midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the category “spirituality”

Randomness (Finding My Religion)

As a new resident of South Carolina’s Charleston region, I am trying to find “community” and connect with people. That gave me the impetus to dial up religion.

I found an historic Reform Jewish congregation in Charleston to meet fellow Jews. As a by-product, perhaps I would also rediscover my religion.

So during Hanukkah, I went to my newly selected synagogue and attended the post-services social event. It was a challenge to meet people, as almost all congregants were KahalKadoshSynagogueengaged with family and friends. I loaded up on desserts and stuffed myself first – even if I didn’t meet anyone with whom to connect, I’d at least leave satiated, I figured. I roamed the room without finding an unattached person. Then I positioned next to an official-looking woman with a name tag hoping to squeeze in an introduction, but she never broke from her conversation.

Finally, as the crowd began to dwindle, I randomly approached a table of four who were lingering, retirees older than me, sat down uninvited and introduced myself. I got lucky. Two of the congregants lived in Summerville, where I live, about 25 miles from the downtown Charleston congregation and likely where few other congregants live. And one of those whom I met made it her mission to welcome me to the area and serve as my de-facto tour guide and social planner. She refers to herself as a Southern Jew, having grown up in Augusta, GA.

The next day, she invited me to join her at the Summerville Farmer’s Market, and for a tour of the historic downtown Summerville and the local history museum. Along the way, she introduced me to every market merchant, business owner and museum volunteer she knew.

She linked me to the loosely affiliated Jewish community in Summerville that she helps to organize and connected me with a Jewish teacher who I will soon meet. The next weekend, she invited me to join a weekly liberal political gathering at a coffee house/roastery and musical performances at a couple of funky breweries.

And she is rescuing me from a lonely Christmas by inviting me to join other local Jews, Buddhists and agnostics for the traditional Chinese restaurant Christmas Day meal.

I’m not so much of a lapsed Jew as an ambivalent Jew, at least when it comes to practicing my religion as an integral component of my life. I identify with my Jewish heritage, ancestry and culture; I haven’t with ritual, dogma, tradition and weekly devotion. I’ve interspersed my occasional efforts at integration with Jewishness with other attempts at a more faith-based life with other denominations, seeking connections, a sense of community and a deepened spirituality more than any particular religiousity.

I’ve done stints at a Unitarian congregation, which made sense during my interfaith marriage, and a progressive-minded non-denominational Christian congregation, largely because of its Men’s Fraternity, upbeat atmosphere and focus on modern-day relevance.  But each time I drifted away, from the Jewish congregation because I felt strangely detached as a “non-observant Jew,” from the Unitarian group when having young children diverted attention, and from the Christian church because I couldn’t overcome my discomfort with its emphasis on Jesus.

I’ve circled back for another as yet fledgling venture at Judaism, my natural place in the religious world. Ironically, perhaps coming to the Deep South, where Jewish congregations are scarce compared to my previous home in the Northeast, will help me find my religion and faith community.

If that does happen, my random encounter with my new Southern Jewish friend likely will be a big reason. Even if I don’t, she already has made me feel more welcome in my new community and continues to make suggestions for connections based on my interests (and even non-interests, including Carolina Shag dance classes).

Some believe nothing is random; others that everything is random. Each has merit. If nothing is random, everything has meaning. And if everything is random, it stands to reason that meaning is inherent in randomness, unless one believes that the only meaning is that there is no meaning.

Damn those philosophical brain-twisters that cause cerebral logic-center headaches! All I know is that I’ll take random good fortune any time it comes my way, and my random meeting was one of those times.

15 Principles for Surviving and Executing a Career Transition

In two months I will complete a graduate degree in clinical mental health counseling that will have taken 5½ years to finish, enabling me to take final steps to executing a fairly drastic midlife career change from public relations. I had made a career change before, from journalism to public relations. Though still jarring, that transition was significantly more seamless than this one, requiring no additional education and using many of the same skills.

