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So, You Want a New Job

You sit with your dad in the upstairs TV room where you spend much of your time watching movies and MTV. You are seventeen and are choosing your classes for your first semester of college. Having gone to treatment for addiction to alcohol and drugs a year prior, when you start your freshman year at the small private school 150 miles north of your childhood home, you will be 16 months sober. As you sit on that sunny day pouring over the class offerings, your dad comes in to see what you’re up to. You tell him. He asks you if you know what you might like to do? For work, he means. You suggest that perhaps you should teach. He, having taught for more than twenty years at that point, simply says, “don’t do that.” He had begun to become disillusioned with the ever-increasing limitations placed on him and the ever-increasing unrest of his young students. You posit perhaps a professor. He cautions you that you will need to publish and that it will be “stuffy”. You are not stuffy. You are a Hendrix loving, 80s hippie who in his words, marches to the beat of your own drum. You express your preference for people over computers. He counsels you that you will need to

Holding my dad's BIG CATCH (1987)

do both. After taking this all under advisement, you reflect on the transformational nature of your sobriety. You ponder aloud, that perhaps you should use your experience to help other people find recovery. “That sounds like a great choice,” he says. Okay then. It is decided that day in the TV room. You pursue your BA in Sociology, get a job in your chosen field the summer before your senior year, gain all the required hours of experience required for certification while still in college, you graduate, take the summer courses specific to chemical dependency to meet the licensing requirements and become a Chemical Dependency Specialist at the age of 21. You will stay at this outpatient treatment center for five years, promote to Clinical Director, and gain a specialized certification in Relapse Prevention. You love the work. Even in the early days of your internship when you are given a caseload of clients, classes to teach and groups to run, you know how to do it. Partly because you experienced high quality treatment. Partly because of your education. And partly because you just do. Because it is a calling. It utilizes your top skill. Honesty.

You learn and grow in immeasurable ways. You counsel men and women, many years your senior. They trust you. They tell you things they don’t speak of elsewhere. You help people to find their path to recovery. You experience meaningful work that aligns with your purpose right out of the gate. Your dad, a coach for thirty years, helped you find your direction not by telling you, but by asking you. It changed the trajectory of your life. It took about an hour.

Your training and certification as a Relapse Prevention Specialist sends you to Chicago for initial training and then you are tapped to return as an instructor. You will staff events where other therapists and addiction specialists are trained in the art of working with people who relapse. Most of the people who attempt to get sober will relapse. It is normal. We must know how to address this. We must not have zero tolerance policies. We must not judge and punish people when the primary facet of their malady shows itself. We must not consider 99% a failure. A person who drinks or uses once in 100 days is somehow considered a failure. The one day more important than the 99. It is a wily affliction to treat and manage to begin with. Let’s not load it with judgement and unrealistic expectations of perfection. Forcryingoutloud.

This exposure to specialized training and your work as an instructor bring you into frequent contact with Terry, a foremost authority in addiction recovery and relapse prevention. He is brilliant and idiosyncratic. You are stopped short the first time you hear him laugh. You look around for Daffy Duck, but alas, it is Terry. You grasp and understand his methods and strategies and put them to use with clients to great effect. You understand the theoretical underpinnings and teach them without issue. You understand his training method, and having been on the receiving end, are able to begin training immediately upon becoming certified. Sometimes in Chicago, sometimes in California. Sometimes in your own locality.

On one of your trips to Chicago, he begins to have conversations with you about both expanding his company, diversifying its offerings as well as stepping back from doing so much of the training and keynotes himself. This leads to an offer of employment. An offer for you to join his company and be sent out to train when he is either unavailable or when clients are unable to pay his premium rate. You are given a date by which he would like you to start. You speak with your husband who is gainfully employed at that time. You are self-employed as an independent counselor, trainer, and consultant, having recently left the treatment center to strike out on an independent venture. You own a home and have two dogs. It is a heavy lift to move yourselves, your things, your dogs, and two cars across the country and rent out the five-bedroom three-bath home. A family responds to your ad to rent your home. You blow by the credit and reference checks. You are focused on getting there to start this career-making turn. You ignore the signals that something is not quite right.

