A couple months ago, I got some news. It was a Friday in June, and I watched as the HR team at my office took each of my employees into a conference room and let them go. No notice. No heads up. They just escorted them out of the building like an unruly hotel guest. Then they came for me. I was in my office with the phone dialed into a conference call that I would never get to finish.
“I can tell by the look on your face that you already know what this is about,” said the HR director. “We’ve eliminated your position.”
I’d be lying if I said I was shocked. I wasn’t. I knew this was coming. I’d prepared for it in the best way I knew how. “You’ll probably have to scramble, but you will be ok,” someone told me a few weeks earlier.
This was the second time in the past few months I’d endured what a therapist might call a major life event. Earlier that year, I’d ended things with a serious girlfriend. That breakup was a lot more painful than getting fired from a job I didn’t actually enjoy.
So, I left that day. I drank a bottle of champagne to celebrate. And I bought a hat.
I’ve always been, as my parents liked to call me, a “hat kid.” Starting at about 2, I began collecting — and sporting — a rather large collection of hats. Cowboy hats. Ball caps. An exceptionally embarrassing No Fear driving cap with mean-looking eyes embroidered on the back to warn passersby that though I was an overweight twelve-year-old, I could still, maybe, whoop their ass.
The hat I bought in the days after losing my job was a trucker hat with a blue bill and off-color tan mesh that wouldn’t show the grime of sweat. Sewn firmly to the front was a bright red patch, framed in neon green stitching, that read “Yay! Adventure!” in a bold I-might-still-be-a-kid kind of font. I wanted it to wear on an extended section hike on the Appalachian Trail, because somehow I thought the slogan on the hat embodied what I wanted out of this part of my life. The exclamation points on the front let everyone know that I was excited, damnit, and that I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the trials and tribulations of the trail — or of life.
I wore it for a while. A month or so, maybe. I went backpacking with it, and after my second long hike in deluge of rain, I abandoned it. I threw it in a closet at my parent’s house and left it there to die. Clearly, the hat was cursed, and if miserable rain was the kind of “adventure” it was going to provide, I wanted no part.
I carried on my hike, with a new, generic, REI hat. In total, it was 115 miles more grueling mentally and physically, than I could’ve ever imagined. I saw ups and downs, and embraced them all the same, pushing forward to each day’s goal. Even without the cursed hat, I still encountered my share of adventure. Alone for days on end, I heard feral pigs send low-grunt warnings. I hung my food bag to an attentive audience of one adult black bear. I sent prayers for things I thought I wanted, and had other prayers — ones I didn’t even know I had — answered.
In the end, I survived the adventure, and I set out on others (remind me, over a beer, to tell you about the time I drove 4000 miles across the corn fields of the midwest). I’ve tried to glean meaning from these past few months, and all I’ve come up with this: life has a funny way of telling you that it’s in control, and that you, despite every iota of effort you put into it, are in fact not.
In a few days I’m going to set off on a new adventure. I’m packing up my stuff and going back to my real love: helping people. I plan (as much as one can “plan”) to attend a NOLS wilderness medicine intensive class for the month of October. After that, only time will tell where I might end up; but, one thing’s for sure: I’m going to embrace every twist and every turn with the eagerness of those stupid, lovable exclamation points. Life is nothing if not unpredictable, and I’m going to be ready to live this life, interrupted, the best way I know how.