“If we pursue goals blindly and relentlessly, we risk missing out on opportunities that present themselves along the way. It takes courage to stay open to the unexpected and take detours we weren’t planning for, but the rewards are often well worth it.” – Kathy Davis
As inspiring as I found these words when I stumbled upon them this week, I was also struck by their ring of profound coincidence. For they echo precisely what has brought me to another new start in another new year.
Three weeks ago, I joined a company founded by a woman with whom I’d first crossed paths almost 10 years ago in one of many incarnations in my former journalism career. If someone had told me then I’d one day be working for this amazing entrepreneur and artist I’d probably have dismissed the notion with an incredulous laugh. I remember, at the time, being captivated by her whimsical paintings and generous, open-hearted approach to life. I was also fascinated by the story of how she’d launched her own company — with nothing but a dream, a dash of daring, and an unlikely showcase for a handful of product samples.
But back then, I was on a different trajectory. I’d already been working at an area newspaper as a feature writer for several years. I loved my job. And if there were anywhere I planned to go next it was maybe Rolling Stone or Oprah’s magazine.
But as I read that quote earlier this week, I wondered if perhaps all those years, in which her life and mine would fleetingly yet meaningfully intersect, were one long detour to this very place. I’d majored in journalism in college and often boasted, much as my other colleagues did, that it would forever be in my blood. Yet when the industry as I knew it began to collapse, I often pondered my potential to reinvent myself. Still, the urgency of starting a new chapter was always diluted by questions of where would I go and what could I do to derive as much satisfaction as I did from being a lifestyle and arts and entertainment reporter.
I’d already become a wedding officiant but I feared pursuing such a vocation full-time would dull its sweet luster. I flirted with hospice care, an interest that still tugs now and then, but back-to-back losses in my personal life kept me perched outside that door. Like many in the field I’ve since abandoned, I imagined public relations a natural fit but I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for the opportunities I found.
And so I stayed where I was, in a medium dogged by the threat of extinction…until a change I couldn’t abide pushed me out.
I quit the newspaper business in 2014, almost a year after I’d exited my long-term relationship. With both decisions, I stepped into the unknown, with nothing but a sometimes faulty trust in a greater plan to steer me onward. I landed on my feet in another job. I dated — and fell in love with myself all over again. And though I have yet to find the man with whom I want to share my life, my experience volunteering with orphans in Tanzania last summer nourished and enlarged my heart in ways that can make thoughts of romance pale in comparison.
Although I never assigned them to leaps of courage, I made one bold choice after another. I believe the first, to leave a partnership that had become too small for the life I envisioned, set in motion all that would follow. Months after the breakup, I booked my trip to Africa, a dream I’d been harboring for close to 10 years.
Yet when I said goodbye to the man I believed I would marry, such a journey was still the stuff of elusive somedays.
I never had a definitive plan for all I would carve from absence and loss, didn’t cram those gaping spaces with goals for my reinvention. But I listened closely — to joy, to the whispers that directed only “Try this. Maybe that. Stay open.”
Now I am three weeks into a job that has stunned me with its newness, overwhelmed me with its jargon, unfamiliar work flow and fast-moving pieces. But it’s also enlivened and inspired me, with its promise for growth and fecund creativity. And though it may be too soon to make such a pronouncement, I am sure I will love it.
I also know, as circuitous as it’s been, the road was always winding here. Perhaps this is both the grand detour and the destined path. After returning from Tanzania, I was certain I should be exploring job opportunities with UNICEF or some other organization affiliated with the U.N. I contemplated the Peace Corps, thought about making a home in Arusha, where I’d volunteered.
But I was never sure if any of these options were part of my purpose in the deep-seated call to travel there. Rather than rush a decision I’d regret or frantically reach for something to soothe the ache of leaving so many precious children behind, I chose to wait. To allow room for what was meant to unfold.
It’s no wonder the company’s chief visionary, and the woman I’ve long admired from afar, welcomed me my first day on the job with that very word.
“Take some time to absorb and just be…and your new role will unfold and blossom as it should.”
Unconventional work wisdom? Perhaps. But whether in our careers or in life, it strikes me as sage advice to continuously discover who we are and where we are meant to be.