  • When something seems not quite right, it isn’t. Trust your gut. Pause.

  • When you are hurtling through space and time to meet a date, stop and ask yourself what is important about the date. Is it creating false urgency?

  • When something feels like too much, it probably is.

  • When you are entering into a new business relationship, look at the sharing of risk. Is it mostly your skin in the game?

You arrive in the south suburbs of Chicago to the small house rented sight-unseen with the help of a colleague. The house is great. It is homy and comfortable. It sits on a tree-lined street in a working-class neighborhood. Your landlords live nearby, are kind and welcoming and bring you a pumpkin pie. When you arrive to the office, you are greeted, or rather beheld, with some surprise. Oh, we weren’t expecting you so soon. We thought you were coming on such-and-such. We don’t really have a place for you to sit, but here’s an empty desk in the front office. We haven’t structured your job or the pay for your job. We are thinking that it should be some base pay and a percentage of the sales you make by cold-c

alling potential clients. The picture painted for you in all those exciting, creative, generative discussions during your recruitment are replaced with a description of a job you would pass on after giving it a mere second of thought. Nope, not for you. Yet, here you are.

You try to make it work. That is your nature. You are not much of a quitter. Not in the face of “defeat”. It will take another 25 years for you to become a better quitter. You muddle through. You learn what you can from the various challenges that arise. You take over for Terry without notice when his father passes, and he must leave a large training event. He records you and gives you feedback later about your performance, which is generally positive. You train a group of therapists in Puerto Rico, adjusting for the interpreter who is needed for 100% of the material, information not shared with you ahead of time. When there are opportunities to learn from him, you are rapt. You know his mind is unique. His passion for his work, palpable. You know this proximity to a form of genius is special.

Your husband, ever the center of conflict and theories of conspiracy against him, begins to show familiar signs of going sideways with those in his vicinity, including your employer. As the ice, snow and frigid winds move in just a couple months after your arrival, the writing is on the wall, but you are hiding from it. Hiding in food, cigarettes, camping out at one movie after another, taking refuge in the dark theater. The crescendo of the end comes as your renters no longer pay the rent on your home and your husband has a damaging conflict with your employer and his wife. You speak with someone on the phone, the memory is barely a whisper now, who tells you, you will not find the answers to this catastrophe at the movies. Indeed. You have expended all your resources to get here, your salary is painfully low, your husband’s efforts to drum up graphic design work have yielded little. You have no choice but to call your dad. You take pride in your independence. You detest asking for help. Asking for money feels like a defeat. A massive failure. You hear his breath catch slightly when you give him the five-figure number that you know you need to address this situation. You are apologetic and self-flagellating. He simply says, “There’s no one in the world I’d rather help. It’s not a loan, it’s a gift. Just get out of there.” You feel loved.

  • Ask for help. Choose the people that love you first.

You make the arrangements. Endure a brief, uncomfortable exit exchange with Terry. Whatever your respective parts of this escapade, you blame each other, while perhaps knowing that your respective spouses also played a part in the debacle. The relationship is broken. You are both sad. Your neighbor, a member of the recovery community calls in some friends to help you pack the moving truck in the frigid winter temperatures with snow fall relentlessly. You receive a call, in response to a resume you sent out, because you have already begun to look for work back in your home state. They would like to interview you when you return. The trip back over the Rockies is perilous with snow and ice. You are following while your husband drives the moving truck towing one of the cars. You have notified the renters that you are returning and that they are in violation of their lease. They are grifters. They have done this before. You must take legal action to get them out of your home and when they are finally gone, the wreckage created inside is shocking. You go to work on it and eventually get moved back into the home and the life that seemed to have dulled in its appeal when you left it, but now shines bright reminding you of the Big Yellow Taxi caution, “don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone”. In a time of unrest. Take stock of what you already have in your life. We often have everything we need. This can free us to make a change (or not) and to do so from a place of wholeness instead of scarcity.

