“He was my North, my South, my East, my West
My working week and my Sunday Rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song
I thought that love would last forever;
I was wrong.”
“He was my North, my South, my East, my West
My working week and my Sunday Rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song
I thought that love would last forever;
I was wrong.”
I go in search of a wide open vista and breathtaking view, motivated by the tantalizing pictures and the prospect of a cool experience. Along the way, though, I am interrupted by a hail storm miles away from shelter, getting bruised and mud-spattered as I run home. Not everyone appreciates the abuse of a long hike. When I get back from a long, muddy, lightning-filled walk, I am filled with appreciation for my own pounding heart and the fresh air fueling my lungs. When I peel away the wet socks and sand falls to the floor, I am filled with appreciation for the shower that will wash away the grit of the day and the warm water that will soothe the strain of my muscles. I love an outing that turns me inside out and upside down. It shakes out the sand of my assumptions and leaves only the important stuff behind. This blog captures the stories of my many inversions.
“Slow down. You’re too important. Life teaches you to to live it…” if you only wait long enough. ~Tony Bennett
The blinding light of the mountain snow is glaring through my window and outside is so cold I can see rainbows in the air, every drop of moisture crystalizing into prisms of ice. I am spending my weekend reacquainting myself with my indoor hobbies. Work was so quiet this week that I felt like my light had blown out, but after a Netflix binge of quirky comedies, I realized that I just needed a little restorative couch potato time after a busy fall.
Among my trips this fall was a wedding of a summer camp friend from middle school. I’ve missed a lot of weddings since I live so far from home, but I had both time and money for this one, and Peabody (as only a few of us call him) was a pivotal friend in my life. What gift to be able to join his big day.
A few years ago when I visited him, his light had gone out. You’ve probably seen it in others … the sparkle in their eye dulls, a weight sitting on their chest. The same friend sits next to you and talks, but the life in them is gone, a different person staring out at you. At the time he was feeling done with adventure and looking to settle down and not having luck finding the magic lady. He was worn out with unconventional living and ready for some normal. And now he has his new normal. He has her, and both of them have their light on. As I dolled up for the wedding, I wondered if my light had gone out. Heading to a wedding, single and knowing no one. Did Peabody know how much I love him to subject myself to this? The cruddy irony of celebrating someone’s love when you are wondering where yours is.
At his reception, I was quick to start chatting people up before my introvert shell froze my conversational abilities and made me want to slink back to my hotel. Sitting with his college friends – all couples – I turned and asked one of the guys, “So, what do you do?”
“I go to the beach,” he replied.
His wife spun around, “Did you just ask what he does and he told you, ‘Go to the beach’?”
“Yes,” he and I both giggled.
We moved on to talk like grown ups about the thing we do that pays us, but we did get back around to the idea that he had answered a typical small talk question about a job with an atypical response about a passion. He answered me not with what he does for eight hours a day but with what turns his light on.
I’ve watched as the brightness in friends is snuffed out, often smothered by divorce, burnout, death, exhaustion of parenting. As we talk, I secretly try to nudge the cloud aside and find my old friend underneath the smoke. I often can’t, not then at least. I have to wait for the heat of life to release them. Sometimes that takes years.
I can’t help but wonder, after this simple conversation, what if, instead of asking these weary friends about work or kids or the house, I asked, “What turns your light on these days?” What would they answer? What would you answer? And would I get to see the sparkle in their eyes – in your eyes – return and sense the soul re-inhabit the lifeless body next to me?
What turns your light on?
#liveyourbestlife #livingthedream #findyourpassion #youarenotyourjob
People often ask me, “How’d you get your job?” That question often comes when they encounter me in uniform, outside, with a beautiful scenic backdrop and a smile on my face.
I think its because I look so good in the hat.
My usual response, “Begging and pleading,” is because once I set my sites on rangering, I started cold calling parks all over the Southwest.
“Hi! My name is Megan. I’m really interested in doing nature education with kids. Who would I talk to about that?”
The friendly neighborhood ranger on the phone almost always treated my kindly, “Oh that’s great! You should talk to … Let me take a sec to look up his phone number…Have you ever been here? …”
Now that I know that even the seasonal job postings can get over 400 applicants, it doesn’t surprise me that every supervisor was friendly, chatted with me, and then said, “No.”
My one bread crumb was Jacob who did ask that I send him a resume to keep on hand, and six months later that lead to a volunteer internship with him – the most visionary boss I’ve ever had.
