I trudged into Meijer, head down against the wind, holding tightly to the plastic bag full of mail in my hand. With all of the snow and wind, I was probably only one of a dozen people in the store at 7:30 a.m., so I was able to walk right up to the service desk and plop my envelopes on the counter. Survey for Parker’s neurologist, belated thank you notes, tax consent forms for MCG, bills, and a large white envelope addressed to the DBA program director at Anderson University.
Swallowing hard, I filled out the Priority mailing label, slid my application inside, and “pressed firmly to close” before handing it to the cashier. I guess I was applying to graduate school after all, with just a few days to spare before the deadline.
It was odd. I felt strangely calm, in contrast to the hot mess I was a week ago, when I completely melted down, sobbing to Ben that this was obviously a very bad idea for our family, my peace of mind, and my ability to participate in anything fun for the next five years of my life. I may also have been hormonally crazy-wacked-out and on a strong decongestant/antibiotic cocktail, so that may have had something to do with my mental instability, but I was not feeling confident…AT ALL. Ben was oh-so-practical and calm, telling me to snap out of it. (Okay, he didn’t say that exactly, he was much more encouraging, but in my crazed mind, it sounded like that.)
But somehow, I did snap out of it and and re-wrote my essays over the past week, paper clipping the final draft to my application. In my essays, I talk about how my career path has brought me to this place to pursue my doctorate degree, and how I can and will bring a unique perspective to the program. It sounds pretty good on paper, and as I wrote, it reminded me of all the crazy pit stops and detours in my career that uniquely prepared me to be at this place at this time in my life.
Deciding to take a chance and post for a Training Consultant position at Old Kent Mortgage Company.
Getting the job and realizing that I really liked this teaching thing.
Losing my job right in the middle of my Masters program, which meant I didn’t have to repay a huge portion of my tuition or stay for extra years after I finished.
Staying connected to my professors at Cornerstone that got me into adjunct teaching.
Expanding my perspective and skill set with blogging…and marketing.
Taking a chance and applying for a professor job at Cornerstone.
And now I am here…a true example of a jungle gym career path, looking ahead at a blind corner, and not knowing what’s around the bend. I still think it’s going to resemble a knock-down, drag-out version of Survivor around here if I actually get accepted. Free time is overrated, right?
I guess we will figure that out when (and if) the time comes. And if I don’t get in this year…we will figure that out too. That’s what we do, right? We move forward, try new things, succeed sometimes, fail sometimes, melt down, pull ourselves together, and move forward again.
And then we buy ourselves a donut….which is what I did after leaving the service counter. Hard things are always tempered by sweet, empty calories, so it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
I palmed my phone and tried to stifle a grin as I walked into chapel for my first university convocation as a faculty member. I had promised Ben that I would take a picture, so I tried to be inconspicuous as I snuck a few.
It was a new perspective on this annual ritual, from my view from the fourth row. Surrounded by who are now my peers, I sang and intoned and applauded as we followed the program notes. Prayer. Hymn. Stand. Sit. Listen.
And then, at the very end, we stood and read aloud the Cornerstone Covenant, an affirmation designed to unite us as a community. A room of voices raised to show our commitment to common actions and attitudes. Maturity. Peace. Joy. Wisdom.
There is a reason why we say things out loud. Marriage vows. Child dedication services. The Pledge of Allegiance. Corporate worship. It transforms a private belief into a public proclamation, adding weight to important words by giving them shape and sound. It is why I cried on my wedding day and why I often find myself teary-eyed when I pay attention to the words I sing on Sunday mornings. But on this Wednesday, a document was transformed from words on a screen to a living promise as it was spoken by the students, faculty, and staff. I found myself standing a bit straighter as I read the Faculty Affirmation:
“As faculty we will advance the presence of Christ in our community by honoring those with whom we serve.
We will seek the best for our students by modeling Christ before them, challenging them to excel and treating
them with respect. In our disciplines we will continually grow in knowledge and wisdom, and seek to nurture
those qualities in our students.”
Yes. I affirm.
I stood in the cafeteria entrance with a permagrin on my face. “Welcome to lunch!” I crowed , pointing dazed Moms and Nikon-laden Dads towards the shredded beef sandwiches, and jittery students towards the pizza counter. I was one of the “lunch greeters”, welcoming new students to their first official meal on Cornerstone’s campus after a morning of moving boxes into dorm rooms.
It took me back…way back to 1995, when my parents dropped me off at school. I missed out on new student arrival day, because I came early with the other fall athletes. It was a bit rough for a girl eight long hours from home. I remember passing out in my dorm’s loft in between grueling two-a-days, feeling desperately homesick, and shedding more than a few tears. When the rest of the students arrived, things didn’t get much better. I was still one of the “new kids”, so I clearly recognized that mixture of dread, excitement, and uncertainty in the eyes of some of the students heading towards the trays of brownies.
Thankfully, my memories didn’t stop there; I also remembered what happened over the next few weeks and months. Time passed. I quit volleyball and started playing soccer. I figured out what meals were worth eating. I adapted to college life. I thrived.
They will too.
I’m a “new kid” again this fall, right back on the campus where it all started. And while my mid-thirties sensibilities might keep me from crying into my pillow like I did as a freshman, I can’t ignore the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have been trying to ignore it, pretend that it isn’t a big deal, but as I watched the new students file past me, I realized that I needed to accept it to be able to move forward. Accept that I’m going to be jittery and distracted while I figure it all out. Realize that I might wake up with a sore jaw for a while as I grind my teeth through the night. Tell the people that I love how I’m feeling instead of just barreling through it on my own.