You attend the interview at the residential treatment center in a town 60 miles north. You are hired as a counselor. Back to basics. You are given the crap schedule of the last hired. Before long there are a variety of transitions and developments that result in a promotion and then another to Executive Director. Over the course of the six years, you spend in this job, you design the program, build the team, oversee the remodel of the two large buildings and outdoor spaces of the campus, plan and execute service expansions, oversee the commercial kitchen, achieve national accreditation, diversify the service and payer mix, manage contracts with federal probation and Bureau of Prisons, and learn a tremendous amount about business, leadership, people, and yourself. Your mentors, two self-made men, are different in most every other way. You soak up all you can from each of them. You stay until the end. When the decision is made to close this labor of love.

So, you take the opportunity to drive across the country. You go it alone from Seattle to Pittsburgh, where your then husband’s family lives, your only protection a framing hammer kept behind your seat. After Pittsburgh, you pick up your friend in Wisconsin and she joins you for the circuitous trip back to the west coast. You dub it “The Thelma and Louise Road trip”. On the night that Sex and the City airs, you stop at all the motels until you find one with HBO. You visit a friend in St. Louis, drive Route 66, pop over to the Grand Canyon for a gander, bake in the sun at nudist resort in Palm Springs, spend a couple nights in Vegas, then Hollywood, and take the scenic Pacific Coast Highway back toward home.

While you’re in Hollywood you get tattooed at The Shamrock. The artists are trickling in after a late night, it takes hours to prep a stencil of the homage to Henri Matisse you want on your arm. You are reminded as you wait that you enjoy shop culture. There is something about a tattoo shop that feels like home. When you return to the small town under the shadow of Mt. Rainier where you are living, you decide to open your own tattoo shop. It will be a challenge. Non-artist owners are not readily accepted in this industry that still operates off the books. You have a vision, though, and you use your experience running a human-centered service business to create the shop you see in your mind and open it Thanksgiving weekend. Sunday, your first client walks in.

You train as a body piercer, but after some stressful piercings culminating in botched nipples you know it’s not for you. You learn the business, manage the supplies and accounting, clean the shop daily, work the counter answering the same handful of questions throughout the day as if it’s the first time you’ve heard them, schedule the artists and piercer, and support the clients as they undergo the transformative experience that they came for. A local boy dies in a car accident and large groups come in for a memorial tattoo. You share in their grief. You comfort and care for clients who faint and learn to spot the signals to try to keep them from hitting the floor full force. You build relationships with temperamental, creatives. You go from working with addicts to working with addicts. It is an interesting, wonderful, challenging business and time in your life.

You open a second location a few towns away and land on the radar of a minor contingent of the Hells Angels, also connected to the tattoo industry. There are attempts at intimidation and extortion. Against the advice of one of your shop managers, you meet them in person at their shop believing that certainly reasonable business colleagues can squash the beef. And you are more fight than flight and not one to shrink away when threatened. You keep your composure when you are separated from your shop manager. You are in a client room, your egress blocked by one of the intimidators while another one informs you that they run things and you will need to “pay them their money”. You behave as if nothing is really happening and eventually their tactics run out of steam. Your shop manager was treated similarly. He maintains his composure, hand on a knife in the lining of his shorts, an ankle bracelet still clunky under his sock marking his probation status. You leave unscathed and turn to him and acknowledge that he was right. This was a bad idea.

You are not much interested in guns. You did not grow up with them other than shooting soda cans with a BB gun as kids from your era were wont to do. You don’t know there is a gun in your childhood home until you are awakened one night by your dad. He comes into your room while you’re sleeping in search of an intruder who took the screen off and came in through the living room window. He is holding a shotgun as he searches your walk-in closet and then under the bed, where monsters like to hide.

Now, at the urging of your husband, you both end up with concealed carry permits and handguns after a brief practice at the shooting range with two gun enthusiasts. He is more enamored of guns than you are. But when you divorce and live alone you feel better with than without.

