The Edge of My Comfort Zone

edgeMy husband finds it extremely puzzling that I enjoy the occasional Lifetime movie. His reasoning is good enough. He thinks I am intelligent, but those movies… not so much. And while I’m appreciative of the reason for his puzzlement, it does not change the way I feel about them.
 
Right around the time I got the ax from my previous place of employment, a movie came out about a woman named Tess who, much like me, had been unexpectedly handed her walking papers. However, this is where the similarities between my life and Tess’s life end. 
 
Reeling from the new reality in which she now finds herself, Tess takes off for a career conference in the hopes of making new connections and netting herself a new gig. Now, the conference, mind you, happens to be taking place in a breathtaking tropical locale. (Of course it does. This IS a Lifetime movie after all)
 
Though, it is at this point that the movie takes an unexpected turn. I know. The mind reels that ANY Lifetime movie plot has the capability to surprise anyone… but this one does. You see, Tess does not find a new job nor does she ever really figure out what it is she wants to be doing. But she does meet a man (obviously) who challenges and ultimately changes her way of thinking. 
 
“Life begins at the edge of one’s comfort zone.” The handsome stranger says after observing her for little more than a day. Watching her come apart over the notion that she has no job and nothing promising on the horizon, he encourages her to take a leap of faith into the great, big unknown. 
 
I won’t tell you how it ends in case you want to see it for yourself, but suffice it to say, I’ve been holding on to that line… “Life begins at the edge of one’s comfort zone” because these days, I believe it to be true. When I first moved to the big city of Columbus, I worked as a freelancer / consultant for over a year before landing a “permanent” job. 
 
Although I met some great people and did some challenging, new work — I had my mind made up that my “life” wouldn’t officially begin until someone invited me into the fold… officially. I worked that entire first year, making the most income that, up until that point, I had ever made. But it wasn’t good enough. I wanted the whole nine yards: full medical / dental coverage, life insurance, disability, vacation, 401k, stock options… you get the idea. Nothing short of that was ever going to make me feel “comfortable.”
 
It did happen. I was eventually offered a permanent job and I slept a little better at night. Knowing where I would be going day after day, week after week and (hopefully) year after year, was extremely comforting to me. I finally had a nice, warm security blanket to wrap myself up in. Or so I thought. I do find it ironic, however, that the circumstance I once deemed to be so completely “secure,” was actually anything but. I waltzed, (quite nonchalantly) through the door on a Wednesday morning, Starbucks in hand, and wound up leaving via escort… carrying all my belongings in a pathetic cardboard box. My point being this: No matter how secure you think you are… You just never know. 
 
Looking back on it now, I realize that I mainly wanted to be employed for the sake of being employed and I never actually got around to asking myself what it was that I really wanted or needed to do with my strengths and abilities. Some of you may not believe this, but I am actually glad that it happened the way that it did because until I was shown the door, I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to walk out of it on my own. I would have wallowed in my comfort zone and I’m convinced I would have wound up staying too long were I actually ever given the choice. 
 
Admittedly, I am a wee bit “uncomfortable” right now in a contract position rather than a “permanent” one… But I guess (according to the handsome stranger in last month’s Lifetime movie) I should be on the lookout since “life” apparently begins at the edge of one’s comfort zone. 

 

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The Breakfast Club

6 cups coffee (2)The seat cushion of my office chair was not yet cold before I started reaching out to former co-workers who had also been let go that day. Social media is truly a godsend in times like these. On Facebook I was quickly connected to five other women from the company who had found themselves in the same boat. Some I knew well, others only slightly. But an amazing byproduct in times of crisis is that of people coming together.

A day after the smoke cleared, I got up, showered, dressed and put on make-up to meet the others for breakfast. Believe me it was best for everyone close to me that I had somewhere to be just then. Twenty-four hours of feeling sorry for myself, was definitely long enough. It was only a casual meal at a nearby restaurant, but once I went, I felt like a new person. We had some laughs, exchanged contacts and swapped war stories.

There is something about shared suffering that creates an incredible strength and sense of community. We are reminded that we’re not out there alone, floating aimlessly through an overwhelming sea of job postings and resume updates. We are not alone in the daily ponderings of hard questions about what the future holds. And I think it’s safe to say, that we’re certainly not alone in our enjoyment of a quick commute to the couch every morning.

