I have known many people who have been forced to take a path less traveled through betrayal, illness, loss, or injury. When I saw their lives being derailed I felt a strong
empathetic reaction and tried to provide any support I could. However, there is no lesson better learned than the one you experience first hand. And this is where I was taught the most profound and painful lesson of my life. I was fortunate or unfortunate enough, depending on your opinion, to experience a drastic unexpected turn that shook the foundation of my life. How did I get here? I took a very mundane trip on a hotel elevator one beautiful sunny day that ended with me in a coma with a traumatic brain and spine injury and my family being told to make necessary arrangements because this may not end well for me. As you may suspect since you are reading these words, the worst did not happen, I survived. The path since that time has been both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The heartwarming moments were the friends and family that mobilized to help me and my family through my rehabilitation and recovery. The heartbreaking moments are the debilitating pain I have suffered from since the accident, the loss of pleasurable pastimes and the drastic change in my career trajectory. I owned my own company, I was a runner and ran several times a week with a group of marvelous women who had become more than running buddies they were my emotional support system. I was a lover of food, my guilty addiction was binge-watching the food network. I own a BMW motorcycle and loved to go for rides with my brother and friends. Not only did I suffer brain trauma but I also suffered spine trauma that has required two surgeries to repair the damage. I have not been able to run since the accident, I have been told by the medical experts I should not ride a motorcycle again, according to the doctors I cannot afford another head injury. I have completely lost my sense of smell which has affected the flavors I experience. So the foods and drinks I enjoyed before do not hold the same pleasure now. I sold my company, my recovery demanded my focus and required an abrupt career path change.
These adjustments due to my unexpected turn, while regrettable, are trivial when all is said and done. But the adjustment I did not anticipate is the shifting sands of my support system. Two friends that were my stalwarts through this whole event both relocated out-of-state. Their sudden absence was difficult for me and my family. That coupled with the more subtle shifting sands of friends connected to specific pastimes and activities I can no longer participate in has been disorienting and disquieting. As a result, I have come to understand the inherent voluntary nature of friendship that makes it subject to life’s whims and unexpected turns. This path was unforeseen and has required me to release expectations of myself and others, which admittedly is a work in process. I have friends who have put me up on a tenuous pedestal as an inspiration and I have friends who have chastised me for infractions of judgment. Both are uncomfortable realities of my new path. Change is generally distressing for all, those riding out the storm as well as the onlookers. My ask for you dear reader – be gentle with yourself and others embroiled in change. There are many people traveling unexpected paths and they no longer fit in the box they have been dutifully building for themselves. Therefore to view or deduce them from your own constructed framework or ethos will prove frustrating for all.
I refer to us “unexpected path pilgrims” as phoenixes. A phoenix attains new life by arising from the ashes of its forebearer. There are many of us out there, for those who love the phoenixes in your life, understand the phoenix no longer has their rigid framework, it was obliterated. There is a blessing in that glorious cacophony as well as turmoil. So relating to your phoenix with your own rigid framework will be disappointing. You can both grow from this experience and peek outside your own cage and search for connections in unlikely places not previously explored. If you are only drawn to people who see and experience the world as you do, and one of those conformists suddenly takes you out of your comfortable allegory, it’s scary. Your phoenix may no longer fit in the story you have created. I encourage you to explore a new narrative. I have always loved mosaics, the beautiful randomness of divergent colors, shapes, sizes, and flow that come together to paint a beautiful image is a wonderful example that a change in path or perspective can lead you to an unexpected and powerful result.
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading ~ Gautama Buddha
I was asked the other day what I thought my purpose was, immediately my warped mind flashed to the scene from the movie The Jerk, where Steve Martin’s character screams about discovering what his special purpose is for, I wished it was so easy and fun for me to figure out my special purpose! It was difficult for me to answer because first I was visualizing a scene from a goofy movie and second I have always associated a person’s purpose with their job title and right now I have no job title.
