Every time I’ve faced major change in my life, I’ve felt it in my gut. Deep down, I get this aching, belly flopping, head spinning feeling. The feeling of anxiety can only be explained through physical symptoms and metaphors. Someone’s wringing out your insides. Your chest becomes a furnace and the rest of you is clammy and weak. Two particular times I’ve felt this strongly: quitting college and losing my job.
I was a photo major at UMass Dartmouth. I had a great college experience but something was telling me to move on. My senior year felt all wrong: the train was supposed to depart without me or I missed my exit. I felt literally sick over it. Being Catholic, I prayed about it for days. The second I decided to leave and pursue other things, relief washed over me. Of course, everyone else was floored and thought the worst as I left, but I knew it was the right decision. The hardest part was facing judgment, but once I had decided on this road, the judgment of others was tolerable. I was at peace with myself and God.
The Unpopular Path
Years (and a degree) later, I had been working at a major doctor’s office for 18 years and 9 months. My family decided against a particular medical decision that was sweeping the world. People have to choose for themselves. I choose the unpopular path. Our partners created a mandate with a possibility of religious exemption. I completed all the tasks required, and waited for three weeks.
I knew what would happen. The decision came down to an individual who wouldn’t agree. I was a train wreck on the inside trying desperately to compose myself on the outside. As go-to person for the staff and the behind-the-scenes, guy-in-the-chair to admin, I was doing more than packing my bags. I spent weeks suffering the worst inside while doing my regular job and putting together how-to sheets for all my tasks. I cleared old mail, reset passwords, wrote out a two-page, single-spaced task list, and prepared the office for my departure as best I could. I even started clearing out my personal items. I also prayed without ceasing.
Finally, we met. I had begged for a simple answer, but was forced to meet. It was a no. My decision hadn’t changed, but something else had. The road was clear now. I could see a path even though I had no idea what was on it. My relief was complete as soon as that unknown fork was cleared up. It was a stab in income to make anyone cringe, but that was nothing compared to the anxiety that led to this meeting. Three agonizing weeks waiting for people to ‘get around to it,’ the decision of my career being made for me, and now I was free.
My Own Road
Yes, I could’ve gone against my gut and done as everyone else. I could’ve been a yes-man. I could’ve taken one for the team and only fought for my kids. My gut wouldn’t let me. There was more at play. I needed this change more than I needed to avoid the reason it happened. It wasn’t entirely about the mandate; it was about my road. It was time to veer off and I needed that kick to take the turn. I was coasting, dealing, compromising my purpose. Now, I’m free.
We face changes all the time, but sometimes we face major change. It feels like our road ends and there’s nothing clear afterwards. If we take a breath, listen to our gut, and often talk it out, we may realize that the road goes on in a different direction. We often say, “If I knew then what I know now…” Truly, would we have made the decisions we made? Who knows where we’d be. We can only choose between the roads before us. We shouldn’t let the masses decide, and we certainly shouldn’t let our fears decide. We need to look deep, find the courage, and plunge ahead into the unknown. We may be bushwhacking a better path for those behind us.