One of the women appropriately named our group “The Breakfast Club,” and this morning, we got together again. I mean, we DO have time after all. We swapped more stories, had some more laughs and reported on our progress. Some of us are searching for new jobs and others are taking time to tend to family needs or personal business ventures, but no matter our unique circumstances in the aftermath of something unexpected and scary, two things are certain — I have five, amazingly-cool, new friends, and there is strength in numbers.

Walking Papers

heelsOne week ago I was unceremoniously dismissed from my job. It was done without pageantry or fuss. I was asked to surrender my security badge and handed a white envelope with my name printed on it. The envelope was said to contain, quote: “All of the answers to any questions you might have with regard to what comes next.”

I was then escorted from the building (the same building, mind you) that I had entered hours before with the same security badge I’d just handed over. And as though on cue, like a scene from a movie, it literally started raining on me as I walked across the parking lot. Suffice it to say, that day is not likely to be ranked on the “Best Days of My Life” list.

I’ve been home now for seven days and have thus far stayed busy doing the things that one does when one has been shoved out to sea and set adrift on the churning waters of What Now. So far, I have not been clinging to inspirational quotes, or religiously reciting mantras to help me remain positive. No, instead I’ve been taking it as it comes. And here are a few of the things that I’ve observed.

  1. The middle of the afternoon on a Thursday is an excellent time to visit the grocery store.
  2. Answering the email you sent earlier this morning is not the only thing on the head hunter’s To Do list.
  3. The true horror of daytime television WILL force you to update that resume.
  4. Eventually you realize you’ve begun tailoring your job search around afternoon reruns of Roseanne and King of Queens.
  5. It is a scientific fact that going to the grocery store will, indeed, cause the head hunter to call you.
  6. The afternoon sun peeking through the leaves of the big tree out front is more beautiful than you knew.
  7. The afternoon sun peeking through the leaves of the big tree out front illuminates the thick layer of dust that has accumulated — on everything.
  8. Life doesn’t stop just because you lost your job.
  9. You realize that the thing you loved most about your job was that it was “secure.”
  10. Security is a relative term.

While I was sitting in the conference room, looking out the windows as they told me my position had been “eliminated due to restructuring,” I thought I’d be more upset than I am. In my mind I flashed forward to this time at home, this time right here and now as I type this — and I thought I’d be marinating in self-pity. But I’m not.

Maybe it’s because I’ve got a contract gig on the horizon. Maybe it’s because of the support of my husband. Maybe it’s my age. But I do seem to understand, on a deeper level than before, that there is no such thing as “permanent” or “secure” in a world where the only constant is change. All we have is the here and now.

And right now, that’s enough.

Debt Free(dom)

cutting up cardLike a recovering alcoholic sampling the taboo taste of a beloved beverage, I handed the cashier my plastic. The ease with which I did so, accompanied by my effortless smile gave absolutely no hint to the hesitation lurking just beneath the surface. Though the purchase was justified and the actual money in the bank, there was a tiny place inside of me that still remained uneasy.

Once you’ve climbed out of the deep, dark hole of credit card debt—finding yourself back in the black—the former aches and pains of actually digging that hole occasionally come back to haunt you. I am not proud to admit that I was in debt — having only recently brushed the remainder of that dirt off my less-than-stellar credit report. But I am relieved to say that those days are behind me.

Sifting through stacks and stacks of old mail over the weekend reminded me of those darker days. Except that while I was living them, I technically didn’t know they were “darker.” It would be awhile before I actually realized how deep I had dug. I was in fact, living it up back then! I was happily buying new furniture, clothes and shoes, paying for manicures, pedicures, salon visits, gym memberships and housekeeping services.

A close friend did occasionally ask me whether or not I should be spending so freely. But I brushed it off as them being too “conservative” with their own money and “fearful” of bad things that would “never happen.” I was gainfully employed, single with no dependents and the proud owner of a seemingly endless supply of credit. It never occurred to me to be concerned because I was always able to keep up with the payments. If I could pay the bills every month, then this was all stuff that I could afford. Until it wasn’t.

Being young and stupid, I never gave much thought to all of the uncertainties out there. I’d done my homework, gotten a degree and been blissfully employed since graduation. Things like personal illness and the company you work for going under weren’t even on my radar. Until they were.