With the divorce comes the difficult decision to dissolve the corporation, sell the original location to another shop owner and close the second location that had piqued the interest of the Hells Angels prospect. The landlord has no appetite for trying to collect on the $240,000 left on the commercial lease agreement. He instead sits down with you in the bar that he owns in the same retail complex and explains to you that a second location isn’t double. It’s exponential. And not only that; your business never does as well as when you’re present. Once your attention, time and presence are fractured, if your business is not already cooking with gas, you will likely face some challenges. Expanding is a choice. Maximizing what you already have is another choice. Bigger is not always better and yes, sometimes less really is more. You are grateful for his generosity in letting you out of your lease and for the brief but meaningful professional mentorship. You don’t forget it. He is quite a lot older than you, has health issues and is moving down to Mexico for warm, dry air for his lungs and more affordable healthcare. He demonstrates that he his choosing himself now. It is time.

Prior to this dissolution of your marriage and your businesses, you began looking for work. A regular J.O.B. Your shops both had managers, and you found yourself needing more in terms of growth and challenge, and you also sensed that running the shops was not going to provide the longer term professional and financial trajectory that you would need. The winters were tough. You were coming off a cold, quiet and lean winter. Brrr.

  • In a seasonal business, one must be able to weather the off-season.

To that end, you re-enter healthcare administration. This time, an equally important and underfunded area of human wellness…sexual healthcare. Like your work in Chemical Dependency and Tattoo & Body Piercing, it is a passion of yours. More than a decade later at a high school reunion, a gentleman you went to school with all twelve years tells you that he cannot think of a more perfect job for you. You chuckle. You know what he means but can’t explain it beyond that. Yes, embracing your sexuality and having ready access to sexual health care so that you can enjoy your sexuality through all the stages and changes of life is a passion. You align with the mission, and you care about it. You will spend seventeen years in this field. You take a position as a manager, it is entry level as your last position prior to the foray into tattoo was as an Executive Director with full authority over every aspect of the business, reporting directly to the owner. You promote several levels over these years into an Executive VP role. Your business acumen and leadership development supported by mentors, colleagues, high-quality training, and an unwavering connection to the mission. You are involved in a succession of mergers over the years and gain a tremendous amount of experience. When you leave, while it is unplanned, it is the next right choice for you.

You have never not worked. Your income tracks back to 1982 when you made a few bucks at the age of 12 and the IRS was interested. It has taken 30 solid years to build up your savings with many examples of one step up and two steps back. It is your money. You earned it. You decide, however uncomfortable, that you will spend it on yourself. Not working. You will spend it to give yourself time and space to finish peeling the layers of the onion. You do not want to recreate any of the lives you’ve previously lived. You want a new life. You have been grinding. You do not wish to grind any longer. You have been working for someone else. You no longer want to march on someone else’s orders. You have done this before. You know how it feels. You know what you’re capable of. You know you want to write, tell stories with your voice, and use your experiences to help others. You allow the organic creation and development of your business, your brand, your passion. You return to the Venn diagram of this trifecta when things are challenging and when fear percolates to discourage you. How will these endeavors pay your bills? You accept the “I don’t know” of that and do what you are called to do. You reduce your expenses and spend conservatively on necessities. This is far easier than ever before as you no longer care about things, nor do you care about aging. You have more than enough things left even after letting go of 98% what you previously owned. You have spent enough time, energy, and money on cosmetic procedures for several lifetimes and can no longer be bothered. You put your money where your mouth is and live in acceptance as you focus on creating vs earning. You detach from money as a goal and hold it in an open hand as a necessity that will come with every next, right choice that is made.

  • If you want to feel differently about the place of work in your life, you must change your relationship with work and money.

In June of 2022 you are wrapping up some final details ahead of your transition to a new life floating between the Oregon Coast and the island of Malta. You have sold and given away nearly everything, save for your art and a very pared down version of your wardrobe. You are storing these remaining possessions at your mom’s to avoid an interminable storage payment. But the guns. You do not want to leave the guns at her house. The guns acquired during a different life. Over the years, the .38 stays in your home. The .32 is light and compact for carrying in a handbag, pocket, or your glove compartment. There are times you’re glad to have them, but mostly you are aware of having loaded guns and feeling less and less comfortable handling them. Guns can end up in unintended hands and you don’t want them near her.

