Saturday, March 27, 2010

All Fired Up

I launched this blog on May 29, 2008, with these words: “My name is Cara. One month ago today, I fired myself.”

There I was, hammering out a (pretty good, in my opinion, for a first try) blog post about being all fired up with the energy, optimism and fear of having taken a gigantic, parachute-free leap into the sweeping canyon of changing my life: Worried I didn’t have the courage to quit my long-time career, I instead sort of handed myself a pink slip.

Despite the end result, firing oneself differs from the act of getting fired by someone else in some pretty significant ways – one of which is the impact on the fired person’s ego. When you quit, it’s your choice. You leave on your own terms and move on for your own reasons, often feeling rather triumphant and maybe leaving others scrambling to pick up the pieces. Getting fired isn’t like that.

Even if you don’t like your job, being relieved of your post unexpectedly is generally a little tough to swallow. I figure it’s akin to never getting a call back from the guy you didn’t like anyway (cue Stanford Blatch in “Sex and the City”, Season 4, Episode 2, upon realizing that bitchy Anthony had taken off after they were introduced: “I’ve been rejected by someone I wasn’t interested in. I hate when that happens!”) Of course if you actually liked your job - or the guy - it can be exponentially harder to take.

We all want to be in control of our destiny to some extent, especially when it comes to things like saying no instead of being told no; but we learn from a very young age that life doesn’t always work like that. This is where many tantrums originate. The ego is denied its spotlight, and it doesn’t like it one bit.

Through all of life’s seemingly negative experiences that I can recall (I’m excluding anything that induced a tantrum prior to the age of 4), I’ve come to believe very strongly that everything happens for a reason. I know lots of people who believe this and lots of others who subscribe to the exact opposite philosophy (including my best friend B) - that it’s all just random; nothing is written in the stars.

For me, adopting the belief that things are part of a bigger plan reduces my need or desire to spazz-out when stuff goes awry: Somehow it was just meant to be and will no doubt result in a better experience somewhere down the road. So when I got fired from my very new job a week or so ago, even though I liked said job, my reaction was for the most part kind of neutral. I won’t say I didn’t find myself against the rails for a bit (B can vouch for this, as he talked me through part of the 8-km-long, foot-blistering walk home); but in the end I am taking it for what I believe it to be: the universe pushing me back towards my destiny – this beautiful, mysterious, frustrating thing called writing.

I might have been rejected by someone I like, but thanks to that, I’m back to courting the one I truly love.

“Getting fired is nature's way to telling you that you had the wrong job in the first place.” Hal Lancaster

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Directions

February 1994: It was the dead of a cold, snowbound winter that was a precursor to what I would later discover to be an even colder referendum year. I had been transferred from Toronto to cosmopolitan Montreal to work at my company’s head office. This was my first (and - who could have known then! – only!) corporate job. I had less than an inkling of what it would entail (the person responsible for my transfer, when pressed as to what I might be responsible for in my new role replied, “I have absolutely no idea”), but I was pretty sure it was considered some form of promotion. A basic hotel room served as my temporary address as I waited for the moving van to rumble across the Ontario-Quebec border with my bits of pressboard- and chipped-melamine furniture. It would arrive three weeks later. I had little money, less French, no local friends and no idea of what I was in for.

To date it was the second-biggest adventure that I had ever embarked on, coming in slightly behind the move out of my birth city and the protective nest of my parents’ home just a year before and quite on parallel with the out-of-control stale-dinner-roll fight I found myself and two of my closest comrades in the middle of on the slope of the Big Hill at the King’s College residences back in ’76, at the ripe age of seven.

Adventure often necessitates survival of the fittest. In the midst of such uncertainty there is only one sure plan of attack: protect ones’ buns, stand ones’ ground and duck only when fired upon.

J (head honcho at The Company and the man who plucked me from my life of retail management) was brilliant and funny and he loved to share jokes, anecdotes and books he thought to be interesting. One day, after I had been working at the office for a while and when I assume J could no longer suffer through my unending attempts to assimilate myself into the corporate world and this new life, he passed by my desk and handed me a sheet of paper with a short passage typed on it in plain black font. The title of the passage was “New Directions” and its no-nonsense insights into how to approach life changes grounded me and restored some clarity of purpose.

I didn’t know who had written the bold little paragraph (did he? Impressive!), but I pinned the paper to the bulletin board next to my desk and read it every day.

Years passed, things got more complicated; the responsibility and the stress level grew in tandem with the job title. Cubicle walls shifted, salaries grew and colleagues came and went, including J. Always on my bulletin board was the paper he had given me, now gunshot with push-pin holes. The words didn’t hit home all the time, but I read them faithfully. The tattered paper came with me when I eventually quit that job, and the one after it, and through myriad changes that have surprised themselves upon my life along the way. Its sage message was included in my address to the graduating class of my alma mater almost 20 years after my graduation. New Directions.

March, 2010: I’m going back to work this week after essentially being on vacation for the last two years. For two years, I’ve traveled and met, explored, learned and rested and pretty much done whatever I’ve wanted. All of this, as well as working from home and for myself, writing, doing what I love, collectively has been a dream come true; but it’s also not necessarily sustainable, and the writing part is lonely and it’s not really paying enough just yet. This job opportunity came to me; it found me when I was feeling lost and lethargic and unsure of what my next move would be. It came to me from someone whom I have admired and sort of adored a little bit through the years, and who is brilliant and who will be my boss and whom I cannot wait to learn from. I also cannot wait to shoot him with a Nerf gun, which my office comes supplied with.

The adventure continues, but the vacation is over. I had no intention of this. It’s not how I envisioned things for myself. But we must be careful of that, of the story we tell ourselves about what we should and shouldn’t be doing, about where we should and shouldn’t be at any given moment in our lives, and especially about comparing. There is no right way or wrong way. We are not the story we tell ourselves. I am not a character in a blog or a book. I am just me, doing what I need to do to get by. (Thank you to a different J for reminding me often of this.) It’s painful to think of how far back my next visit to my island will be pushed by this, like in those dreams where the hallway gets longer as you’re running down it. On a more day-to-day level it’s both a little nauseating and humbling to have to dig out all my old Tupperware and make dull lunches again and to have to be somewhere at a certain time every day from Monday to Friday. But if I so choose it to be it’s also another part of my adventure, by which I am charged with excitement and optimism and giddiness at the seeming randomness of life. It is a new direction.

As for the passage typed on that scrap of paper...

New Directions

“Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, then without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that as well.”

Maya Angelou