Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz
Exactly one month ago today, I was still sleeping.
But whenever I did manage to peel myself out of bed, I soon found myself perched on this very barstool, trying to come up with something to write about. Even heavier on my mind than that day’s writing activity was where the Doctor and I would end up. I still had a couple of months’ worth remaining of saved credit (let’s just pretend that’s a thing) for us to live on, but the job prospects were slim-to-none in St. Pete. (Surprise: People don’t move to Florida to WORK; they move here to RETIRE.) I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but the situation was heavily weighing on me.
A month later, the Doctor is… well, sleeping, but more importantly, he’s under contract at a major nonprofit hospital, and I’m still perched on this barstool — in a different apartment, and under quite different circumstances. Just a couple of days after that morning’s blog on the service industry, I took an impromptu west-coast business trip to check out a possible opportunity, which hasn’t really since materialized. I flew back through Jacksonville, because the Doctor had landed an interview here. A day later, he received the preliminary offer, and a week later, we were hauling our stuff through this front door. I had to pay a penalty to break our St. Pete lease, but our February month here was comped. It was as if this were meant to happen.
Thinking back, it’s been a little overwhelming. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in my years, it’s to avoid counting those chickens. Wait till the money’s in the bank. Don’t put the cart before the… cliche.
On paper (and off paper), I’ve led a pretty sweet life since graduating high school. I had the opportunity to go to a west-coast school, where I really came into myself, meeting some of the best people a kid could know and experiencing some amazing times that ended up shaping the man I’ve become. Then I went to work for my dad, who was in the business of building and selling magnetic incontinence chairs and floating trains. The job was pretty much as sexy as it sounds, aside from the father-and-son-working-together dynamic that carried its own share of ubiquitous drawbacks. But it enabled me to travel the world, buy a nice condo and drive a BMW. Again — on paper — what else could a boy want?
Well, off paper, I generally found that my life was one big active waiting game. If we weren’t waiting on our first maglev project, we were waiting on a big, 10-chair order from Australia to make payroll. Or we were waiting for a shipment of capacitors in order to build the chairs to ship to the Australians. Or we were waiting for the court system to move our lawsuit along against the American Medical Association, so that we could sell the chairs in our largest, closest market — the United States.
Very little of this involved sitting on our hands. This was all active waiting, doing anything and everything you could think of to bring something to fruition. And so much was caught up in the waiting, that the concept of being happy seemed unattainable until the waiting was over.
Less than two years after I started working for Dad, we landed our first train project in Karachi, Pakistan. I know — Pakistan. As shady as a third-world maglev sounds, it was fairly legit at first. My dad met with the president of Pakistan, and an memorandum of understanding was drafted and signed. I remember getting an email from my dad in the middle of the night Karachi time (early evening in Athens, Georgia, where I was visiting friends), and upon news of the project award, we all went out and celebrated.
I still like to celebrate, but I’ve since learned that premature celebration is about as satisfying as premature anything-else. The Karachi project, of course, fell through, but it led our company on an interesting, riveting path, which included the construction of a test track and two more first-project “awards” before I left the company in 2015.
When I made the decision to leave, I had a far different mindset from that of the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kid when he started work in 2005. Instead of awaiting big success, I was awaiting a way out. No more “as soon as we build Karachi” or “as soon as we build Atlanta” or “as soon as we build Orlando” or “as soon as we sell the medical company.” That kind of wait-and-see mindset takes a grand toll on your self esteem and self worth, when you find that it’s all you’re doing every day.
Thankfully, the one event that did come to fruition was selling the medical company, which enabled me to negotiate a severance deal with my dad that, combined with the sale of my condo, allowed me to pursue other interests for a little while without worrying about finding a 9-to-5 immediately.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to think. I also wasn’t sure what I should be thinking. A past therapist told me that I concern myself way too much with the shoulds in life, and my response was, “How can you not be?” But with a small financial cushion and a new apartment in St. Petersburg, the “sunniest city in the United States,” with my heart partner, the world was at my fingertips.