I have been seeking to derive more meaning and satisfaction from my career, as well as tCareerImagehe opportunity to self-direct my future, embrace an entrepreneurial spirit, contribute value to society and work flexibly, creatively, collaboratively and independently. I explored life-coaching, completing a series of training courses, but ultimately didn’t pursue it. But the idea of helping people with psychological, emotional and life challenges stuck with me.

It took me about three years of mulling the idea to apply to graduate school for counseling and another year after acceptance to enroll in my first class. Twenty-one classes and three internships later, I’m on the precipice of a career transition.

It hasn’t been easy. As I started my internships, I ran into a buzz saw at my PR job. It was miserable, and at the same time the best thing that could have happened. I couldn’t have done both well simultaneously, along with graduate classes. I would have burned out. I left my job, and the security blanket of a biweekly paycheck. That was 18 months ago. Since then, I’ve lived a much more itinerant, unpredictable and frugal existence, cobbling together temporary, seasonal and part-time jobs, and unpaid or low-paid internships.

In brief, these are 15 principles I’ve learned about making a significant career change, concepts that are valuable to consider while mulling a change or while bulldozing through the trenches:

  1. Long-Term Vision – A career transition won’t happen if you can’t envision a different future, if you are too overwhelmed by the daily grind and stressors to dream about a new life.
  2. Delay Gratification/Patience – Depending on how drastic the change and the amount of education and training required, the transition could be a long haul rather than a quick fix.
  3. Risk (Tolerance/Acceptance) – You will be giving up something known for something new, with no guarantee of breaking in, or even being proficient at or liking the new endeavor.
  4. Self-Knowledge – Become clear on what is most important to you, your values, how much risk you can tolerate, and how hard you are willing to work to make a change happen.
  5. Courage – You’ll have to be brave enough to take risks and step out of your comfort zone.
  6. Confidence/Self-Assuredness – Consider how you will handle other people in your life, including those closest to you and colleagues in your current occupation, questioning or casting aspersions on your decisions. How much would a wave of skepticism and criticism deter you or affect your thinking and beliefs?
  7. Identity – Leaving a profession, especially one you’ve worked at for years and in which you’ve achieved a certain level of expertise, status and success, can significantly alter how you identify yourself. Can your ego withstand such an identity loss, while building a new and different piece of your identity?
  8. Research/Network – It will be important to determine the costs and requirements (and barriers) to entry into a new profession, as well as occupational outlook, such as job growth and salary projections. Soak up all the information you can about your prospective new career while considering a transition and in the transitional phase by interviewing people in the field, networking with fellow career changers and professors, taking classes, attending conferences and reading industry journals.
  9. Commitment/Persistence – A half-hearted or uncertain effort will likely fail to result in lasting change, like my foray into coaching. The urge to give up may hit, especially early in the process. You’ll have to constantly re-evaluate your commitment, revisit why you embarked on the effort in the first place and resist inevitable doubts.
  10. Embrace Uncertainty/Unpredictability – Become comfortable with not knowing and embracing the journey as an adventure. View unpredictability as making life more exciting, stimulating and challenging. Here’s where faith and spirituality can come into play.
  11. Sacrifice – Be prepared to pay costs in terms of money, time, effort, perceived security and status (you may go from being expert to novice).
  12. Hustle/Scramble/Diversify – A career transition may not be seamless, moving directly from a job in one career to a job in another. There may be an intermediary period involving education, training, internships and the like. You may have to jump off the cliff during this period – leaving security behind – but with a parachute. You just won’t be able to be sure where you may drift or land along the way. You may have to be aggressive in patching together a living from various jobs that aren’t career jobs, but serve as a means to your end. You may have to call on skills you weren’t using in your current career, or adapt your skills to different positions that work within your new goals. For me, that meant working summers as a tennis teacher and applying writing and teaching skills as a university writing tutor.
  13. Flexibility – A flexible frame of mind complements the principles of identity and hustle. If you are not rigid in your identity, you can explore varied employment opportunities, living arrangements and lifestyles that can help you manage the transition. If you are open to a wide range of income-producing opportunities, you can minimize your reluctance to try new things – perhaps jobs you would have once considered beneath you — and ramp up your hustle to get them.
  14. Financial House – Your transition will be easier and less stressful if there is Order in the House, the Financial House. As much and as far ahead as possible, craft a financial plan for the transition. Build savings cushions and tuition accounts, if education is necessary. Consider becoming a minimalist in your lifestyle choices, to some degree. A transition likely will come with some financial pain, including possibly a precipitous income drop from your previous career once you start in a new occupation, but planning and frugality can mitigate the potential pitfalls.
  15. Negotiation – If you’re lucky, you’ll have a current employer who respects, or maybe even encourages and supports, your career-change endeavor (I wasn’t). If so, see how you can negotiate to get what you need – time, a flexible schedule, tuition assistance, remote work arrangement – while continuing to fulfill your employer’s needs. You may be able to hold onto your job and income much longer (I couldn’t), helping to bridge the transition.