Luckily, he had an eye for the few things that I could provide him: a Midwestern work ethic, the brains to think big picture, and the capacity to chat up random strangers and win them over. By Midwestern work ethic, I mean a high tolerance for the mundane tasks that lead to completion of any project and not bitching in the process. By brains to think big picture, I mean while doing education programs and projects, I always had an internal filter asking, “Is this effective? Are we reaching who we want to reach? Are we working smarter not harder?” And by capacity to chat up strangers and win them over, I mean having a conversation with them as a human and finding some common ground before asking for what I need from them. It might not have hurt that I also told him that he wasn’t asking enough of me and I could work harder. I think he almost fell off his picnic bench in shock.
You can argue whether the many opportunities that have unfolded for me are more about luck and timing or hard work, but truth is that lots of things scaffolded my way to a “dream job.”
1. Stuckness & Enlightenment
When I dropped out of college, I worked a secretary job in an amusement park. It was safe, close to home, and predictable. That work taught me about the people of the world by bringing them to me: drunks, carnies, international workers and overachievers all in one place. We even had a few who claimed to be vampires. I was content in my little bubble. In the midst of that gig, I went to France to attend my French “sister’s” (exchange student) wedding. As I toured the Sacre Coeur, the Notre Dame, and Versailles, it occurred to me just how much I could miss out on if I stayed in the bubble.
2. I made up my mind.
One lesson that the entourage of seasonal amusement park workers taught me was that we have many options when reacting to our circumstances. If life kicks you, you can be sad and blame others (loudly) when you’re fired from your job for being a drunk vampire (it happened) or you can sign up for more work, soak up every skill, learn from every talented person and change your life. Upon the French Awakening as I like to call it, I decided to sign up for the latter team. I enrolled in one evening class and set a simple goal: I would find a career that involved constant learning and that helped connect people to the world beyond their cubicle walls. That one class was a micro step towards macro change.
3. I asked questions.
“This is what I want to do. Who do I talk to?”
“If I want to graduate on time, what do I need to do?”
“How did you get to do what you do?”
4. I took risks.
I left a full time job to finish school while scrimping and saving.
I moved to the other side of the country.
I asked my bosses for what I wanted – opportunities, challenges, advice, a job.
I took jobs that seemed insecure but gave me new skills and experiences and left jobs that seemed secure but didn’t offer growth.
5. I made up my mind. Again.
The path to my “dream job” involved a lot of decisions. Making up my mind that I was worth it even if one of the most competitive jobs in the country told me I wasn’t. Chasing a job that so many others want can wear down a person’s soul. You have to value yourself above your dream. I knew I worked hard and thought creatively. If this job didn’t want me, another job would be lucky to have me. You can’t give a job permission to drive you – and your optimism – into the ground.
6. I only said yes to opportunities with the right people.
The right people are bosses and coworkers who were visionary, hard working, compassionate, and full of humor. I made moves towards healthy, vibrant work situations and turned down those that felt “off.” I still took a few jobs that were less glamorous stepping stones, but working for an incompetent boss rarely makes you more competent. I kept my eye out for those traps.
You might wonder why “dream job” is still in quotes. After all, this park ranger world is one with laughter in meetings, transformational vacations for visitors, hiking/skiing/boating on the clock (sometimes), and a view of mountains from the office window.
It also involves creakingly slow bureaucracy, crippling legal policies, nasty backstabbing politics, and telling people “no” when you want to say “yes.” It requires living far away from my family, horrible dating opportunities and long drives to find groceries and people living “normal” lives.
A “dream job” is still a “job.” And no matter how much you love a job, it never loves you back.
So keep chasing meaning and challenge in your life; it will be worth it. But don’t make it all about the job.
As a long time devotee of Maya Angelou and Oprah (despite Starbucks sponsorships and Favorite Things lists), I live by their words of wisdom, particularly in the dating world.
When people show you who they are, believe them.
Thank you, let’s call you Jay Tinder, for helping me re-learn this lesson.
After first dates derailed by long works hours on his side and bronchitis on my side, I finally got to meet this boyishly handsome redhead from Tinder. What did I know so far, aside from his nice looking face? He’s a hardworking hospitality guy with a decent sense of humor. He recently texted me a picture of personals add in the Jackson Hole News:
Lawyer, writer, musician and mechanic has recently run away from home, the internet, cellphones and TV in search of peace. Seeks to share rent in your camper, apartment or home. Not gay but willing to learn. Ex-wife says she’s not attracted to good looking men but I’m at least moderately so with the body of a greek god. Sex not necessary but helpful…Will train your dog, tune your piano, fix your car, and pay rent.