Back then—during this hedonistic time of living like some kind of entitled Hilton or Kardashian—I fell ill with a serious case of pneumonia. On top of that, just prior to the pneumonia, I’d left the security of a lower paying government job to accept an exciting new position at a rapidly-growing publishing company and had zero sick leave in the bank. On doctor’s orders, I missed an entire month of work and wages. Suddenly making those bills was a little bit harder.

And then the “rapidly-growing” company folded. Making paying those bills all but impossible. I managed. I didn’t file for bankruptcy or anything, but I did have to move 2,000 whole miles back east to live with mom and dad, working a minimum wage job until I could find a better one. Going through the ancient mail was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. First there were the bank statements, bills and invoices… a.k.a. Evidence of All the Fun. Followed by a trickle and later a heavy stream of medical bills, debt consolidation packages and various hand-written notes of lists I’d made inventorying all of my debts and monthly bills.

But it was good for me to see how the entire ordeal had actually unfolded. What started out as a simple housekeeping exercise wound up being a true moment of reckoning. I’d often wondered, through the years, as I struggled to pay down the balances on these debts: How did this happen? How did I rack up all of this debt? And now I know. I can see it all from a distance. It was as though it had happened to someone else… because in a way, it did happen to someone else. I am no longer that person.

Thanks to the support of my parents, a couple of really good friends and an extremely fiscally responsible soon-to-be husband, I am learning the value of having money IN the bank before I have any fun with it. I still love furniture, clothes, shoes, salon visits and travel and I would LOVE to pay someone to do all of the unpleasant, laborious tasks that accompany adulthood. But since I’m neither a Hilton nor a Kardashian, I’ve lain to rest my Visa Gold & Mastercard shovel and am enjoying the freedom that comes with “living it up” — within my means.

Flying Lessons

When you come to the end of all of the light that you know and step out into the darkness of the Great Unknown… Faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen. Either you will be given something firm to stand on, or you will be taught to fly.

personal-flight-attempt-1

I can’t remember the first time I heard this quote, but I have loved it ever since. It comforts me to be reminded that things always have a way of working out. It may take a while to comprehend what is happening or why, but eventually understanding comes. Hindsight is 20/20, they always say. In the meantime, during those darker times, those murky times, those uncertain times it is important to know that things won’t always stay that way.

Easier said than done. I know.

I personally prefer the first scenario given, that I will be given something firm to stand on. If something I can feel beneath my feet is good, then something solid and immoveable—something firm—is even better. It is the flying part that I have trouble with because it does not come naturally to me. In fact, unless you’re a superhero, it doesn’t come naturally to any of us. But sometimes, flying lessons are the only option we’ll be given. No less. No more. And that can be scary because it not only requires endless patience, but trust as well.

For months now I’ve found myself sulking around in one of those murky places… waiting to see if I’d be graciously given something firm to stand on or shoved headfirst off a cliff and forced to fly. In more specific terms, I was waiting to see if the company I’d been working for (on a contract basis for the last five months) was going to welcome me into the official fold or choose to go in a different direction with another candidate.

I equated getting the job with a great big slab of granite. A vast, strong, solid piece of property to stand on which I could call my very own. I would carve my name in it and decorate it with potted plants and adorable picture frames. Conversely, I equated NOT getting the job with flying… blind… in a hurricane… without a parachute or floatation device. Betcha can’t guess which one I’m doing right now?

Yup. I’m flying. But miraculously, it isn’t the death-defying, teeth-chattering, knee-knocking, goose-bump-inducing terror trip I was expecting. It is so bizarre. Sitting in the conference room, on an ordinary Wednesday, I knew from the look on my boss’s face that I was not about to hear the news I’d been hoping for. And I’ll be honest, I was crushed. Hot, fat tears splashed down the front my favorite periwinkle sweater the entire drive home that afternoon. That evening I cried so hard I gave myself a migraine. In fact, I cried so hard my teeth and gums and eye sockets hurt.

But when the sun came up on Thursday, I was over it. By Friday I was even MORE over it and when I agreed to stay on another week and showed up for work at the very place where my services were no longer desirable, I was completely over it.  No leftover attitude. No residual bitterness. Just peace, calm and contentment. I’m not exactly sure what happened… other than the distinct possibility that although I am flying, it is not without a net. 

