Navigating change: at first exhilaration, then surprising sorrow

change_signPerhaps it is because I was forced to slow down today, to surrender to a leisurely, even lazy, pace, after a week of trying to adjust to rising at 6 a.m. and fighting off the cold that seemed to plague every other employee in my office. Or maybe it is the residual effects of the massage I treated myself to in the afternoon, the only thing I’d scheduled on a calendar usually bulging with obligations and engagements.

All I know is after the intensity of the last month and a half, today’s unhurried hours feel like the first true quiet I’ve tuned into in some time. And the absence, or at least deliberate deferral, of a to-do list, has allowed my emotions to finally catch up with me. Yet when that first ribbon of sadness begins to uncurl, I couldn’t be more surprised.

I imagine it as fleeting, some ephemeral whisper of unknown origin and shallow depth that requires no excavation. So I greet it with a mild curiosity, only to notice a firmer tug, a weighted insistence as the hours turn into night.

It’s been less than two months since I was faced with a decision that sealed my time at the job I’d held for 15 years. Staring down a path I couldn’t see as mine, I chose to leave, courting change with a trenchant clarity I didn’t know I possessed. Somehow in the space of a month, I thrust myself into uncharted terrain, walked away from the only career I’d ever known and started a job in a new field – all before I would have to contend with the re-assignment that had spurred such initiative, and all while embracing the frenzy and magic of the holiday season.

On New Year’s Eve, my last day at my old company, my boss, who in 15 years had become mentor and family as well as supervisor, broke down in tears several times. At the farewell party my colleagues threw for me, he could barely get through the speech he was invited to make and when we hugged then, and again, right before I walked out the door, both of us were reluctant to let go. Still, I remained mostly dry-eyed — me, the ever-emotional one — as he and others teared up around me.

In all the diligent disengaging of those tumultuous last weeks, I’d cried only twice – on the day I was told I would be moved to a new and undesired position come January and, briefly, the weekend after, as I contemplated the door I would have to close.

Tonight, I am finally grieving. It may seem strange, to mourn the voluntary loss of a job, especially given the exhilaration that has carried me through this period of transition. But as that bubbling sadness that baffled at first begins its steady leak, I know I’ve found the space to honor my letting go.

Without the laser focus of launching a fresh start to occupy me, and with the busyness of Christmas and New Year’s behind me, as well as the anticipation of my first day on the new job, I can acknowledge the emotions freed from a cramped silence.

The job I left defined a large part of who I was for my entire career. It was what I went to college for, the status I noted on every form and application, the occupation I supplied with pride and enthusiasm when asked. It’s not that I hadn’t thought of leaving in all those years, hadn’t imagined other possibilities. But I was never ready to risk that shift – until I had no choice.

Now it feels like I am shedding an old skin. This year promises to be a transformational one. One week into my new job, I know it will challenge me in countless ways but I’m ready to learn and grow.

Earlier today, as I sat reviewing some of the material for my trip to Tanzania in May, I thought, too, of a heart being remapped, of how spending four weeks with children orphaned by AIDS, poverty and other trauma will alter my walk in the world.

In leaving so much behind, I have infinitely more to embrace. Yet to fully turn the page on this new chapter, it makes sense to mourn the one I have closed. Yes, every ending is seeded with a beginning but even that dawn unfurls from all that has come before.

I am grateful for the years I spent feeding a love and passion that will always be a part of who I am, and for the hundreds who inspired me with the crossing of our paths during that time. My tears are also for the people who stood beside me every day, friends and colleagues puffed with purpose and fiery ideals, and for the boss who once told me he’d be honored to stand in the role of father figure after I lost my dad.

It wasn’t always perfect but I had a beautiful gig. Now that it’s over, I have no regrets about leaving. Still, I cannot deny the tender swells that rock me. Being willing to sit with the fullness of all I’ve experienced these last few weeks, rather than revel solely in excitement or novelty, may be the hardest part of letting go. But that grief is a necessary bridge to embracing the life now in front of me — and the adventures yet to come.