 

 

Thoughts on Struggle, Resilience, Gratitude and Grace

Counseling has given me a new perspective on struggle, resilience, gratitude and grace, at this time of year when we may slow down enough to think about these phenomegracena.

I’m working as a therapist intern at a mental health agency in Baltimore that serves low-income clients. Many have substance abuse problems. Some have been drug dealers. Some have spent time in prison. Many have been victims of crime or domestic abuse; some have perpetrated violent crimes.

Some have been homeless or evicted with no place to go, and some are on the verge of homelessness. Some are shunned by their families. Some were criminally abused or neglected as children.

All are struggling mightily, yet they have resilience. They want better. They want to overcome. They don’t quit. The question, however, is always: How motivated are they to change? When I think about resilience I’ve had to summon to face challenges, it doesn’t compare.

Many of our clients are on the margins of society, nearly invisible. Many have dropped out of the job market. Some want to return, but it’s a struggle to re-enter. Some have become isolated or reclusive, out of distrust or fear of failure, rejection or disappointment. They want independence, but it’s a struggle to get there; many have to lean on others for help. It’s easy to see: Once you fall into a hole, the climb to emerge can be arduous.

They are grateful for people who care about them, whether a therapist, a social worker or a friend or family member who stuck by them during difficult times when others didn’t. They are grateful for sobriety, kids and grandkids, and new chances.

Our clients inhabit a world and have lived through experiences with which I had no familiarity until my counseling internships. For the clients who have let me into their worlds and taught me about the enormous challenges they both inherited and created themselves, I am grateful. They have blessed me with a real-world education that books and classes can’t approximate. I hope I am providing a certain kind of education for them in return.

As for grace, Gerald G. May, M.D. described “living into grace” in Addiction & Grace:

“Living into the mystery of grace requires encountering grace as a real gift. Grace is not earned. It is not accomplished or achieved…It is just given.

“But living into grace does not depend upon simple receptivity alone. It also requires an active attempt to live life in accord with the facts of grace [which]…are simple: grace always exists, it is always available, it is always good, and it is always victorious…

“The risk, of course, is to my addictions; if I try to live in accord with grace, then I will be relinquishing the gods I have made of my attachments…I must make conscious efforts of will; I must struggle with myself if I am going to act in accord with those facts. Living into grace requires taking risks of faith.”

As we enter a new year, I hope and pray our clients are able to recognize grace working in their lives and find the strength to take the risks of faith to live into grace.

A Hat Over the Wall

I threw my hat over the wall today.

It’s a saying I remember, and sometimes use with people who have no idea what I’m talking about, from the Landmark Education Forum, the three-day program designed to bring about life-improving “breakthroughs,” which borrowed the phrase from President John Kennedy, who talked about throwing the hat in reference to America’s determination to explore outer space, and who appropriated the expression from Irish author Frank O’Connor, who wrote the parable about two adventurous boys who were halted in their journey by an imposing stone wall – until one threw his hat over the top, compelling them both to scale the barrier to retrieve it.

I didn’t join NASA; I won’t be exploring Mars or spending a year in space. I did register to do (I say “do” rather than “compete in” purposely) the Columbia Triathlon, two hours before registration closed and 15 days before race day after debating whether to commit for a few months. I threw my hat over the triathlon wall.