The lengthiest conversation Jay Tinder and I have had (via text, of course…phone calls are wayyy too forward) was banter over this stellar local personal ad. I had even heard about this ad from the hostess at the local diner. It was the talk of the town. We laughed about it knowing, though, that anyone single or in a moderately secure dating relationship in Jackson is a breath away from writing the same ad. This place is where adventurous people come to immerse themselves in beauty, risky recreation, shoddy housing and nature while simultaneously becoming celibate.
So after some texty banter, Jay and met up at a local sports bar:
I walk in and we greet with the ol’ awkward-handshake-side-hug dilemma that twists us into an almost-dancing pose with hands joined on one side and arm around the shoulder on the other side.
Jay turns out to be a shy, cat and scrabbling-loving introvert. With an early-on joke, he answers my, “What path brought you to Jackson?” with, “Route 22.” I punch him in the shoulder and we’re quickly at ease.
He’s been a dude ranch, horse packer cook for 7 years, having single-handedly fought off grizzly bears and annoying clients in the wild. (Only in Jackson and Alaska.) He recently moved on to front country cooking and is living on the less wild side.
After a couple hours of easy conversation (He even listens sometimes, too! What sweet heaven is this!?!), he steps outside and I duck into the bathroom. I fluff in the mirror, check for cliffies and wonder if we’ll kiss as I walk back out to the bar.
He slides into the seat next to me, smelling of smoke. Darn.
His eyes are afire. “There were three cops out there. I wonder what’s going on,” he gazes into the distance like he’s done occasionally tonight when he’s not sure what to say. “It’s weird to see three cop cars anywhere around here,” gazing, thinking, … “None of them were in the car either.”
“I should probably chill out for a bit before we go since I’ve had a few beers.”
“Always a good idea.” I mean all guys at some point have had a DUI, right? It’s probably no big deal.
His eyes fire up again. “God, I hope they’re not looking for me.”
Hunh. I wanna be the laid back, cool chick but this kinda seems like it’s taking a turn. Maybe it’s just a pot possession thing. DUI and pot possession?
“Shit. I should’ve picked somewhere else to meet. I didn’t really want to get into this tonight…I’ve had a little trouble with the law. I don’t think I could blow a zero tonight, which is what I would have to do since I’m on probation.
Maybe I should get a hotel…[bartender], can I have some water? What’s the overnight parking policy here? … Darn it. Gosh, I hope they haven’t been watching for me. Maybe I’m making to much of this. Something just feels off though, you know?”
Ditto that. Check please.
Jay Tinder called to apologize and invite me back to the “fucking awesome” suite he rented across the street and later texted to ask on a scale of 1 to 10 how angry I was.
Meanwhile, my handsome platonic lawyer friend invites me to happy hour and shares that he and his wealthy new girlfriend are flying to a Broncos game in her friend’s personal plane. I’ll have what he’s having.
I’ve had a bullseye on my head since my first trip to China in 2012. My six weeks in Henan Province began with a lengthy lecture from the State Department on security threats and how I, as a government employee, was a prime target. But the bullseye on my head isn’t from being on an international Most Wanted list; it’s the imprint of the lessons I learned about risk and change during the trip.
Off the beaten track of Western tourism, the other-ness isolated me into a bubble of silence – I couldn’t understand words nor read signs or body language. The State Department lecture made me feel like my person missteps could be a matter of national security, so I was paralyzed by both cultural ignorance and worry. The isolation and disorientation I felt could only equate to waking up suddenly blind or deaf.
Upon arriving in the country, everything required a surrender of privacy. Our hosts tended to us from daybreak to sunset. Logging on to the internet required a passport number. Moving into our on-campus apartment required registering with campus police. Our independent American selves had full intentions of self-sufficiency but instead we found ourselves being fed hand to mouth by our hosts – sometime literally. They took care of all our meals. They picked our groceries in stores because we could only read packaging of Western food like Snickers and Lays potato chips. They set up our internet, fixed our plumbing so we had drinking water, and read the bus maps for us. While we had prepared ourselves to keep boundaries between ourselves and our hosts for all these security threat reasons, we depended on them for everything, especially since we were only there for a discreet amount of time and we had work to do. Bumbling through getting daily needs met would have taken all our time.
