Tuesday, May 10, 2011

± 7

You know how some things just feel right? After you make a decision or submit a manuscript or accept a job offer and you have that happily peaceful feeling that you did something positive? You're on the right path? Then there are times I'm less certain. Where I'm torn between pros and cons and can't figure out if I'd be happier with or without. And then I struggle, my brain busily teasing out every detail, worrying about potential outcomes, hurt feelings, catastrophic harm.

I have lately been a little lost. Questioning my career path and regretting some personal choices. Wanting to sleep more and work less. Cringing when my phone rings instead of answering with curiosity or confidence. I just haven't felt good - happily peaceful - about life in general for a while now.

And I miss it.

In 2004, I found myself in jolly old England, a place I'd wanted to visit since my literature class in high school and that I was constantly amazed to exist in once I arrived. I was nearly giddy with the old and interesting buildings! Charming accents! Shops and tea and cookies! Oops, biscuits! But still!!!

It was the first meeting I'd attended solo, Advisor and students in my group all having various conflicts. So I flew across the Atlantic with some trepidation but was so impossibly charmed when I arrived that I couldn't help but smile as I walked and looked and listened.

I got lost, of course, my poor sense of direction combined with my distracting curiosity and rampant photo-taking to leave me in a place and not knowing where I was or what direction to go. And so I would find a spot out of people's way and stare at the map in my guidebook. Look carefully at street signs and painstakingly orient myself before stepping (without much confidence) in the direction I thought might be right.

I forced myself to talk to people. To encourage questions at my poster presentation. To ask questions at other posters. (I still don't know if I could ask a question after a talk - it seems quite scary.) To ask strangers to dinner or coffee. To join other students for a drink in a pub just down the way.

And I was so proud of myself - I still remember puffing up with self-confidence when I mustered my courage and tried so hard and it went OK.

It frankly amazes me how extensive my network has become. How I've seen 3 people so far who I knew as academic and hundreds (literally) who know me from my current role. And while some of those relationships were carefully planned and executed and maintained, others just happened. Someone would remember that I laughed at his joke or said something charming in a meeting. I answered a student's question or took a phone call about a research submission or connected two colleagues working on similar projects.

And so even as I catch up with one collaborator, making notes and asking questions, I sometimes break eye contact to smile at a colleague, wink at a friend or reach to rub a shoulder of someone I think is wonderful. I chirp hellos on my way to buy water or find chamomile tea or reach a different meeting room.

And it's easy somehow - the idle chatting, the direct questions, even dealing with problems. I find I know what to say and when I flub it, I shrug it off far more quickly than I once did. I want to understand things, so sometimes I ask obvious questions or require additional detail. I want people to like me so I take extra meetings and make additional presentations and answer a few more questions. And I find it feels good - more toward the 'happily peaceful' state I like to inhabit.

I finally gave up on myself in London, accepting that I required a guide to at least glance at everything in this amazing city where I only had a day away from the conference where I had free time. So I got on a bus, taking a seat on the double of the deckers and rode around, listening to the British voice in my headphones tell me about Peter Pan in that park or the royal family who lived behind those gates or how that building there was like a wedding cake.

In truth, I don't mind being told what to do. I'm good at following directions and learning by example or trial and error. I don't like making mistakes but I will do and generally try to make it better somehow. So though London seemed to go by far too fast as I rode on that bus, I did feel safe and protected and productive. At least until I had to find my way through the tangle of streets and pretty things to see to arrive back at my hotel.

I feel a bit less lost having spent time here. I wandered around the old section of town this afternoon, needing some time in the sunshine and some photos for my blog. I made my way around with lazy confidence, not looking at my map or really caring what I saw or how I got there. I had some time and comfortable flats and while my dress was wispy, my tights and sweater kept me warm.

As I stepped carefully on the streets, uneven with stones that had shifted or cracked over time, I realized I'm finding a bit of balance again - I'm not positive this is exactly the right path, but I believe I'm directionally correct. I think there are some changes to be made - learn to breathe properly, listen to God, pay attention to my body, find my bliss at work once again - but I think I can find my way.

After many years of getting pretty lost, I should be good at it.

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