As the original rap artists Sugar Hill Gang sang in “Rappers Delight”: “I don’t mean to brag. I don’t mean to boast (But we like hot butter on a breakfast toast).” But I guess this is a little about boasting. Anyone who tells others he is doing a triathlon is boasting, prima facie.

I am not an avid triathlete. Not like those eccentrics you see with the really tight onesies with the front zipper, the Terminator-style Ray-Bans, the spokes-less, flyaway bikes, the nutrition diaries, the hairless legs (OK for women), the oddly ubiquitous black wetsuits, the de rigueur upmarket bike racks, the fanny belts, the clacking  bike shoes, the 8 percent body fat and taut-as-power-cables leg muscles, and the neatly arranged race day gear and supplies, enough to suffice for a week’s vacation.

I am an amateur. I train the minimum. I’m not a member of any triathlon club or training group. I flaunt the convention. My ego requires me to do that. If I had all the proper equipment and clothing – if I looked like a triathlete — how could I explain finishing in the bottom 15 percent?

I’m positive I have the oldest and slowest bike of all the competitors…errr…participants: a 12-speed Fuji touring bike I bought in 1984. 1984! I can’t give it up, even if it would increase my speed by 20 percent and save my legs. It’s part of my carefully crafted image of the anti-triathlete triathlete. My bike pedals have no clips; just old-school straps. I don’t lock in with bike shoes. That’s unheard of in triathloning. Someone recently recommended I get the clips and the shoes. Solid advice, but I’m not going to – would ruin the image.

I’ll likely be one of the few not wearing a wetsuit. Again, bad for the image. I’m going to freeze my ass off at the beginning of the swim.

I train alone and modestly, mostly during lunch breaks at work when I swim or jog. I recently hooked up with another multi-sport event participant for a few bike rides, the one who advised about the bike clips. Whenever I told him to ride at his own natural pace during our rides, he blew me away and had to wait for me at the nearest stop sign. He also told me about the weekly “bricks” the Mid-Maryland Triathlon Club sponsors – bike rides followed by runs. I love the term. I’m going to put in one or two “bricks” before the event, by myself, just so I can say that I “bricked.”

Since I first started doing triathlons, I’ve averaged – hmmm, let’s see – two per decade. (You thought I’d say something crazy, like 10 per year, right?). I did two in the 1980s, and three in the 1990s. I may have never done one again, except I broke my leg in a soccer game in 2012. It was a long and arduous rehab and recovery. I started on the road back by swimming. Then I added cycling. For motivation, I threw my hat over the wall and entered the 2013 Columbia Triathlon. Running was the hardest. I added that last and slogged through a bare minimum of training jogs. One year and 22 days after surgery for a broken tibia and fibula – and nearly 15 years since my last triathlon — I completed the Columbia Triathlon, a .93-mile lake swim, 25-mile bike and 6.2-mile run, in 3 hours, 37 minutes. I was proud of that. I had to disappear into the woods for a few minutes to shed some tears over the struggle of the previous year. I was amazingly consistent, too (i.e., consistently slow for a triathlete), finishing in the 85-90 percentile for each leg.

It was a spiritual experience. That’s all it is to me now, more than an athletic event. Time? I don’t care about time. I’m not chasing anything, not trying to qualify for anything, not seeking a PR (personal record) or age group award. I entered again for the spiritual experience. I want to find a rhythm in the swim and enjoy the feel of warming up in a cold, open body of water. I’ll revel in the feeling of speed and the sights and smells of the countryside on the bike. I’ll embrace the challenge of the hilly run and find inspiration in the struggle.

I may even break out the Ruggler during the run. That’s the Runner-Juggler (the “Joggler” was already taken). Now that may be showing off, but it has a real purpose – refocusing my mind from the pain, monotony and seemingly interminable length of the run to the three airborne balls.

The triathlon is the thrill of being alive, the delight of being able to do it at all. I’m excited I get to go retrieve my hat.TheRuggler

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