Gettin’ out of Dodge

At the end of my last post I shared with you the fact that I recently quit my job (or to be more specific – one of my three jobs). If you read one of my earlier ramblings (Freedom at Google Maps Street Level), you’d have already been introduced to Spike, my reptilian brain. Spike’s job, as any good reptilian brain will tell you, is survival, pure and simple. He’s not too much into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or other such touchy-feely, new-agey stuff. This would be all well and good if I sat in a cave all day nursing the latest offspring and waiting for my man to drag home half a mammoth to throw on the fire. As my life has evolved, at least slightly from the above scenario (I no longer eat red meat ;-), I’ve had to develop my skills in reptilian brain management.

Take leaving my job – this wasn’t just a simple case of waking up one day and deciding I’d been there long enough. I did actually do that, but that was just the beginning of months of negotiating with Spike to actually be able to leave the building for the last time.

One of my favorite self-help gurus is Martha Beck (who has written half a dozen books and is a regular columnist in O Magazine). She’s not only very funny, she also comes up with self help advice that’s, well, helpful. I’ve learned a lot about change (and more specifically – growth), from Martha, including the steps involved in Making Things Happen. So armed with a nodding acquaintance of the Transtheoretical Model of Change, I knew I’d be spending some time in the areas of Contemplation, (the Pre-contemplation phase had already been completed) and Preparation before I actually got to the Action part.

Another thing I faced which wasn’t mentioned in the Change Model was the periodic/frequent/near-constant questioning of my own sanity. I was preparing to walk away from a job which offered me:
1. A steady (if somewhat anemic) paycheck,
2. Extremely good health insurance
3. 401K matching funds
4. Lots of Paid Time Off
5. The ability to listen to Norah Jones, Creed, and various operatic works as I sat at my desk, and (last but not least)
6. On-site chair massages

Yeah, I was pretty much thinking Spike may be right. Leaving this job was not such a good idea. “Find out about Health Insurance” sat pristine on my To Do list for weeks, unmarred by the thick black line of completion coursing through it’s words. I was overcome by the fear that if I actually inquired about health insurance, I’d find the premiums were thousands of dollars a month and I’d end up being a cubicle jockey for all of my remaining days.

When the day finally came that I picked up the phone and made the calls, I was surprised to find that the premiums, while not exactly chump change, were something we could work with and I was able to proceed toward resigning my position.

Since I’ve listed the undeniably good benefits of this job, you may be wondering why I was so anxious to leave. You may even be thinking that I should listen to Spike more often and just leave well enough alone. The simple, touchy-feely truth is that the job didn’t align with my higher purpose. (I saw that eye-roll, stay with me here for a minute – it gets a bit less new-agey).

I know there are certain things I’m pretty good at, and I am extremely fortunate in that my other two jobs utilize some of these skills. I really was getting tired and experiencing some health issues in trying to keep working 70 or more hours a week, driving an average of 70 miles a day and still trying to be a wife, mother and responsible pet owner (notice I didn’t even mention housework?) So, knowing that something had to give, I did a cost/benefit analysis of my three jobs, taking into account the intangibles as well as the on-site chair massages.

Job 1 (the “real” job I was looking to quit) benefits I already listed above. On the downside I had: Stressful environment, sedentary, indoors (I’m an outdoor person), health issues such as migraines and neck problems from sitting at the computer, and the fact that my energy and good-will plummeted when I drove into the parking lot.

Job 2 – I care for around 30 horses, training the youngsters and tending to their every need. Benefits: The pay was better, I set my own hours, outdoors, plenty of activity, beautiful environment and (most important): I’m doing what I love and it matches one of my strong skill sets. Costs: The farm is about 25 miles from my house and there are times when it’s cold and wet and miserable and I’d rather be in front of a fire reading a book.

Job 3 – Teaching riding lessons to about a dozen students at a wonderful horse rescue facility. Benefits: similar to job 2. Teaching riding is one of my strongest skills and something I dearly love. Costs: Distance from my home and sometimes I was unable to teach because of inclement weather.