Change may come easier now that I’m older, but it is still a change. It is uncomfortable and challenging, but time will pass, and we will all adapt…the students…and me. It might take a few big plates of pizza and lemon bars, but we will figure it out.
We’re back on campus…ready or not.
Earlier this summer, I took the GMAT with mixed results. Actually, I was convinced that I bombed and that I was going to have to take it again later in the summer. Unfortunately, I had to wait a few weeks to get my final results, so in the meantime, I debated about what I should do. Take it again, because there is no way I could do any worse? Skip it, and move on? I was relieved when the results arrived, and solidified my decision. I didn’t bomb the other two parts of the test, and I had a pretty good GPA from my Masters program….10 years ago. Decision? No retake. Done…and done.
I still think it was an important lesson for me to learn that “good enough” can be just fine, and I don’t have to beat myself up about it. I am staring down a few years of hard work between getting acclimated to a new full time job, hopefully starting a doctorate program, and still keeping up with the home front, and I have an inkling that there will have to be plenty of “good enough” moments. A good lesson.
I also recently wrote about packing my scale away for the summer. I am glad I wrote about it, because I came home from our trip and really wanted to know if I had eaten my customary five pounds of fried walleye and grilled polish. But I didn’t pull it out. I even opened my drawer to put away my toiletries and saw a measuring tape sitting in there, tempting me to check my inches instead, and I didn’t do that either. Sounds small, but this was a big deal for me. If I don’t get my head straight before Madi becomes a teenager, I’m going to be in big trouble. How can I talk to her about building a positive self-image if I am not actively working on it myself? An ongoing challenge.
I have talked on and off about this ominous “new job” of mine that will be my first full time job since I was pregnant with Madi nine years ago. To say that I am nervous about it would be an understatement. I took a survey recently that asked what I would do professionally if I wasn’t afraid, and at this moment in my life, I am doing something that terrifies me. It’s not about the work, because I have taught before. It’s everything else, from acclimating to the culture to finding people to eat lunch with to making sure things are taken care of with my family. That is what freaks me out, and is where my “good enough” lesson grows feet and sprints away.
The problem is, I’m not sure what “good enough” looks like yet in this new parallel universe. The ship hasn’t quite landed, and I’m still trying to figure out which way to hold the map. So if you see me wandering around with a dazed look on my face, just know that I might need someone to remind me that I will indeed figure this all out.
Remember when you were a kid in gym class and you had to climb the rope attached to the ceiling? It was hard business for a little third grader, rope burns on your hands and sore biceps to boot. I was horrible at it, but just like everyone else, I had to try and climb the rope, even though I only made it up a few knots. It has been a long time since I attempted to climb up a rope. I don’t think I would be any better at it now, and I can’t think of a reason why I would ever need to try.
That’s the great thing about being an adult; you can do what you want for the most part. But it can also make you complacent, don’t you think? I have to be very purposeful about doing things outside of my comfort zone, because if there is a choice between something difficult and something simple, I will usually choose the latter. Normal life is tough enough.
Take math, for example, where my comfort zone is pretty tiny. Frankly, I don’t have much need to know how to do anything more difficult than calculate sale prices at the grocery store. That is, until I found out that I needed to take the GMAT as part of my application process for my doctorate. Consider me shoved out of my comfort zone.
Actually, it kind of feels like a rope burn on my brain as I have attempted to haul myself up and remember basic concepts of algebra and geometry. Everyone keeps telling me that I’m going to be fine, but as I have struggled to recalibrate my brain to think through functions and terms and equations that are buried in dusty synapses, it has seriously made me question my intellectual ability to do this “big thing”.
I know…that’s probably a little dramatic. I’m not getting a finance degree, and this is just a standardized entrance exam. But when you spend most of your time choosing to do things that you know you will be good at, it makes you woefully unprepared when you try something else that isn’t “your thing”.
It’s good to push ourselves into what is uncomfortable. It’s good to do things that could be a failure. It’s good to look up that rope, all bristly and rough, grab a knot, and start climbing. It’s good…in a painful sort of way.
What rope are you…or should be…climbing?
I received an email earlier this week inviting me to attend a marketing meeting at Hilger Hammond, and it reminded me that I’m right on the brink of being completely done working at Ben’s firm. Just a few more finishing touches on a final project, and I will be shifting my attention away from creating marketing pieces and orchestrating client gift baskets to studying for the GMAT and prepping my classes for the fall.
It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed the last four years working as a “Special Projects Manager”. In fact, thinking back over my time there, I have so many wonderful memories…and a few embarrassing ones. I remember my first week on the job, I was a little rusty with my “workplace protocol”, and found myself yelling a question to Ben while he was in the bathroom. Yeah, that was awkward. But I quickly found my “seat on the bus” – jumping into projects no one else had the time to do, whether it was boxing up closed files or creating an ad for a charity event. I loved the variety, the opportunity to try new things, and the immediate impact of my actions. Track down an executive desk for an associate on Craig’s List and the next week, it’s in the office. Suggest revisions to the website and they are implemented the next day. It was intensely satisfying.
But one of the best things about working at Hilger Hammond was the lunch dates that Ben and I were able to squeeze in while I was working. They have become more scarce the last six months as Ben’s workload has picked up, but the times we were able to head over to XO for Chinese or take Jimmy John’s to the rooftop table in the summer? Priceless.
I’ll be honest. I think I got the better deal out of the gig. I am leaving with great relationships, more confidence in my ability to re-enter a more traditional workplace, and some solid hours logged hanging out with Ben. What more could I ask for, really? I’m just glad that they let me stick around for so long!
What started out as, “Hey, can you come up and help us get organized?” turned into four years of time that I am truly thankful for.