Wiping the slate clean

Wiping the slate clean

Today is my first day of freedom. While others made their way into offices this morning, I slept in. I’ll take a walk in a bit, make a few phone calls, and maybe cook an interesting lunch. Then I’ll settle into my own work on my own schedule, completely unaffected by anyone else’s rhythms. Bliss.

Sort of.

Truth be told, I’m terrified and paralyzed. Every fear I’ve had about freelancing came crashing down this morning. Will I make enough money? How will I socialize? Where will I exercise? Am I even capable of being accountable to myself?

I’ve thought these concerns through, of course, and have plans in place to address each. Still, I’m walking away from a routine I spent two and a half years perfecting—one that answered my every biological and monetary need and kept me functioning at consistent levels—and it feels a little nutty to abandon such a masterpiece. If it ain’t broke, why completely upend your life?

Yesterday a friend told me about Tibetan monks who spend days upon days creating elaborate sand mandalas, then destroying them as soon as they’re finished.

In many ways, my life in San Diego is a mandala, an intricate work of art I’ve poured my heart into getting just so. Unlike when I left Minneapolis in 2014, which was an act of pure flight, I’m wiping away this life because it’s peaked and there’s not much room for improvement. Too well constructed to alter, my routine began to feel like a cage, even though I loved every part. 

I loved my weekly hikes and trips to the farmer’s market, my daily morning coffee and evening hour on the elliptical, my sporadic open mic attendances and hangs with the small handful of people whose company fed my soul. I loved this apartment. I loved the globe and bookends and teal side table I found at antique shops in Ocean Beach. I loved the neighborhood, the banana tree, and the smell that reminded me of an old apartment on Cathedral Hill where my ex and I raised a hamster. I loved this stupid couch, which I bought specifically because it folded into a bed, but which has never once been used for that purpose if for no other reason than that it has these hard little buttons that leave red divots in your skin (stellar design work, really).

Now, I’m starting over. I’m wiping the slate clean so I can begin a new work of art and find new things to love.

But the mandala is an imperfect analogy. Even when you discard your belongings, you don’t rid yourself of the experiences and memories that shaped you along the way. Our lives are less like slabs of concrete from which sand can be swept and more like cast iron skillets that absorb flavor from everything that touches them. The old iterations affect—and hopefully improve—the new.

I’m sitting here among piles of construction paper from a time when I used to make cards and crafts, and I’m coming to terms with two truths:

  1. As much as I want to conceive of myself as an artsy craftsy type, I’m not that person anymore.
  2. Choosing a new path neither invalidates nor erases the ones before it—I always will have been an artsy craftsy type.

(BONUS: If I want to do arts and crafts, I can probably afford to purchase supplies on an ad hoc basis rather than lugging tubs of decade-old crayons across the country just in case I get an itch to scribble in Burnt Sienna at a rest stop along I-5.)

Starting fresh means making dozens of decisions about who you are, who you want to be, and who you’ll realistically become. I’m working my way through the process now and letting go of—mourning—iterations of myself that no longer fit my vision of the future.

I cherish this opportunity to create something new, to painstakingly assemble an as-yet-unrealized version of my life, to unfold it slowly, with intention. I also take comfort knowing all the old flavors will offer seasoning to what comes next—and that I probably don’t need these old rollerblades hanging around to get that.

“This is the time.”

“This is the time.”

Today is my last day of work, and I’m a bundle of emotions. I’m excited and terrified and sad. Even though I know it’s time to move on, I’ve loved this place and these people. I’ve been safe and comfortable here.

When I tell people my plans, the most common response, especially from folks with a few years on me, is, “This is the time to do it.” I’m young enough, they say. I don’t have a house or kids. (Not fully true. TECHNICALLY, my name is still on a mortgage somewhere, and I thank Lady Jesus my ex-husband is the kind of financial Dudley Do-Right who can be trusted to make payments and preserve my precious baby credit score and all the capitalistic privilege that comes with it. Access to over 900 airport lounges worldwide? DON’T MIND IF I DO.)

People almost seem to believe that responsibilities just happen to you as you age. If I were 40 instead of 32, a condo would have befallen me by now. A child would have materialized with snot in its hair and chocolate-stained fingers clutching my stylish and full-pocketed pants (if I don’t have actual human-sized pockets on all my clothes within eight years, my life has gone horribly awry) as it begs for snacks. Probably a dog or chinchilla would be licking its butt nearby.

In some ways, I get it. Life is an accumulation of small decisions that often don’t feel like decisions at all. We’re just living our daily lives, dealing with problems as they arise, and one day we look around to the tune Talking Heads and wonder how did I get here?

Fear of that phenomenon is what keeps me future-focused. Maybe it’s unhealthy anxiety, but I have a habit of extrapolating my current life and choices to their long-term consequences, looking miles down the road and agonizing about what I see instead of living contentedly in the moment. It’s why I’m so quick to leave relationships and why I occasionally wake up on a Saturday morning and think, “Today I’m going to do x, y, and z, and tomorrow will be these other things, and then it will be Monday again, and another week will fly by, and before I know it, I’ll be back here doing this exact same thing next Saturday, and then it will be next year and nothing will have changed, and OH GOD WHERE IS MY LIFE GOING?”