In sizing everything up, I realized that the costs of Job 1 far outweighed the benefits for me, and that the benefits from that job (all material), could be replaced by spending some additional time at Job 2 and Job 3. One of the ways I considered Job 1 was that it was like taking our furniture – lots of mahogany, old clocks and family antiques, and putting them in a post-modern house, all hard angles and white paint and glass. Our grandfather clock would still chime and my mahogany desk would still hold my pens, the Blue Willow china would still hold the breakfasts and dinners, but the fit would be wrong. Neither the house nor the furniture would be at fault – they’d just both be better suited to a different situation. This job was just a bad fit.

For many people – my bad fit job is a dream job. Many of my former colleagues passionately connect with what they do on a daily basis. The job speaks to their soul and it’s the right thing for them to do. I’m happy for every single one of them, but even happier for me – out in the field checking the herd or out in the ring helping students learn about horses and riding. Hopefully, I’ll also help them learn a bit about honoring their true selves along the way.

In my own little corner….

We’ve all been there – blissfully (and often ignorantly) following what seemed like the right path, only to find that we’d painted ourselves right smack into a corner. Maybe you painted yourself into the corner because you were enthralled with the shiny purple paint you were slapping down with reckless abandon – so mesmerized with the color and the newness that you didn’t look up till it was too late.

Perhaps you painted like a crazy woman, more out of fear than delight. A looming deadline, the “security” of a job or a relationship (or even your choice of clothing for the day)can be powerful motivators to keep moving in a direction which seems like forward. But whatever the reason, sooner or later you look up and think “crap – I’ve done it now”.

You’ve got a few choices when you find yourself trapped by your own actions – you can sit in your own little corner in your own little chair – the “bloom where you’re planted” or “lemonade” philosophy (which can turn into sticking your head in the sand if you’re not careful). Cinderella notwithstanding, it’s helpful to remember that your fairy godmother is the person you see in the mirror every morning.

Sitting can be a comforting non-action; after all, if you were so good at making choices, you wouldn’t be stuck now, would you? There is definitely a lot to be said for reflection, carefully mapping your way back out of this sticky place – but sometimes you need to cut loose and cut your losses – take a deep breath and run like hell. Let the rest of the world track your shiny purple footprints to your new choices, your new life.

Just remember to look in the mirror the next morning and thank your fairy godmother – and always hold a fond spot in your heart for that little corner and little chair – without them, you might never have found happily ever after.

In my next post, I’ll let you come along for the ride as I retell the painting of myself into a 5 year career corner and where my blazing purple footprints led when I did the unthinkable In.This.Economy. – I Quit My Job (although to comply with full disclosure, I should point out in my own defense that I quit one of three jobs I held at the time). Of course it was the job with the health insurance (there’s a layer of paint), 401K matching funds (the paints getting slapped on a bit more thickly) and several weeks of Paid Time Off…… I was headed for my corner with my 5 gallon bucket and a couple of extra brushes happily painting myself a life as a customer service supervisor in a major fashion retailer and by the time I looked up – I saw that not only was I in a corner, I was in the wrong room in the wrong damn building…. Stay tuned for the happy ending. The next post will be up on Sunday. Until then – have a look at a few corners you’ve been in over the years and see if you’d handle the entrapment the same way now as you did years ago. What’s changed and what have you learned?
Live Well, my friends.

Freedom at Google Maps Street Level

The recent (and ongoing)events around the world have me thinking a great deal about freedom. Freedom is something I’ve always cherished (anyone who knows me knows I prefer to be outside, tend toward claustrophobia, and am at times anxious to create a reputation for being a rebel (although I’m sometimes a Rebel Without a Clue, I’m OK with that, too).

Freedom is something that,if not carefully fed and watered, can wither and die. It is a dynamic force, not just an abstract concept. We are witnessing people giving their all for freedoms that we tend to take for granted, and I know I certainly appreciate the freedoms afforded to me by being (at a rough guess) somewhere in the top 5% of the fortunate of this planet.