So, you go to the gun store in her small coastal town in Oregon. As you enter the shop, you are reminded of the shop culture of tattooing that feels like home, because the shop culture of guns feels far from home. Far from your spirit at 51. Far from the culture of your youth when mass shootings were rare. Artifacts from a different life. Your eyes immediately go to the assault rifles filling the back wall up to the ceiling. The Buffalo and Uvalde massacres are recent. The shock, grief and despair still hang in the air and in your body. Seeing them all there available for purchase feels both surreal and very real. These weapons of war are taking an immense toll on the US as they continue to land in the hands of enraged men with nothing left to lose.

You explain your guns are loaded and hand the bag containing them and their ammunition over like something that is both fragile and perhaps a little stinky. While you are waiting you chat with a staff member who asks you why you’re selling your guns. “I’m going to Malta and don’t want them at my mom’s”, you say. This prompts a chat about living outside the US as he shares about his friends who are missionaries in Thailand. Your transaction is handled by a friendly, affable young man, the guns are confirmed to have no record of criminal activity, some paperwork is completed, you are given a fair price and paid in cash. You hear the owner comment that their inventory is way up and wonder if this happens after a particularly brutal mass shooting.

You exit the cluttered, organized chaos of the store into the sunlight. You feel lighter. Relieved. Freed from this weighty responsibility of gun ownership. Freed from the artifacts of your former life. You are aware these guns will continue to exist. To be recycled into the hands of others. There are not fewer guns in the world, only fewer in your life. This experience of gun culture, brief and seemingly perfunctory, is visceral, memorable, and important for you. It is a slice of Americana gone tragically super-sized.

A short time later you are in Malta. It’s not that there aren’t guns here, there are under limited circumstances with protective measures in place. There are an average of 5 lives lost to gun violence each year in this unusual country of 500,000 people from many different countries living together with the Maltese on a rock in the Mediterranean Sea. Every day there are the crackles, pops, and booms of fireworks, not to be mistaken as anything else. Why? Because Malta and having the good fortune to be in Malta is cause for celebration and celebration in Maltese fashion should be loud and proud.

Celebratory Malta!

These expressions of joy and good fortune pepper the background as you read of the sniper at the 4th of July parade in a Chicago suburb of which you are familiar from your brief move there in the 90s. You feel safe here in Malta and hurt for your compatriots in the US, who with each expression of rage and disdain for the sanctity of human life, no longer feel safe anywhere.

Your Malta apartment is opposite a primary school, and you hear the din of children playing, laughing, and screaming with their outside voices. They are protected from view by the high walls of the huge stone structure, allowing you to see them in your mind’s eye in their smart little uniforms. There is not even a whisper of a thought that they could be harmed. Not even a whisper. The sound of them playing with abandon bathes you in peace. One must find pockets of peace. A place to return and be reminded that everything is okay. In this moment. There are happy, children at recess.

It is here in this loud and quiet place that you will begin to build your new career. You will write and develop your coaching practice and you will receive a call from an internet radio network. They are wondering if you might be interested in developing a show with them. You are struck immediately by the symmetry of this opportunity. An opportunity to live three of your life purposes: write, tell stories using your voice, and use your experiences to support other humans. After a quick exchange of voicemails, emails, and a brief call, you sit down to complete the proposal for your new radio show. The vision flows out of you, not dissimilarly to the vision for the bright, crisp white, artsy, welcoming tattoo shop that you created two decades prior. If someone with a crystal ball would have told you even just five years ago that you would host a radio show about self-love, you would have dismissed it as a farfetched psychic reading about some other being, but not you.

This is the beauty of taking a risk. Of making a change when you don’t have it all figured out. Of clearing away the noise so you can hear your own true voice. Of firing self-hate and hiring self-love. Of calling BS on fear. Of practicing immunity to the judgements of others. Of not caring about so many things that cried out for attention and import and are worthy of neither. Of sending Spock to his quarters to rest, while Kirk runs the show and sometimes just ignores the analytics and goes with his gut. Of choosing to create what is uniquely yours to contribute, and to practice the art of detachment as to how it is received. To embrace that every sparkle of brilliance is counterbalanced by vastly more twinkles, less lustrous, but twinkles just the same.

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