Three years ago, in March, I took a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was a place I always wanted to go, and for some reason, it felt like the right time. I was at the cusp of a new job, a new beginning, and the desert was calling to me.
I had never gone on a trip by myself before. I had never even hiked. But I wanted to feel my feet on solid ground, to see the sun hit the canyon, to take in the many hues of the red rock. So I bought hiking shoes, packed a fleece, and went.
It was an emotional trip. Being alone in the desert was a time to process all that had happened in the year before. My husband moved out. I began to share custody of my kids. I started and ended a relationship with another man and looked desperately for work. But I had my copy of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book with me, Women Who Run with the Wolves, and traveled the paths of the canyon with a sense of wonder. My mother and grandmother had never had an opportunity like this, to travel far away on their own. They had made sacrifices in their lives so they could raise kids. And here I was, an independent woman who was the fruit of their pain, their love, their duty.
When I came home and started my new job, I knew my time there was limited. I have a creative mind, a spirit of passion about the paths that I undertake, and I could not get excited about the industry I was in, which was very technical. But I was doing what I thought was right for myself and my kids—taking a job that enabled me to move out of my house, find an apartment, make a living in an office environment with a level of flexibility, a slew of nice people, and the chance at upward mobility. And I got to work in the city, which is where I wanted to be.
The three years at that job proved more trying than I could have imagined. I underwent personal transformations that I didn’t expect. I dealt with mental health issues and feelings of loneliness. I had many gifts—that I knew—but I could share none of those gifts in such an environment. I had never thought myself to be a prideful person, but I certainly received dose after dose of humility. I was just not good at the job. Nor would I ever be. And despite my efforts, no other job was opening itself up to me.
What the job did do, however, was make me start to take a hard look at my priorities. Maybe they weren’t in order. When I got divorced, I started thinking a lot about money—about making enough of it to give my kids the life I thought they deserved. I thought I’d be a shrewd business woman, rise up through a company, make enough money to get a house with a porch and a yard. I’d take vacations to far-off lands. I’d get a car where the CD player worked (high hopes!), maybe even leather seats. Who knew—maybe one day I’d make enough to afford a convertible, so we could all drive around with the sun on our shoulders.
Instead, what happened was that I sat inside a cubicle all day looking at my pictures of the Grand Canyon, my taped-up copies of Mary Oliver poems, feeling dead inside. Life became the thing I did after work, on my lunch break, or weekends. I know some people can compartmentalize their jobs and tell themselves, “This is something I do for income, and it allows me to live the rest of my life with much greater ease.” But that is not me, for better or worse. I ended up looking for fleeting pleasures—happy hours, dinners out, wine (too much) with cheese, vacations that would allow me to really live. Weekends came, and I felt alive again. Yet they’d pass so quickly, and I’d go back to the majority of my days spent looking for meaning, feeling stuck, feeling like I was shoved in a box. I looked at the picture of my kids on my desk and would whisper, I’m doing this for you. And yet, so many times, I felt that I couldn’t actually do it. How was I going to get through the day? I worried I was going to lose my mind, or that I already had. I became desperate in my search for a way out. But the constant refrain was money, money, money.
When I applied, interviewed and didn’t get yet another office job, I examined my efforts a little more closely. What really mattered in my life? Was it the house with the dishwasher and the yard? Was it a nicer car? Was it worldly success, or what other people thought of me? Because I had tried, and failed, for years, to get a job where I felt “successful.” Or was it more important to live in line with my higher purpose, a calling that might change depending on the week or the month or the year? In essence, I started to consider, who—and what—was it I wanted to serve?
Finally all my feelings came to a head. I gave myself a relaxing weekend where I spent a lot of time alone, read, reflected, walked, and watched TV (sometimes, when there’s a lot on my mind, I just need to watch TV). I realized I was healthy and not depressed. There was nothing inherently wrong with me. I felt good. But Monday morning came, and there was a weight hanging over my entire body. I tried to do yoga, but couldn’t get up off the floor. I didn’t know how I would even manage to get dressed. And it was then I knew: It was either me or the job.
I chose me.
Of course, after I made the decision to leave, I was terrified. I knew I’d made the right choice, the only choice I could, but there was the old refrain: Money, money, money.
Luckily, my faith calms me. I have my spiritual practices, my amazing friends. And I know I don’t have to plan out my whole life—the pensions, the 401K, the illusion of stability in a company that truly, can let you go at any time. I have only to know the next step, and trust that what I need to do will be illuminated when it needs to be. I know this much: I have many talents, many ways to earn a living, and it doesn’t have to be in one place. I’ve been a tutor, a freelance editor, a caretaker, a writer, a teacher. And I have hope now. I’m in a creative writing program which, with hard work and some luck, will allow me to get my book out into the world. And I’m going to go to massage therapy school, because I love and want to help people, and I am good with my hands.
On my last day of work, a woman in a neighboring department made me a cake and told me about the song “Wildflowers” by Dolly Parton, which she said reminded her of me. I’d never heard it.
And the flowers I knew
In the fields where I grew
Were content to be lost in the crowd
I had no room for growth
I wanted so much to get out
So I uprooted myself from my home ground and left
Took my dreams and I took to the road
When a flower grows wild
It can always survive
Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.
The day after, I took an early flight to California to visit my dad. He and I have had an an on-again, off-again relationship, because I had a lot of anger and pain that he wasn’t in my life as a child. But our story is one of redemption, and forgiveness, and God’s love, and open arms.
And near his house, on Victory Trailhead, despite the fires that rolled through last year and nearly destroyed the area, everything was green.
We walked through fields of wildflowers.
Despite my fear about the unknown, about what’s to come, I know what I have, and what I have gained in my life is greater than anything I have lost.
The wildflowers whisper, You are one of us. And you are going to be okay.