All of this world-wide focus on freedom has encouraged me to consider my own personal freedom more seriously of late as well (similar to moving the slider on Google Maps closer to the little person icon for a really close up look). For, despite my claim to have a dear wish for freedom in my life, what I profess and what my reptilian brain clings to are two very different states.

My reptilian brain,Spike, is about as far from being a likable gecko with a British accent as a reptile can be. He’s more of a Komodo Dragon who slithered from the primordial soup and into the nether reaches of my skull. A somewhat frightening and otherworldly creature who would be quite happy to take me down in a heartbeat if I threaten his territory.

Threatening Spike’s territory can consist of anything from deciding I need to loose 20 pounds to thinking about making changes in my career. Spike is a sucker for security – which can be a real drag when my more evolved brain (who I like to think of as a cross between Tinkerbell and Gandhi – an irrepressible rebel with a highly conscious side), is encouraging me to shoot for the stars.

I’ve been considering a few changes in my life which would enable me to pursue what I feel is my “higher purpose” (definitely more Gandhi, but with generous sprinklings of Pixie Dust); and yet the actions I need to take to start to give birth to these these changes remain unchecked items on my Remember the Milk to-do list. (For those of you who may be compulsive list makers like me and unfamiliar with Remember the Milk – check it out – great free program for your computer, and for a small fee, for your phone).

I have read a bit about my friend Spike – for he really is my friend – he’s trying to keep my from being consumed by a saber tooth tiger, or having the guy in the next cave drag me off by the hair, kicking and screaming (I’d like to see him try…). Spike’s intentions are good, just a little behind the times. He is not a fan of progress, for progress involves change – and change is a very frightening thing, to be defended against at all costs (lately, it seems, even including my sanity).

So, Tink and Gandhi and I are learning to work with Spike (since we haven’t yet found a way to get around him). We’re honoring his fears, thanking him for his concerns and then, when his little lizard eyes have closed in contentment, we take a baby step toward the stars…. oh so quietly, so as not to awaken the sleeping giant and have him rush to “protect” us from ourselves.

So, like Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Cowardly Lion, our little rag-tag bunch is making its way along a magical journey, but we’re going to bypass Oz, our life is meant to be lived among the stars and we already know that there’s no place like home.

Filthy Rich

One of the things I’ve learned (or at least read innumerable times) while working on goals and resolutions is that your goals need to be aligned with your core values. If your goal involves something that you don’t truly believe in on some level, you feel stress, tension or pain and you’re destined to fail.

I’ve encountered this most frequently when dealing with goals that involve money, or perhaps I should say Money (with a capital M). Despite my occasional fond dreams of having lots of Money (usually manifested as a wonderful house on a hundred or so acres with beautiful gardens, amazing bathrooms and a spectacular kitchen I’d want to leave only to go to the even more spectacular barn); I run up against a roadblock (or mental block) because deep down inside, I think being rich is a bad thing.

My child-psyche believes that People with Money (PwM) are snooty, snotty people whose chief activity is conspicuous consumption. I see a Hummer on the road and my lip goes into an automatic sneer. I look down on McMansions, all seemingly designed with the sole purpose of seeing how many shapes and sizes of Anderson Windows can be accommodated in one structure. I shake my head and roll my eyes at the tasteless parade of useless trappings of being rich – I am, in fact, a reverse-snob.

I grew up with an “us and them” mentality about PwM. Nothing overt or direct, but just the recognition that there was a divide and we were on the side of the angels. Rich-person bashing is also very much a part of our society. We (consumers of TV and other media) seem to delight in the display of all of the nasty traits, habits and behaviors of PwM. Whether on a soap opera (sorry, Daytime Drama) or a “reality” show, the rich are often portrayed as shallow, greedy, selfish, and generally-not-very-nice people.

When I was an Amway distributor many years ago, displays of the wealth of the upper level distributors were designed to inspire us to keep our businesses growing, so we too could drive a Cadillac and have a huge home. Although I found many of their stories inspiring, I was often uncomfortable with the emphasis on the material – it just didn’t seem very nice somehow.