I have entered a new stage in my life, for the last 30 years I have held a full-time job. About three months ago, I decided, after a lot of soul-searching that my existing situation was not supporting my well-being and I needed to make a change, so I set in motion a series of events. To cut to the chase as they say, the end result is that I no longer have my job. I will tell you this wasn’t my initial intent, to lose my job, when I started this process. But that isn’t necessarily true, because my real intent was to honor my well-being and make a change that supported that end. I felt I knew what result would accomplish that, however, as I have come to appreciate and trust, the universe or the creator knew better than I what would accomplish that end. I can honestly say I trust this is what is best and have continued on with no regrets.
That does not mean it has been the easiest transition, like a pair of ill-fitting underwear that rides up every now and then I get that uncomfortable feeling and need to make adjustments until things feel better again. This whole situation has me looking at how I used to believe a person’s value was determined. I have many old ideas that I need to unlearn.
I have struggled about things like how do I handle social situation where business cards are commonly exchanged? I no longer carry business cards that show I have a home in the working world. It may sound silly but that has caused a great deal of consternation for me. Get some damn cards, your probably saying it’s not that difficult, you can print them at home for heaven’s sake. Then the question I ask myself is, what do I put on the card? I have always been an engineer but I am not working as an engineer and I have a non-compete period of one year where I cannot work as an engineer. So should I put writer or blogger? That feels a little presumptuous just because I am writing a blog and a book, I am a novice, I have not been formally trained in writing. How would I feel if someone decided to put engineer on their card with no formal training or education? I could put nothing but my name, no title, no company. Ahhhh what if I put no title? That is where I get a little wobbly and wonder what does that mean about me?
When I was in my 20s there was a show called Quantum Leap, it was a great show. It was about a brilliant physicist that time travels randomly through a series of mishaps into other people’s bodies. He maintains his intrinsic abilities but finds himself in a foreign host each week, trying to navigate situations with his essence in tact but his outward appearance completely changed. He has been a woman, a chimpanzee, a kid, I know it sounds bizarre but it was a fascinating storyline. I feel a little bit like the character Sam Beckett, however, instead of my physical appearance changing it is my surroundings. I no longer go to an office and contribute to the office community that was so integral to my life for the past 30 years. I am still me but the scenery has changed drastically.
So I come back to my life coach Lynn asking me “Marsia, what is your purpose?” So like a life coach to ask such a question. I ranted a bit and told her how lucky she is that she obviously found her purpose, life coaching, she is an amazing life coach, although during my rant she may have questioned that?? Our friend Jan founded the wellness center Stillpointe and she absolutely glows when she talks about the work being done out there, it is obvious she is where she needs to be, doing what her purpose is. My good friend John Two-Hawks, when I hear him play the flute, sing or play the guitar there is no question what his purpose is and that he is fulfilling it. I told her I look at all three of them with a great deal of admiration but also some envy because I know they are doing exactly what the creator designed for them.
She looked at me with so much compassion and said “Marsia being a life coach is not a purpose, it is the vehicle I use to live my purpose.” What?????? So basically my whole concept of self-worth was turned upside down with that one statement. I felt like the guy in the movie Animal House when he was smoking pot with his professor and he realizes he could be an atom in the fingernail of a giant. The idea was so simple and yet so freakin’ mind-blowing at the same time. I could hear my inner voice saying – it’s not the title stupid! So I had an epiphany that day, the title, the role is only a catalyst or a vehicle your purpose rides in to get to its destination.
Why am I telling you all this? Because it helped me to understand my purpose. When I watch my kids figure out the value of money by saving for a toy they want, or dealing with their teacher regarding a disputed grade on their own, it fills me with immense joy. The same joy I felt when I worked with a young engineer and taught them a new concept and then watched them handle the next project on their own. I realized that regardless of my “job” as mom, engineer, wife, friend, sister, I experience this amazing sense of joy and fulfillment when I am doing two things regardless of my title at that time. When I am connecting with others on a deeper level and when I inspire others to be great. So my purpose you see has nothing to do with the title on a card, it could be anything as long as I am connecting and inspiring.
I could not see my purpose because I was too focused on me, what it meant to me, how it made me look. Once I took myself out of the equation and saw everyone else and how to serve them, my purpose was clear.