“Old ways won’t open new doors”

I saw the phrase above on a Facebook post earlier today. It led me on a journey of reflection in regards to the past fourteen months.

We’re down to a piddly amount in the checking account and not a whole helluva lot more than that in the savings account. Health insurance payments are due today. We’ve both got a bit of money trickling in from our per diem jobs at the local college football stadium. I got paid last Friday for my one and only trip for the company with whom I’m contracted to transport workman’s comp patients to and from appointments. I’m making minimum wage for my approximately 20 hours a week at a well-known bookselling retailer. My wife has put out tons of applications with very few follow up calls. Her RN contractor job has yielded no clients as of yet. The well-known department store retailer that wants her to work as a sales support associate is dicking around with the follow-up and is only going to offer her minimum wage anyway.

When my wife looked at the checking account this morning and realized the dire straits we’re in, she broke down. After refreshing herself with a long, hot shower during which she just let it all out, she is now pouring through Craigslist and Indeed to yet again start completing application after application.

Her meltdown caused that old familiar anxiety in my chest. I still felt a little tight as I penned these words. Not knowing what to say to her — because oftentimes my comments in these types of situations end up being platitudes in her eyes, therefore making the situation worse — I proceeded to clean up the kitchen.

I hadn’t told her at that point that I woke up earlier than I had hoped this morning plagued with thoughts of our financial situation. Before even starting a pot of coffee I sat down with my laptop and combed through job ads for at least an hour, the whole time feeling as if I was shitting upon the gift with which I have been bestowed. For even though I am making only minimum wage at my retail job, I honestly enjoy what I’m doing. And though the transport company is slow to build up clientele in the area, they do continue to try. I’ve met some great people and have been introduced to a new culture at the stadium job. But most importantly, I have returned to a simplicity that affords me the time to both read and write, which is nurturing my soul in ways I could not have fathomed one year ago.

Before I go any farther I should note that my wife and I were both trained as registered nurses. We both have years of experience in the medical field and I have even more in the field of non-profit management. In fact, by the time we left our careers our combined income was well into six figures. What happened?

We both knew the time had come to leave. She never wanted to be a nurse in the first place, and being a very sensitive soul, the environment continued to eat away at her soul. For me, I very much enjoyed the early years, but became jaded very quickly by having to continuously fight the system in order to provide even the slightest modicum of care that I felt my patients deserved. I didn’t know myself well enough at the time to have the balls to take the risks needed to push back. I left clinical nursing and went into nursing management at a national non-profit healthcare organization. As the organization became more and more like a corporation over time I again found myself in a situation in which I felt powerless … like a puppet on a string. I should not have stayed as long as I did. By the time I left I had nothing left to give – which was a disservice to those under my care. As Seth Godin puts it in his book “the dip”, I was stuck in the Cul-de-sac.

Thus began the year long journey to where we currently find ourselves. We got rid of a whole lot of STUFF and sold the beautiful home in Vermont that we had designed and created together. We lived and worked on a sheep farm with a dog kennel in the mountains of North Carolina. We got rid of a lot more STUFF and moved again to my wife’s parents’ second home in Alabama. And when it came time for her dad to sell that home due to her mom’s failing health, we got rid of even MORE STUFF and used most of what was left of our savings to purchase and begin renovating a 600 square foot cottage in another Alabama college town. Our poor cats are tired of moving. So are we.

If you know anything about some of the top causes of stress, you’d think our stress levels would be through the roof after the year we’ve come through. We quit our “safe” jobs. My grandmother died so we traveled 2400 miles round trip to be with the family. We sold our home after several, stressful false alarms. We traveled approximately 1400 miles, packing up and moving our belongings 3 times along the way. We’ve each had multiple different part-time jobs, which required acclimating to new work surroundings and co-workers. We’ve witnessed my mother-in-law rapidly fade away both mentally and physically due to the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s. We purchased a home and spent a month in renovation stages before moving in. And now we’ve been here for two months and, other than our joint per diem job at the stadium, my wife hasn’t found a job.

Despite all of this, I am happier, more content and more inspired than I have been in years. The experiences we have had during this time have been invaluable. We have met so many incredibly amazing people and forged new friendships along the way. We are realizing our dream of leaving a smaller carbon footprint with the purchase of this small home and greatly reducing the distance we have to travel to work. We neither one are in a position where we feel as if we’re stuck. We are spending more quality time with each other, while at the same time finding plenty of individual time to pursue our own interests. She is learning sign language and looking to volunteer at the local school for the deaf. I’m looking into LGBT and women/children advocacy volunteering opportunities. I’ve read more books in these past two months than I had in the previous several years. And I’ve started writing every single day. My soul is soaring.

So what did I do in that moment of anxiety other than get up and start the dishes? I came back to my computer while my wife was in the shower and I pulled up the job search engines again. I went back to the one job of hundreds that had slightly caught my interest early this morning. Even as I did so I thought about the online reviews I had read about the non-profit human services company to which I was preparing to apply. I thought about the words of the employees about the stress levels due to the long hours and lack of adequate help. I thought about how much I am savoring the time to do the things my soul desires. As I simultaneously had these thoughts going through my head and I worked on the online application, I finally listened to the voice in my head that was screaming through every ounce of my being, “NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOO!”

I had reacted from a base of fear. The stress and anxiety of the current moment caused me to resort to old ways. I allowed my wife’s emotions to guide my own.

I have no idea what comes next. I do, however, know that doors have been opening all year for us because we haven’t resorted to old ways. I read a Douglas Adams quote earlier today that sums it up – “I seldom end up where I intended to go, BUT I think I have ended up where I intended to BE.” The mountains of North Carolina are where we intended to GO, but I think we have ended up in Alabama because this is where our souls intend to BE.

To refer back to Seth Godin once again, I know that we are in “the dip.” We set out with a dream in mind and now that we’re almost there, we’re experiencing the dip. I have faith that we both have what it takes to continue to walk through this dip and make it to the other side. Instead of the old ways of succumbing to the fears, quitting, or selling out, we will continue to make the most of each moment and focus on walking through new doors and into new opportunities. Cheers to “the dip!”

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