole truth.
I also don’t often admit when I’m down in the dumps. I mean, my husband knows. The kids know. Oh boy, does the immediate family know! They deserve hazard pay for those days… But I don’t like to talk about it with people because 1) the last thing I need to be is a complainer, 2) I’m embarrassed by that sort of attention, and 3) most people don’t know me well enough to help, anyway. They try to get me to count my blessings, as if I don’t do that every day. I do. Believe me, I know I’m fortunate and blessed beyond what most people could ever hope for.
So I don’t share much with people face to face. Online, however? I’m a little more of an open book. Funny, isn’t it?
But these last few weeks, it’s been a little harder to hide. I mean, I’m talking grief pouring out of me. CRYING. SOBBING. Showing up at work with puffy eyes and a red nose, and no, I’m not Rudolph! I don’t know when was the last time I’ve cried. It’s been YEARS. I’ve gotten so numb about certain life events I can’t even cry about them anymore, but this last month or so of introspection revealed new insights that left some pretty raw, gaping wounds I didn’t even know I had.
I have been thinking about the trajectory of my life, what I hoped for when I was younger, significant heartbreak I’ve had along the way, relationships that died for no apparent reason I could find and others that did because of neglect on my part. The hard work and sacrifice for a career that doesn’t seem to yield the fruit I was trying to grow, and the aspects of my life that were put on hold either because of my career, or maybe it was more like the career was a very helpful distraction from all of the heartbreak. I had my act together at one time…as close as one could, I suppose. And then more life happens and throws your plans all to hell, and along with it goes your confidence.
The reckoning sucks. It does. I don’t know how to sugarcoat that. Not anymore! 20-30-40 years go by and you can see the arc of events, the forks in the road you didn’t know were there at the time you encountered them, the friends, the foes, the frenemies…. I really dislike those kind of people. But let’s not talk about them because today concludes this episode of The Doldrums.
I can tell I may have turned a corner. Last night before falling asleep, I told myself that if my eyes popped open at an early hour, I would get my lazy butt up outta bed and walk outside. The weather has been pleasant. I’ve had a nasty cough that has started to get better, so no more pawning it off on illness. Besides, my inner voice has been telling me to get up and walk in the early morning since, oh, I don’t know…2002? So I made a bet with my tomorrow self and dozed off into la-la-land.
Wouldn’t you know: my eyes voluntarily popped open at 5am. I immediately wanted to bargain with Tuesday night’s Denise that I really didn’t mean it, haha.
By 5:50, I had sneakers on and off I went throughout the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure I served as the neighborhood rooster with loud coughing fits every .3 miles or so but I got 2.7 miles in today. It felt so good. Why is it so hard to put sneakers on at 5 am when it otherwise feels so good when you do at 6 am?
I deliberately left the earbuds behind, too. No music today…I just wanted to hear the sounds of the neighborhood and mindfully take in the spring sights. I noticed the nicely manicured lawns, pops of light purple flowers carpeting the ground everywhere, the birds tweeting (oh, how I love it, no lie), and the houses with overgrown dandelions up to my kneecaps, ready to take flight.
So much thinking, planning, conviction. I ace that stuff.
See, back in 2001 I hatched this idea that I wanted to be a life coach. I liked being a consultant, and I was for PricewaterhouseCoopers. But it drove me a little crazy that I was often part of the public accounting audit team and responsible for providing all manner of information technology evaluations for our audit clients who were not required to correct any of the legitimate errors I pointed out. The lead financial auditors argued that as long as the financial numbers were adjusted to be correct, the systems and processes that produced those numbers could be incredibly crappy and faulty. Their job was to confirm the numbers were a fair representation of the business, period. The auditors would swoop in, find the errors, require that the client plug a number to fix it, and all would be happy. Until Enron happened and the whole 2002 Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) law basically made it clear that not only did the financial numbers need to be right, the systems and processes that were used to create those numbers needed to right as well. SOX was the law that gave my old PwC job total and complete legitimacy it did not have when I worked it.
So at PwC, I got paid very, very well to identify these errors no one ever had to fix. That was bizarre for a number of reasons but the most important one was it wasn’t fulfilling to me. That was me, collecting a big fat paycheck doing GREAT work, but not making a positive difference in anyone’s life, in all honesty. I’m probably judging myself a little harshly there. I was a very good people manager and coach. I knew and still know information technology risk, governance, and control very well. But back in 2001, I was burnt out. Done with that.