You see, while I’ve been wading around in fear and uncertainty, worrying and fretting  about the unknown the last five months — my soon-to-be-husband, family and friends have been weaving a pretty tight mesh beneath me. Making it clear to me that even though there is no giant slab of granite beneath my feet for TOMORROW, being angry or bitter takes too much energy away from the things that I have TODAY.

A Safe Space

There is a place in which I’ve spent a considerable amount of time throughout the course of my 37 years. And it is the only place I have never felt afraid.

When I was a small child it was the playroom for my sister and me. Painted bright yellow and full of toys, I spent hours in there pretending to be a doctor, a veterinarian, a mommy, a school teacher and eventually an artist.

As a teenager, when my parents converted it into their bedroom (farther away from our rooms upstairs… probably so they couldn’t hear all of the screaming) it was the place I went to beg, borrow or steal my mom’s favorite sweater, red purse or pair of heels.

As Empty-Nesters, my folks moved back upstairs while my sister and I built lives of our own… She just down the street and me on the other side of the country. Whenever I visited—heavy luggage in tow—it was a sanctuary as the “guest bedroom” and always a chance to take a deep breath and a step back from the ledge I was currently standing on during some silent but turbulent times.

At 31, after receiving a devastating blow followed by a mediocre severance package in the boardroom one day, my sanctuary 2,000 miles away suddenly became my new home. Falling from a spacious, ammenity-packed condo with mountain views to a single room overlooking our backyard, my father swiftly installed a new ceiling fan, lighting fixtures and cable connection to make me feel more at home in my humbling new digs.

Ever a victim of wanderlust and clueless to the nose dive our economy would soon experience… A voluntary but hasty adventure west and back again at 33 ushered in what would soon become a ten-month stint in what had officially become my “home” when I was homeless.

And now—whenever I want to visit from my new “home” two hours away—the room is always waiting for me. Like right now… as I type these words in front of the open window. It is quiet here. There is peace here. There is love and laughter here. There are sweet memories here. There is comfort here. And there is always… ALWAYS a good night’s sleep.

Room for Living

Once upon a time—8 years ago to be exact—I lost about 35 pounds through diet and exercise, landing me at a svelte 100 lbs. Certain I would never again see those 35 pounds, I got rid of ALL of my larger clothes… every last stitch of them. My closet was full of nothing but tiny things to fit my newfound frame.

Fast forward three years… enter a job loss resulting in crushing depression and an inability to keep paying my $55 monthly gym membership… and the 35 pounds came back with a vengeance. When those unwanted pounds returned they brought about 35 more of their friends along for the party. I was the heaviest I’d ever been in my life. And having little money from my minimum wage, substitute job — buying clothes to fit my new fat @$$ was a challenge.

But I had no choice. The job required me to look professional so I had to have a new wardrobe. Little by little and piece by piece I bought back some key items in the larger sizes, but vowed I would get back into those smaller ones as soon as I regained my sanity and sense of self-worth.

Fast-forward another three years toward a satisfying new job in my career field, a supportive, wonderful family and the love of an amazing man and I lost 50 of those pounds again. I’m still not that teensy 100 lbs. but I am healthy for my age and height and I feel amazing by comparison.

For two years I have managed to keep it off. Well, most of it anyway… Save for a few of what I like to call the “fun” pounds. The fun pounds are the little cushion (pardon the pun) that I have decided to give myself without beating myself up or feeling like a failure. As long as I stay within that pre-determined range, I’m OK.

For what exactly are the fun pounds allocated? They are set aside for an 8-day trip up the New England coast where one may choose to eat lobster drenched in drawn butter, varieties of other deep-fried gifts of the sea, maple confections and saltwater taffy every… single… day. They are for summertime ballpark beers, festival food and autumn tailgating fare. They are for fun-size Halloween candy, Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas ham.

Fortunately, this time I did not throw away my larger clothes. Not because I have any intention of going back to Supersized Me, but because Life does happen. The fun happens as well as the stressfulness or unpredictability of everyday life. The curveballs you get thrown so then the ice cream tastes particularly good, the nights you end up working late and pizza is an easy fix or the injuries and illnesses that can wreak havoc on your daily discipline.

And it’s good to know that if the “fun” pounds come back and pay me a brief visit, I don’t have to squeeze into that smaller size and feel like I’m going to rupture my spleen or pop a rogue button. I can slip on my jeans that have a little grace in them… a little forgiveness in the waist, butt and thighs… and I can feel like I actually have some room for living.