And it couldn’t have been more terrifying. Somehow I was incapable of extracting myself from the mindset that I should always be anticipating something… always keeping my eyes peeled for the next big thing, so I don’t miss it.
It kept me honest — I feverishly worked for a few months on different freelancing gigs, I applied to every journalism job across two counties, and I soon landed a steady job as the editor of a pond magazine, thanks to a connection from a dear college buddy. There certainly wasn’t much “passive” waiting.
When the money started to run low, I coped with it as best I could. And when I found myself drinking too much, I’d stop myself from drowning, dry out and continue striving to find the next opportunity.
So, fast-forward through the recent whirlwind move, and here I am, a bit lighter in my loafers than I have been in quite some time. (I don’t own loafers, but if you’ve read this far, you clearly don’t mind my wordplay.) Sure, a lot of it has to do with the Doctor’s new job. While it’s not a jackpot or windfall, it will greatly help support our household of two, especially when combined with my on-the-side work. Considering the lower cost of living here in Jacksonville, there are fewer reasons to worry about hitting the proverbial wall.
I guess what I wanted to write about this morning — hence the title of the post, referring to the famous Alka-Seltzer jingle from the ‘70s — was the emotion of relief. The Merriam-Webster definition of relief is “the removal or lightening of something oppressive, painful, or distressing.” The first two adjectives are a little hyperbolic in my case, but distressing seems appropriate to describe my recent career-related worries. And I’d describe it as a “lightening” rather than a “removal,” because when are we ever completely removed from stress?
The relief is comforting, but admittedly fleeting. The real lesson here, I think, is the realization of how I’ve been living my life lately — from one expectation to the next. In the words of the late prophet John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
The way we’re programmed to behave in today’s society, it’s practically impossible to exist without a plan or goal or overall strategy in mind. If you’re not focused on working on something or meeting a certain milestone, a lot of people, especially from older generations, will wonder why you’re bothering to breathe.
I think ambition and determination are useful qualities when they’re kept in check and used as the groundwork for long-term plans. But when they shroud your day-to-day happiness and keep you from noticing — much less enjoying the little things, then what’s the point? I only spent 18 months in St. Pete, but I’m starting to consider the time I might’ve wasted there, sitting, stewing and worrying about the outcome of things that were relatively minor, in the grand scheme of things. I had so much beauty around me, but I didn’t really know it because I was off in a corner somewhere stressing about something.
I’ll always be wary of something until it fully materializes, be it a job or a project or something of the sort. I think that particular quality has been engrained in my being. But going forward, I’m going to make the conscious effort to take in my surroundings. As often as I think to, I’ll stop and smell the roses (since I’m apparently in a cliche contest this morning). When you’re stuck in the rut or the dark place or whatever your misery venue of choice, the last thing you want to hear is how quickly things can change, and how there is so much more to life than finances and careers and haughty plans.
Well, I’m living proof. Sadly, it took a career/finance-related event to help me realize this. But this relief — this sweet, sweet relief that I’m feeling this morning, the first morning that the Doctor is under contract at his new hospital — is palpable. Our problems are far from solved, of course, and everything could change again just as quickly as it changed last week. But the very existence of this fleeting moment could be used in a positive light. Maybe I can focus on being grateful for a second about our fun, new neighborhood, the loving relationship I share with the Doctor, and the wonderful, happiness-filled first half of my life. It hasn’t been all roses, and I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of luck, but there’s no question that there’s a lot of beauty in my present and my past to be thankful for.
Extrapolating on history, it appears that the future forecast shouldn’t be half bad, either. Regardless of what jobs are gained or lost (and what presidents come and go), life is what happens between the pain and relief associated with the big events, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. To quote the prophet Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”
So, excuse me while I brew another cup of coffee and go take a look around… before I start stressing about what to make for breakfast.