Instead of working with some of the largest public companies who could not have cared less about my advice at the time, I wanted to work with individuals and small businesses on plans that directly impacted their lives in a positive way. Business plans, job searches, life plans…whatever it took.
I took the plunge to start that new line of work, giving up a six figure income to risk it. I helped a former co-worker land a job with Oprah Winfrey, guided another acquaintance as she transitioned her brick and mortar business to online (or maybe it was vice versa…I am writing this late at night and can’t remember of the top of my head), and coached a former PwC client of mine to navigate the path to finishing his PhD. It was meaningful. I long to do meaningful work. But from the age of 19 I was pretty much financially responsible for my life so a earning a great income was not optional. Plus I had the smarts for it, so why waste that sort of talent?
Now as a side note, I hung my shingle in July 2001. My personal business plan did not consider that terrorists would turn our world completely upside down two months later, and the very people I hoped to hire me would struggle to keep afloat themselves. Still, I kept at the coaching until shortly after our first child was born, roughly 2.5 years later. I struggled with making so very little money relatively speaking yet making a difference in my work, having a new mouth to feed, and knowing that I had the skills and once had a job that paid several times what my coaching business was currently bringing in. Who knew when the economy, and post 9/11 life, would be normal again, if it ever would?
Still, I was pretty gun-ho about life coaching and life planning for that matter, and to improve my skills I attended LifeLaunch in September 2001 (two weeks after 9/11), the first class among several offered by The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara to become a certified Life Coach.
It was there I was introduced to The Cycle of Renewal. I will write about this more formally another time, but to keep a long story short, there are four phases and you can move cyclically through them or slosh between a couple for a while: Going For It, The Doldrums, Cocooning, and Getting Ready. You can only imagine the state of mind of the 20-30 of us attending that class that month. It was a hugely enriching experience.
So I’m not kidding when I refer to The Doldrums. I have known it well. A lot of my career at PwC was spent in The Doldrums. It’s an outstanding firm, don’t get me wrong, and working there was absolutely incredible in terms of the scope and quality of learning. I mean, they even tapped me for a 16-week technology training course, full salary and all expenses paid, in Tampa, Florida. Our motto during that 1991 class was, “It sucks to be us” because we KNEW how fortunate we were to acquire the working-world equivalent of a masters in technology.
But I digress. I’m officially all over the place with this post. The point is, The Doldrums are a heck of a place to get stuck. At the Hudson Institute, I learned the characteristics of each phase in the Cycle of Renewal, and what activities help a person through a transition to the next phase of the cycle.
So ta-da! Yesterday, I essentially assessed my current situation and outlined a plan once again for what I could focus on, what I could do that was positive, and by golly, I had already started taking steps in the right direction. I wanted to take credit for the tiny baby steps I had started without even realizing it.
Nope, I’m not gonna outline all of them here in this post, but let’s just say I’m reaching out to people who are incredibly important to me, even if it is briefly to say thank you for the joy, the love, and/or the insight they offered at one point in time. I realize I have knocked off a big home project off my list of to-dos, freeing up some mental capacity to focus on my health. I’ve taken steps to expand my social outreach, which is a big step for this introvert. I’ve decided I’m going to dust off one of my gifts and start singing again…somehow, someway. (Incidentally tonight I heard an 8th grader sing jazz accompanied by an incredible high school big band ensemble and it lit a fire under me not to be outshined by a 13-year-old!) And I’m going to do some serious professional career planning.
Because gosh darn it, I do a great job of visioning and outlining the steps to make it happen. I have a hard time executing, but the planning? That energizes me. Finding obstacles and knowing how to remove them? Yep, I can do that too. DOING IT is of course, much harder. But you know what? I’ve done hard things. I’ve done them very well. 50 years of hard things. And I know reward. Reward rocks. Anything else is just sissy talk. Time to buck up and do it.
Go all Nike. Just do it.
The best thing about this is I recognize The Doldrums enough to know when I’m there, and while it may be inevitable to visit that place now and then, it isn’t ok to take up permanent residence there.
Nice to be back among the living…