Once we had pots and pans and groceries and a daily schedule, we took a few days to rest. We drank neon-colored wine coolers in the solitude of our grubby apartment and re-lived the chaos of our days during our dreams, collapsing for 13 hours of sleep each night to recover from culture shock and jet lag.
The increasing radius of daily adventures marked our gain in courage, starting with the inner circle around our apartment: a 15 minute run around the campus pond, then a 30 minute run around the perimeter of the camps, then a 45 minute run with a quick exit of campus’ West Gate. Meals marked the next step to the mid-range circle: going to the campus cafeteria to muddle through food selection and payment; walking to the nearby market to buy some sweet potato chips and bananas; and finally visiting the line of outdoor restaurants and stumbling through menus, communicating with waitresses and seeing the locals laugh when a meal three times larger than what we needed arrived.
I have never been so microscopically aware of the incremental steps of risk taking. I moved a little farther from my apartment each day. I moved a little further from my American habits each day, testing the language, the bus system, the bargaining culture in the market.
Part of what struck me is how I and my travel companions moved outward through a geographic bullseye, methodically expanding our comfort zone was: from apartment to the university campus to the surrounding neighborhoods and markets. What if I could approach all my life’s challenges with the same, methodical steps towards risk and the expansion of comfort?
Because of China, I can see challenge through a different lens.
Because of this trip to China, I now view life through this bullseye lens – with perfect comfort at the center and utter discomfort on the outside circle. I use this view to plot my next steps that expand comfort zone – and my horizons.
They say moving is among the top three stressors in life next to change in marital status and losing a job. When I moved to Wyoming, it wasn’t “in my life plan.” I left a job at Grand Canyon I thought would be mine for the next 20 years. I knew all the quirky stories and compelling science of the park. The red rock landscape was fully circulating in me; I’d literally been drinking from a spring in Grand Canyon for seven years.
I was a “go to” at work, had a surrogate family and a man who I was going to marry. And then I didn’t and I wasn’t.
I arrived in Wyoming, moved into a house that didn’t feel like mine, looked out at a park I knew nothing about and met co-workers who didn’t know I was a “go to” kind of person. And I set to work on my targets. I nested in my home. I explored the trails the curled into the mountains just outside my home. I highlighted each new trail hiked and watched the veins of yellow bleed across my map. I found my favorite coffee shop where I could sit alone and be comfortable by myself. I got to know my direct reports and immediate coworkers; then colleagues in other departments. In the awful process of making friends in a new place, I focused on the ones who returned texts and phone calls and slowly expanded the social circle from there. I tested the online dating scene one app at a time. (That’s brutal no matter what part of the target you’re operating in.)
Making Wyoming home was not simple; despite my brilliant epiphany of bullseyes and comfort zones, change is still excruciating. But I didn’t get stuck.
It is so easy to paralyze ourselves when we are out of our element. Having a strategy to visualize change is can help us push through the ruts and the impossibilities.
Instead of beating myself up for getting stuck, I can ask,
“Did I try to jump straight from the inner circle of comfort to the outer circle?” Maybe there is a step in between.
If I ask, “Am I static?”
Maybe I’ve been swimming in the center of comfort for too long.
“Can I handle all this?”
Maybe I can influence the outcome.
I’m going to make it a game.
Jane McGonigal studies the benefits of gaming and sees evidence that gaming expands your creative problem solving. So, maybe we use the bullseye of comfort and compare it to darts. Reverse the scoring: instead of the center of comfort being 100 points, maybe the outer ring is 100 and the center worth only 10. What’s the next strategy going to be to increase your score and expand your comfort zone?
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child, listen to the don’ts
Listen to the wouldn’ts and the couldn’ts and the won’ts
Listen to the never haves then listen close to me,
Anything can happen, child, anything can be.”
So I’ve been simmering the last few weeks. Actually, maybe that’s not true. I’ve been boiling over, which tends to be the time when I DON”T write. When work and world are going too fast for me, poetry is my escape. It doesn’t require that I read or think in full sentences. It captures essence. It’s about feeling not doing. And this, to me, feels free.
I keep coming back to this one from W.H.Auden:
He was my North, my South, my East, my West
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now. Put out every one.
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Dramatic? Yes. But, when life is busy, when it is full of the yucky, gray areas that constantly leave you wondering, “Am I doing this right?”, pure emotion like this – unchecked by logic – feels so much simpler.
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun…I’d prefer to start fresh tomorrow.