Over the past several years, I’ve examined and re-examined my attitude toward wealth. I’ve read about philanthropists doing amazing work by funding medical research, providing grants for the arts, sending food and other relief supplies around the country and the world. I’ve met (and liked) many PwM – and I’ve also met plenty of people without money whose company I didn’t care for much at all. I remind myself that my dream of funding a program in my county which would stop the euthanasia of hundreds of cats a year can’t be done without funding. My contributions to Heifer Project, the ASPCA and my local public radio station could be increased ten fold (or more) if I was a person with Money.

Recently, I caught part of an interview Oprah did with J.K. Rowling – the first billionaire author ever. They were discussing money – these two very wealthy (and therefore very powerful) women. When Oprah asked Ms. Rowling what being that wealthy meant to her, Rowling’s first answer was that she could buy better clothes. (She then noted that there are plenty of rich people who dress awfully). She said that sometimes when she’s trying to make a choice between two possible purchases, she will stop short when she realizes that she can buy both. It fascinated me that Ms. Rowling said she still hasn’t developed a comfortable confidence that she will always be wealthy. She commented that she’d never been a fool with money before, and would have to be an absolute fool to lose her current fortune, but she still feels that it is possible. Somehow that vulnerability made her seem very human – it made her someone who, on some level, is not unlike me.

I find myself revisiting this snippet of what looked to be a wonderfully frank and personal discussion of money by two of the wealthiest women in the world. This conversation has helped to free me to think about creating my own wealth. As a rule, anytime I’ve thought of being wealthy (I’m talking about $1 million or more), I’ve only thought of it in terms of the lottery or some other windfall event dumping the funds into my lap. Since watching these two on the TV during my break at work, I’ve begun to consider actually being able to create wealth, and of the good that could be done with it. As I go forward making financial goals on my Life List, I will endeavor to remember that money is a neutral object, a tool which can be used for good or bad, but in itself has no morality or lack thereof. Small thinking leads to small living, which leads to small contributions to the world. My challenge with the idea of making and having money is really a challenge with my beliefs about my own self worth (hence the lottery scenario being the only way I could imagine wealth). It’s very much a case of “who do I think I am?”

Marianne Williamson address this issue with poetry and grace and as she’s done such a beautiful job of it, I’ll share her words. This is an excerpt from her book A Return to Love.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”

Go forth my friends, and shine.


Not referring to that long running sitcom (and hope I’m not infringing on anything expensive to defend by using that title for this post…). Although I did recently hear on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (my favorite radio show) that the airing of Friends on some TV station in the middle east (sorry for the lack of specifics, I’m too lazy to check out the details) actually boosted the viewers’ friendly feelings toward the US….. One of the panelists then wondered aloud (as is the right of all good humorists) if we also exported “24”…..

Anyway – as I said, this post isn’t about that show – it’s about another one of my New Year New Me goals (sounds catchier than resolutions, doesn’t it? And I figure by reframing the title, perhaps I’ll reframe my follow through….) The goal? To be a better friend.

Due to my long work days and tendency to hibernate during the winter, I don’t do much socializing. Because of this, I don’t really think of myself as having many friends – I mean, friends are people you hang out with, have lunch with, chat on the phone with at least once a week, and go on girls-only weekends with (unless, of course, you’re a guy) right? Well, I don’t hang out much, usually eat lunch while driving from job 1 to job 2, spend as little time as possible chatting on the phone (I’m more of a text/email kind of person) and I work weekends. So usually when I do those quality of life quizzes in the magazines which populate waiting areas, I kind of slide over the part which states that having strong friendships enables you to do everything from live a longer life and survive horrible diseases to jump tall buildings with a single bound. I try to pad my answers in the other categories enough to make up for this seeming affront to social scientists. I figure that since you always get points for having a pet, the fact that I have many pets gives me lots of points.

