My friends call me brave. Brave for the things I’ve done: jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, ziplining, rock climbing, rappeling waterfalls, starting CrossFit (all of these after age 50), traveling solo, doing stand-up,, acting and singing onstage, doing karaoke at the drop of a hat. I was a police officer for many years, I enrolled in a doctoral program at almost 50 years old, and (gasp), I speak in public.
I won’t say these tasks are easy but the bravery required is a momentary decision. Check the box – done!
As I walked the dog the other day at an uncharacteristically leisurely pace, it occurred to me that my greatest acts of bravery have been in the act of undoing. I could walk at this uncharacteristically leisurely pace because I had just left my job after six years – with no solid backup plan, hence the bravery.
This was not a momentary decision; it was painstaking, sometimes painful, and long overdue. My line of work has an inherent amount of stress. Managing a large staff and multiple functions in an industry in which the main focus is to keep bad things from happening (public safety) and managing those bad things when they eventually do happen because they do. I’ve done this for a long time and I’m good at it: in the face of crisis, I am unflappable. I am also loyal to my people and my employers. This is what made the decision hard (aside from not having a full-time gig to jump to).
The organization I left has been experiencing an exceptional number of “growth opportunities”. For those familiar with that phrase, it essentially means challenges that make life working there really uncomfortable and uncertain. It was hard to determine if there was a plan or just that the plan changed so often that calling it a plan seems spurious. This created a level of organizational stress that caused people to retreat into their own safe spaces and eliminated the ability to engage in healthy discourse without fear of blame. Continuous resource scarcity at the lower and middle levels of the organization was juxtaposed with beefing up the top of the food chain.
Resource scarcity, the fear of not having enough or losing what I have, for me and my department, put me in survival mode. The stress increased my cortisol levels to the point that it affected sleep, appetite, depression, and my generally affable nature. Life was tremendously dark and every tunnel light was a train. In the last several months, a series of non-events were convoluted into events by those who shall not be named. I felt my livelihood threatened and I walked myself onto a precipice, standing there for an interminably long time. I could either jump or slink back into the chaos.
I ruminated, I contemplated, I best and worst case scenario-ed. I talked to my financial planner, my therapist, and my lawyer. I talked to friends and family. And what I noticed, is that my greatest pain was when I recounted my circumstances over and over and failed to make a decision. So I did. I quit. With plenty of notice and a solid transition plan for my team. As soon as I sent the resignation letter, I was swept with a relief I had not known possible when I was living in the morass of indecision.
I have been overwhelmed with the support from friends, family, and colleagues; their encouragement about the future; their validation of the decision; their approbation of the bravery to make it.
As the dog and I strolled leisurely, I recounted other undoings. Relationships and jobs that literally made me sick and my misguided thought that I alone could fix them. How brave I felt when I finally decided to leave them. And how free.