So it’s been nearly a year since my career as a college educator – a core expression of my life’s work for nearly 25 year – came to an end, part of a massive workforce reduction driven by budget cuts at my college. I realize, of course, being down-sized out of work in one’s early 50s is hardly news. Some parts of the story are fairly common: grief, anger, fear, hard conversations with the kids, financial struggles. Sure, all that.
But it’s also included (in my case) a remarkable outpouring of encouragement, an ongoing journey of healing, and a chance to practice forgiveness and resilience and to rediscover capacities for vision, creativity, and risk-taking. It’s also been a year marked with the simple gift of time with people who have been important to me; how wonderful to be able to look them in the eye and tell them that! And, it’s been a chance for me to tackle the “big questions” for myself that I’d made a living helping others to ask themselves, questions of meaning and purpose, vocation and calling, identity and dreams. (By the way, this strikes me as a piece of not-very-necessary evidence that the Universe has a sense of humor.)
Over the past several months, many people have asked me to write a kind of “lessons learned” piece, something that might be of use to people who find themselves having been pushed off a cliff of one kind or another: a job loss, health scare, or some other major life transition. As I said, those things happen a lot. Well, OK: they happen all the time, to everyone. And everyone’s experience is different. This article, and several to follow in the series, will offer a glimpse of mine. I hope it’s helpful.
Installment #1: OK, that life is over. Now what?
Throughout the summer and into the fall, along with all the other typical job-transition things you do (updating and re-writing my CV and converting it into a more conventional resumé, applying for unemployment benefits, and such) I began to write. At first I’d scribble thoughts on the backs of napkins or bits of scrap paper, but eventually I began to craft a document on my computer to which I gave the file name “The Arc of My Life.” As in: What’s the big picture here, the overarching story that’s being lived out through me? Where have I come from, and where am I headed? What’s my life really about, and how might that shed light on what’s next?
This “arc” document came to be a powerful companion on the journey, helping me to access my deepest intuitions about how to navigate my way ahead. It turned out to consist of four major parts: Foundations, Big Questions, Emerging Hunches, and Here’s What’s Next.
I’ll have more to say next time about the Foundations piece, but for now here’s a peek at what it includes:
What are among the things I most need to remember right now? What are my most crucial foundations or starting places as I figure out how to move forward?
Be not afraid.
We are because we belong. (Desmond Tutu)
…and you too have come / into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled / with light, and to shine. (Mary Oliver)
Be the change you want to see in the world.
Help me, help me, help me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Anne Lammott)
Everything will be alright in the end; if it’s not yet alright, it’s not yet the end. (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
(Next time, Installment #2: Foundations & Getting Started)
By Chris Johnson
Photo by Nate Hanson