As I write this, I am preparing for my return to Austin. Since not everyone is up to speed on Audrey’s world, the fact that I ever left will be a surprise to some of you!
My latest adventure started in November, when I learned my position at the University had been eliminated (translation: I got laid off). Yeah, I was pretty shocked too! I didn’t see it coming – although the saying that hind-sight is 20/20 certainly applies in this case. I wisely decided to hold-off “sharing” the news widely until the edgier emotions were gone. That didn’t actually take very long…but then I got busy with having fun and dreaming about the future and in the end I just blew it off 🙂 So below is the “abridged” version of my winter.
First of all, like many things that blind-side us, the layoff started out pretty awful and ended up pretty awesome. It turns out being laid off is a whole lot like being dumped – there is a cycle you go through. Initially, your emotions and ego are in charge, so you swing between feeling hurt, numb and angry. Then the panic sets in – about how to pay your mortgage, about the job search, about not having health insurance (or being single, reentering the dating pool, being flabby/bald/boring) – whatever your fears are. Then you put one foot in front of the other, deal with whatever needs to be dealt with and start moving forward. And finally, at some point, you look back and realize you are genuinely better off without that job (or person) and that everything that happened really was in your highest good.
For me, the cycle took a few short weeks. I am blessed to have kind friends who ushered me through the initial period of hurt and panic, and kept me focused on the future (thank you, thank you, thank you). And it turns out that all the personal downsizing I’ve been doing for the past year allowed me to nimbly skip out and live another life for a little while.
After my return from a trip to Guatemala last year, I started consciously simplifying my life. I got very clear about the need to free myself – mentally and physically – from my excess stuff. I’ve always moved a lot (shout out to everyone who’s helped me move…some of you multiple times 😉 so I probably have a lot less crap than the average American. But I still had quite a bit of extraneous stuff, stuff I rarely used (if ever). I became aware of how much space and mental energy that stuff requires to own and how often I am distracted and drained by caring for my stuff – demands for my time, money and energy. So I began whittling away at anything I no longer needed (this is a process, not a one-time project, by the way). I also simplified my finances, gutted my mailing list subscriptions, stepped back from extra-curricular activities, and so on.
I eventually decided that I no longer wished to put my energy into my house, and in early November, I put the it on the market. It had exactly 2 showings the first 2 weeks – dismal. But I didn’t care. I had gotten to a place where I was excited – really excited – to sell it. I had a post-homeownership vision that I could practically taste: move my stripped down belongings into a cute garage apartment near the University, ride my bike and walk to work, to the food co-op, to the radio station, to my sister’s house…maybe even sell my car and use car share or get a scooter (woohoo!). My expenses would be cut in half and I would quickly pay off my last remaining debt – my massive student loan! And THEN I would be FREE!
Why am I sharing this vision here? Because even though I had this fantastic, elaborate plan fleshed out in my head, I suppose what I most often saying was simply “I can’t wait to be free!” And funny enough, I got what I was asking for. The day before Thanksgiving break (ouch), in a short and tidy conversation, I was told my position had been eliminated. It was like the lyrics in that sunscreen song “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind: the kind that blindsides you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday” (by the way, that song is totally worth listening to right now http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI) I was initially shocked and momentarily devastated. But even in those first moments, as I staggered out of the building into the sun, I remember smiling through my tears because I understood at some deep level that a) I would be fine and b) I had been set free.
Naturally time dulls the emotions and gives us wonderful perspective. Looking back , it is clear that that position was a struggle I no longer needed to engage in. It was challenging from day one and, although I learned tremendously from the experience, I had long since wrung every bit of growth there was out of it. I believe the Universe – God, Source, whatever name you want to use – always gives us what we need. I find this to be an unfailing truth, although how it goes down is not always how we would have chosen (I learned this important concept during my divorce).
After a couple of weeks of nursing my wounds, I was able to switch gears pretty quickly. I rented my house fully furnished to a visiting professor and headed down to my parent’s property on the Texas coast. I moved to an adorable garage apartment (!) on the water – for free! And me and Jackson (el gato) spent a lovely winter enjoying a wonderful mini-retirement. See how that worked out?
It’s been a month since I wrote these words and my feelings are the same:
(February 18, 2011) As I write this, I am looking out over the bay in front of my family’s property, watching and listening to all of the birds that come to winter in south Texas. My curious and energetic niece and nephew – visiting from Austin – are playing in the yard . My harmonica, my hula hoop, my straw hat, my colored pencils and my grouchy kitty, Jackson, have all been called into duty, played with and discarded. They each endured their fates like champions – especially Jackson who originally came to live with me because he doesn’t like children at all. It’s another gorgeous day and I’m smiling about how I came to be sitting on the water in a sleeveless shirt in the middle of a brutal North American winter. I am tremendously grateful for my life and my opportunities. And I am in complete awe of my personal evolution and all that I’ve come to understand as my own truth in the past year and a half.
Looking back on the last 4 months (4 years…), I feel tremendous gratitude for the twisty turns of my life. After this latest twist, I spent 3 fabulous weeks in Mexico and the warm Caribbean waters, exercising my Spanish and my body. I also took a cruise with my mother and a road-trip to visit lovely friends, family and hot springs that I adore.
In between my travels, I’ve spent my days being relaxed and creative. I read. I write. I dream. I take pictures and take walks on the water. Every day I sleep enough, floss, carefully wash my face. I cook meals with fresh veggies and fruit. I do yoga and ride my bike. I help my parents. I brush my kitty. I practice gratitude. In short – I’m living well. Although it’s not sexy or exciting, one thing that has stood out this winter is that having the time to relax and take care of you makes for a happy and healthy existence.
Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine. It’s practically a full-time job to separate from the University, get health insurance, deal with unemployment and apply for jobs. None of that has been particularly fun or fulfilling. I’ve just tried to face them with grace and move forward.
So what’s next? Well, starting Wednesday I’m joining my old department for a few months. I am super-grateful for this opportunity and super-happy to be working with some of my old colleagues again. The lease on my house is up June 15 and I’ll either re-rent or list it for sale (let me know if you know anyone who might be interested). **And speaking of renting, I’m looking for an inexpensive, cat-friendly place near campus from April until late June or July. Solo living or roomies are fine. Please contact me if you have any leads. I won’t have a garage permit so bikeable/walkable is key.**
After that gig ends … I do not know. I have faith that interesting opportunities will come my way. It’s entirely possible my life will continue it’s lovely zig-zag pattern and I’m completely OK with that. A million ideas sprouted in my head over the past few months and a million more are germinating. I have to say that it’s been a lot of fun – fun to dream, fun to play with the ideas, fun to feel inspired!
And this, my friends, has been the peace-love-n-happiness version of my winter. To those of you who are in Austin, I’ll see ya soon. To those of you who aren’t, come visit! We’ll have fun…promise!