Painful Change Births Beautiful New Beginnings

It’s ironic that this is the first time I’ve felt the urge to write in this blog since the eve of starting my new job in Chicago way back in June. At that time, I was amped up on the adrenaline of starting something new, of making real changes when I’d been feeling like I was going nowhere for such a long time. I thought the hard part — finding the job, making the initial jump — was over. But I was so, so wrong.

And now here we are, smack dab in the middle of a pandemic. When I carried my desktop monitor home on the L last week, I felt like maybe I was being a little extra. After all, I could work on my smaller laptop screen for a week or so, right? Turns out I was so wrong about how long this quarantining and social distancing would go on for, too. (P.S. I’m really glad I have that monitor, now.)

We keep hearing that things are going to get worse before they get better. And that’s how my summer got after the initial excitement of starting a new job wore off and I was hit full force with the pain of change. Long story short: It was a really dark summer. Change will do that to a person.

Now it looks like it might be a really dark spring, too. And yet, having gone through my own deep pain and coming out stronger on the other side, I feel better equipped to deal with this new period of change. And I have a lot of hope.

Here’s some things I’ve learned since I climbed out of my deep dark hole, and what I’m doing with those lessons in this insane world we’ve found ourselves in:

  • Taking care of your health — mental, physical, emotional — is of the utmost importance. Work out. Eat nutritious food. Avoid or limit drugs and alcohol.
    • Sure, I’d love to give in and stress eat right now. It would be so easy and it would feel so good … for a little while. But it would hurt me more in the long run. I’ve lost 40 pounds since October, when I started to see some light from the bottom of my hole, and I’m not throwing that work away now.
  • The power to control your attitude, thoughts, and reactions lies within you.
    • I’ll credit taking control of my health for this one. Is it easy? Nope. Am I perfect all the time? Hell no. Some squabbles I’ve had due to stress from these current times are case in point. Stuff gets the best of me sometimes. I feel awfully ashamed when I slip up, but all I can do is apologize, whether it’s to myself or others, and move on.
  • Once you start loving yourself it’s a hell of a lot easier to love other people, too.
    • I mean, I still don’t love everybody, but it’s easier to be understanding, forgiving, interested, caring and enthusiastic for the successes of others now that I have my shit much more together. My extrovert is dying a little at having to be alone in my apartment right now, but this feels like a great time to connect and reconnect with others. I’m hopeful that on the other side of this, we’ll have a greater appreciation for each other.
  • Change, whether we make it happen or it happens to us, will be painful, but we can adapt and come out better on the other side.
    • I feel like I’m living proof of that now. It’s not easy. It hurts. There’s a lot of self examination, sweat, and tears to be had, but it will get better. It got better for me as soon as I started taking control. And in a time that’s wildly out of control, I’m going to do what I have to for both the greater good and my own personal good. I’m going to look for a brighter future somewhere beyond. It’s better than giving up and giving in to fear.

Anyway, these are just my small, perhaps meaningless thoughts I’ve been kicking around in an unprecedented time. As a writer, I figure I’d put them out there. Because to someone they might matter. Right?

I guess that’s why writers write in the first place.



What I Want

On the eve of starting a new job in Chicago, I want to share an essay I wrote during the job search process. It’s been lightly edited from the original for relevance and was borne out of doubts I had expressed in my search. The hiring manager at a job I ultimately didn’t accept for fit reasons challenged me to write up an essay about what I wanted.

This was the prompt from the manager: Do me a favor and take some time to write me a lengthy response ( if necessary) to this question: what do you want?  I don’t mean the job, I mean what’s your purpose, what do you live for, what turns your crank and gets you out of bed every day? There are not a lot of people who cannot answer this question so don’t be intimidated by it.

Below is my answer to the question, written May 9, 2019:

Last weekend, I read contemporary romance author Sally Thorne’s second novel. Her debut, The Hating Game, was a runaway hit, and I pre-ordered this sophomore outing back in January. But after the book was delivered, it sat on my coffee table for a few months, waiting for me to crack the spine. Between long work days, attempts at working on my novel in the evening hours, time spent at Orangetheory Fitness trying to whip myself back into shape, and the additional time spent on my job search after deciding I wanted to completely shake up my life and come home to Chicago, reading for pleasure had fallen pretty low on my priority list.

After a week of interviews, which included a rainy drive into the city and a steep climb up a dizzying and very packed parking garage, I was feeling overwhelmed by the “what ifs?” and the “what am I doings?” And the ultimate question loomed (and still looms): Will whatever choice I make be the right decision? With all of this on my mind, I turned to Thorne’s 99 Percent Mine and took a break from everything to lose myself in a story.

Author of Wired for Story, Lisa Cron, (who I’ve had the good fortune to meet in person) talks about story through the lens of neuroscience. She writes, “Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.” She goes on to break down how writers can use this knowledge of the brain’s craving for story to write a novel that will keep your readers “hooked from the very first sentence.” The books that sell aren’t about a bunch of things that happen. They’re about change and challenges and real transformation. When I encounter these books, I devour them in long sittings and turn over the last page feeling changed in one way or another. A good story teaches empathy. It can dissolve stress and alleviate loneliness. It teaches us about the world and what it means to be human.

Reaching the end of Thorne’s story only reaffirmed what I want to do with my life. I want to tell stories. I want to make people feel the way I do at the end of a good book — less alone, more powerful, and deliciously full and happy (bear in mind that I’m mainly reading and writing romance at this point). In an “About the Author” section at the end of the book, Thorne expressed the difficulty she encountered writing her second book, and the following really stood out to me: “I learned a very hard lesson that I’m sharing with you now. That important, impossible thing that you have nearly given up on ninety nine times? Finish it. Whether it’s a success or a failure, no one can take your The End prize away from you. Finishing is the most important thing there is. It’s proof of how hard you tried.”

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So, there it is — I have my answer. I want to tell stories and I want that proof that says I tried. But knowing what I want and living what I want have always been two very different things, just as wants and needs are very different things. As I prepare to make my next move I have to be realistic about what I need in order to get closer to what I want.

From time to time, I’ve wondered if leaving the “9 to 5” world behind for an hourly service industry gig would be enough to pay the bills and give me time to write. I could theoretically be less invested (punch in, do the work, punch out, repeat), but after getting a taste of that world through bartending, I’ve concluded that it isn’t for me. I need new challenges (even when they’re scary and uncomfortable) that will help me grow. I need a full-time role where I can make meaningful contributions and find financial stability. As it stands right now, I keep taking on extra work outside of my full-time job to feel financially secure, which is eating into my writing time and breeding an undercurrent of frustration. It often feels like I’m treading water — staying afloat, but getting nowhere.

Another thing I need is to be closer to my family. I have friends up here in Wisconsin, I’m involved in writing groups, and I spend a good four to five hours a week at Orangetheory Fitness (I’m addicted, which is no small feat for me when it comes to exercise). But even with all those things in my life, I’m missing something. My heart isn’t quite set on making a permanent home up here — I’m hopeful I can find it or build it back in Chicago.

Earlier this week, I was letting the unknown get the better of me. The unknown is scary, but it can also lead to great opportunities. Sometimes I can get too locked in to how I think things “should” look. But that’s limiting, and it’s certainly won’t help me get any closer to fulfilling the needs that will get me closer to my wants. That’s why I started this job search in the first place. And when I tell my own story, I want to be able to show the proof that I tried.

Now, a full month later, it’s go time. I’m hopeful and terrified all at once, and I’m probably going to have to read this essay at least once a month for the rest of my life to keep myself on track.

But here’s to trying.