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking more about a few of my long-distance friends, lamenting the lapse of a work-friendship and just generally pondering the whole BFF thing. If asked, I couldn’t provide you with the name of my best friend – I’m not sure I actually have one. I love my husband dearly, but have always considered spouses to be a different animal than friends. The person I hang out with most is my daughter – and again, despite our amazing companionability, she’s my daughter, and it’s different than a friend. (I know many people consider their spouses or children to be their best friends, but this is my life so I have given up feeling guilty about not conforming to what other people do).

In considering what it means to be a friend and how to become a better one, I thought about things like staying in touch – via Facebook, email, and yes, even the phone. I’d been thinking about a friend in CT one morning several weeks ago, and when I got home from work that evening – there was a call from her on my voicemail – but it was 11 PM and too late to call. The next morning before I went to the barn, it was too early to call, I have very limited cell service at the barn and didn’t want to call only to lose the signal in the middle of our conversation. By the time I got to work at the 2nd job, it was time to clock in and I hated to call on a short break – why call when you only have a few minutes, right? A few days go by and then there’s the guilty feeling that I should have called back sooner. Well, I could go on and describe (or rationalize) why I didn’t return the call every day between then and now, but the reasons don’t really matter – I never returned the call. This was the main event which led to the creation of my New Year New Me goal.

So later today (as 3:47 AM really isn’t a good time to make a phone call unless it’s to announce a birth) I will call Julie – even if it is on a 15 minute break from work. Just as giving a plant a little water is better than none at all, even a 5 minute call is better than prolonging the silence and allowing our friendship to wither. And in the immortal words of Andrew Gold – I’ll be sure to say to Julie “Thank you for being a friend”.

What I wish I knew for sure….

OK, I know Oprah is a couple of years older than me, but I can’t imagine ever knowing as much “for sure” as she does. I wonder how difficult it is to come up with something every month that you know for sure – so much so that you can write a thousand words or so to put in front of a million people (give or take several hundred thousand….).

I’m lucky if I know what day it is for sure – and here at the new year? Forget the last digit of the 4 number year – that’s bound to be wrong on the first few checks in my checkbook. (Although that’s not strictly true – I now write the year in on the next few checks in my checkbook in the beginning of a new year so I don’t have to scribble out the wrong date ;-).

Simple things – like my name – you’d think I’d know for sure. Well, actually, my real name – Maureen, is one I rarely used growing up – most people knew me by my nickname of Penny (and how you get Penny out of Maureen is fodder for another post). Since I’ve been in Virginia (nearly 6 years), my two work lives (the world of horses and the world of J.Crew) know me by two different names – Penny to the horse folks and Maureen to all at “the other work”. Of course, when I’m competing at horse shows, I confuse everybody, because my horses are registered under my real name….. even my Social Securty card has me as Maureen E. Hawes – the E for Elizabeth, but I go by Maureen M. Hawes – the M for McCafferty – so there’s nothing to be sure of there.

I’m sure I want to ride my horse at least 5 days a week – except on the weeks when there’s rain, snow, ice, mud and the endless fatigue that’s been my companion for the past several months…

I’m sure I want to get up and get going tomorrow morning (until it turns into this morning and the spirit isn’t any stronger than the body and neither are a match for the magnetic pull of the flannel sheets, the electric blanket and another hour in bed with dogs and cats piled on and around my prone figure).

There are plenty of things I used to think I’d like to know for sure – like what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’ve neatly side-stepped that one however, by simply passing on the whole growing up thing….

Knowing something for sure seems to take lots of the fun and adventure out of life – and seems to me to be somewhat restrictive. For sure sounds like for ever – and I like to keep my options open on what I know and believe, because there is so much more to learn.

So I guess the one thing I do know for sure is that the person I see in the mirror today isn’t the same one who will greet me tomorrow morning (early or otherwise), and it’s not the same one I saw last week. Every day I have the chance to add something to who I am and what I know – (for sure or otherwise), and that will never change – and that’s something I know pretty close to for sure.