Looking Back

The other day, I attended a webinar that blew my mind. Don’t ask me what the webinar was – I don’t remember, something about imagining the future, perhaps the future of work, my mind was so blown that I didn’t retain anything from the webinar itself. Luckily I jotted down a few notes while I was listening. Here’s what they said:

  • Tell stories and create scenarios about the future that draw people into the future with clarity not certainty. The idea being, if I remember it right, that certainty about the future is a lie, while clarity is truth. Just think about what we’re going through now – do you trust the people who are certain about things, telling you that no one will get sick, we’ll lick it in a minute, that we have all the testing we need, that our numbers are only up so high because we’re doing more testing than anyone else in the world? Or do you trust the people who share clarity.
  • Stories that are the source of truth. (As opposed to what your read on the Fbook.)
  • SNHU. Something about how they are using these principles to gain clarity around the future of education. I jotted it down because the speaker said their website had some interesting stuff about this, but I haven’t gone there yet.
  • Brains@Work Podcast. Which is not actually, I found later, called that.
  • IFTF You Tube. Which took me to a video that got me hooked on a Coursera course.

So clearly, whatever this webinar was, it was produced by IFTF. And it blew my mind because it lit up the parts of the brain that think creatively about, that imagine the future. This is not something that I do a lot. I’ve never had a five-year plan. I have drifted through life, luckily drifting into things that have, for the most part, worked out for me. Things go along much the same way until suddenly I change something, and then there is a jolt forward.

In high school, my family had my life mapped out for me. I’d go to Stanford, become a lawyer. I went to the campus, got a t-shirt, and went along with it. Then, one Christmas, I sold my saddle to pay for a trip from my tiny town to New York City. I fell in love and decided I was going to school there. I would study acting. I skipped the PSAT and applied to NYU. My mom freaked out – if I wasn’t going to Stanford, couldn’t I go to Yale? Jody Foster was going to Yale. At least then, when I came to my senses, I could transfer to pre-law. She didn’t get it. I moved to NYC, earned a drama degree, and promptly left drama. Although I still remember the theatre with love, it was about coming to New York.

After I graduated, I lived in the same apartment for 7 years – longer than I had ever lived any place when I was growing up. It was big and airy and two blocks from central park and the rent was practically nothing (practically nothing, New York style, I think I was paying $1000/month). Sure, I blew a fuse whenever I ran the A/C and the computer at the same time, but nothing is perfect. Then, one day a pipe sprung a leak seven floors above us, and the apartment was flooded. It was never the same after that. And I decided, just like that, to buy my own apartment. I found one, moved into a tiny downtown studio, and was happy there. (And the landlord then rented my old apartment, I learned later, for almost $3000/month.)

My husband and I dated for 17 years. For 16 of those years, we kind of drifted happily along. It got to the point where he stayed at my place or I stayed at his place every night – usually we stayed at my place because his place was a bachelor’s disaster. Finally, I said, we should just move in together. But he was afraid his parents would freak. So I said, let’s get married, then they won’t freak. So we did. And then we bought a place together.

I worked at the same company for 31 fing years. When I left, I told myself that it had become hell over the last 3 years. But the truth was, it had been hell before. It had been hell in the 80s when I ran a store on Wall Street and got held up by a man with a gun and couldn’t find employees and my sales tanked because the building put up scaffolding the day I took over as manager (which they took down the day I left) and the basement flooded and the sidewalk over the receiving room was condemned. It was hell in the 90s when I worked for a crazy woman, who would call me into her office and berate me because she didn’t like the format of the header on my interoffice memos (To, From, Date, Subject) without ever telling me calmly how she wanted them. It was sht in the early 2000’s when the company reorganized and my job disappeared from under me and I was left with an empty office and had to figure out what the hell I was doing before they figured out that I didn’t have a job and let me go. Then, for a while, things got better. I was on top of the world. And then the world turned upside down and I decided I’d be better gone. So I made a decision and left.

So anyway, I’m not good at thinking creatively about the future. So this webinar blew my mind and I figured, what the heck, I don’t have a life anymore thanks to C19, I may as well do something different, and I signed up a for the Coursera on Futures Thinking.

And I’m enjoying it. My mind isn’t as blown as it was before, but I am enjoying stimulating areas of my brain where I don’t have a lot of synapses. It’s a Coursera course so I’m not going to come out of this with any appreciable skills, but it’s fun.

An assignment I just completed was Looking Back to Look Forward. The premise of this assignment seems to be that it is sometimes challenging to look at the future because we underestimate how much things change. So, in this assignment, we looked back at where we were 10 years ago and what is different now than then.

Things are different for me in a number of ways. I think the catalyst happened in 2015. At that point, I had worked for the same company for 30 years and, at 30 years, they gave you a bonus that you could use for a trip anywhere in the world. It was only $5000, which doesn’t get you very far when you’re thinking anywhere, but something about the phrase anywhere in the world set me free to take the trip I had been dreaming of since 3rd Grade. When they added this bonus to the benefits package and announced it at the annual service awards, something in my mind clicked and I said, “This is my chance.” So I stuck around until 30 years.

I think, underneath it all, a clock was ticking all this time, although I didn’t realize it. At 23 years, I went back to school and earned a graduate degree. When my boss left, I went to her boss and asked for her job – a job I had said, until that point, that I could never see myself in. I started joining professional organizations and going to networking dinners. I lost 50 pounds. At one point, someone who had worked for my boss left after many years. “You’re not going anywhere soon,” He asked, seeking reassurance and I told him I would commit to 5 years. So already, something was changing inside me, although I didn’t recognize it: I was getting ready to leave after I took my 30 year trip.

If you had said that to me, I would have denied it. If you had asked me where I saw myself going next – a question I often asked myself – I could not have told you. I didn’t want to stay in the industry that I was in. I liked what I had studied in grad school but, as I learned more about that industry, I wasn’t sure that was it either. It’s like that New Yorker cartoon, the one where you’re looking West, and everything beyond the Hudson River is empty and vague – what’s out there? Too scary, draw your vision back to the busy, full, immediate world.

And then I hit 30 years and, on my 30th anniversary, called the company travel agent and told her to start looking into trips to Antarctica.

My husband put up a good fight. He couldn’t understand why I had chosen the south pole. He couldn’t understand why we couldn’t go to Hawaii (again) or Paris (ugh). He couldn’t understand why we had to do this in January 2016 and not in 2017 or 2018. He fought and fought me. Usually when we fight, I give in. But this time, this time, I planted my feet firmly on the ground and fought back. This was my fing dream and I was not going to give in, the way I had given in so many times before. Finally, I said, “Look, I understand that the bonus pays only a fraction of this trip and that we’ll be spending the cost of a car. I know this isn’t your dream. I’d love to have you come along but if you really don’t want to, we can save some money because I’ll go without you.” And then he decided to come. And he had such a good time that he wants to go back and my feet didn’t touch the ground the whole time or for weeks afterwards.

And it lit something up inside me. Something that wants to see the world.

So when things reached their lowest point at work and I had to make a decision whether to stay or to go, I left.

It wasn’t easy. There were many days later that I banged my head against the wall and wondered when I was going to get to the promised land. I missed my work family. I missed being able to write “bookseller” as my occupation. But there has never been a single day when I wished I had stayed or thought about going back.

So if you ask me what has changed in the last 10 years, I can only reply that I opened a door and stepped through it.

Take heart, in time, this too shall pass.

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