I’m envious of people who can live without that kind of panic. They may envy my risk-taking in turn, but in reality, the risks I take are for survival. I have to make constant change because I’m too afraid of the longview to stay on any given trajectory for too long. In the early phases of something new, everything is cloudy, and you’re forced into a kind of present-mindedness. You can’t focus on the future because you have a million problems to solve right now, today. As soon as the dust settles enough to see a ways down the road, I’m haunted by visions of old age and a wasted life.

People keep saying, “Now’s the time,” and I smile in agreement while thinking, “I wish I could be like you.”

On my last day, I’m longing for the constitution of a person who stays, who can be counted on, who doesn’t need to flee. I’ll go into the office today and hug people I love. I’ll leave behind a perfectly pleasant team and a perfectly comfortable workspace to venture into a frightening unknown. I’ll do it because I have to.

I wish I knew how to stay.

Goodbyes suck.

Goodbyes suck.

I’m a fan of the Irish goodbye. If I have to leave, I like to do it quietly, without fanfare or explanation. Just wait for your moment, then slip away unnoticed. Perfect. (This puts me firmly at odds with my Minnesotan upbringing, which encourages a full goodbye tour of any gathering, hugging and chatting with each person in attendance, prolonging your exit anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. A nightmare.)

Our brains are brilliant self-preservation machines and will do anything to protect us from both the dissonance of being wrong and the pain of rejection. When someone chooses to leave, it’s a rejection of not just our choice to stay, but of ourselves. It stings, to varying degrees, and we tend to go into defense mode. We dismiss the leaver as irrelevant—It is they who are making the wrong choice to leave, whereas I am very smart and good for deciding to stay—and shut them out.

At a party, this isn’t much of a thing. It’s a flash. “Seeya later buddy!” and before you can shake off your awkward half-hug, they’re back to a riveting conversation about the merits of Gladiator vs. Troy. No big.

But when you’re leaving something bigger, like a job or a city, the effect is far more pronounced. You get to see yourself shifted from significance, recalculated from present tense to past. You notice subtle differences in interaction, the way people steel themselves against you. Their brains are building walls to protect themselves, and you’re just hanging around reminding them of your rejection.

I’ve been both the leaver and the left, and I understand both sides. This week, I’m walking around the office watching projects move forward without me, people dropping me from communications, the world reordering itself to account for my absence, and I’m feeling the pain of an outsider. I no longer belong here. I’m just roving cognitive dissonance in sensible flats.

Yesterday, my boss tried to Irish goodbye me. She’s on vacation through the end of the week and had every intention of slipping away without giving me a chance to hug her, tell her how much she’s meant to me, and make her watch me cry. (Look, if you’re going to be supportive and wonderful to me for years, you’re going to have to behold my squished-up, red-eyed snotface when we part ways. THAT’S THE DEAL.)

Fortunately, a coworker tipped me off, and I marched into her office to drop a few tears in her doorway and stumble over the words, “I’ll miss you,” like the emotionally stunted Midwesterner I was raised to be. She took it like a champ.

I understand the desire to disappear and avoid the entire terrible goodbye process altogether. If it were professionally acceptable, I might have left that way. Walking around in the remnants of your departure, offloading work onto people you love and have empathy for, and feeling the pain of disentanglement is a certain kind of hell. It’s like a prolonged and intense breakup, and no one’s having a good time.

I’m in the no man’s land of neither here nor there, haunting a space where I no longer belong. I just keep reminding myself that soon I’ll be on the other side, sipping mimosas (kale smoothies) in style (relative poverty). Just three more days.

Setting Adrift — On Purpose

Setting Adrift — On Purpose

After a year of interviews for Adrift on Purpose, I finally decided to untether myself, to take the lessons from the people who’ve shared them and apply them to my own life.

To that end, as of June 16, I’ll no longer have a day job in corporate America and will be going it on my own as an independent contractor.

As of June 30, I’ll no longer have an apartment. Instead, I’ll be traveling in the US and Canada for the summer, spending a few weeks with family Minnesota, and making it up as I go after that. Everything after August is a question mark. (As move-out day approaches, this timeline seems completely bonkers, but here we are.)

I wanted to chronicle this experience, in real time, for two reasons:

  1. To help Future Meg remember all the wide-eyed optimism I started with, and all the weird experiences that are sure to come from this
  2. To demystify the process for others

My favorite part of the podcast is getting to interview people who are living unconventional lives—hearing how they untethered themselves from soul-crushing mundanity and found fulfillment on alternative paths. If I can offer a similar peek behind the curtains for curious onlookers, possibly help them muster their own courage to make changes, then maybe I’ll feel like I’m giving back even the tiniest sliver of what’s been gifted to me.

So that’s why I’m here, and that’s what’s on the horizon.

Alternately, I’ll give up after a few months, crawl back into a corporate womb, and pretend this blog never existed.