A child with less than a year’s experience of life hardly understands how awesome a cake smash session is. She arrived cranky. But Hailey was able to cheer her right up. She knows how to please!
Growing up in Florida, surrounded by water, it was important to know how to swim. I did not know how to swim. I was afraid of the ocean, stayed away from murky ponds and clear pools alike, and generally sat on the shore watching everyone else have fun.
We spent a lot of time at a local swimming hole, a natural spring, and I loved standing on the diving board dock watching everyone cannonball and slice their way into the water. One day as I watched, my older brother came up behind me and shoved me in. Panicked, I fell immediately into doggy paddle survival mode, managing to stay afloat – just barely – but in my distress, I swam away from safety and right into a concrete wall. Within moments, though it felt like forever, someone jumped in and pulled me to safety, and since this was the second water incident for me (having nearly drowned a few years before in a pool), my mother decided it was time once and for all that I learn to swim.
Only, she didn’t tell me this. Instead, she put me on her back and swam out to a floating dock, as she often did. Then, after I climbed up, she announced that it was time I learned to swim. “You’ll either learn to swim or you’ll spend the night out here,” she said. And then she looked at everyone else, “And don’t none of you help her.”
Though I did manage to get back to shore that day, learning somewhat how to guide myself and stay above the water, and though I became a very good swimmer by the end of that summer, the memory of learning to swim is tainted by the idea that I was pushed without guidance and encouragement. Becoming a swimmer became a time of survival rather than a good learning experience.
I went on to live my life like that in many ways, waiting for people to just push me when I wasn’t ready, diving in without knowing what to do. “Leap and the net will appear” became my operating instructions. Only, way too often, I found myself doggy paddling away from help, barely staying afloat. I didn’t know how to make changes or try big things without either overthinking myself out of an idea or giving up because I couldn’t figure out how to swim. And when people force you into something, when they force you to leave the shore, that doesn’t work. We have to be more in charge of our lives.
Recently, after two and a half years at a job I adored, I made the decision to leave. It was time to leave the shore, this place of comfort, where I had been growing and thriving. It was time to learn to swim in bigger waters, and it was time for it to be my decision to do this.
Last year, I started seriously thinking about my exit strategy. Not quitting, but exiting. I didn’t know what that would look like, but what I did know is that I needed it to be a positive change, an upward move, not just quitting a job. I needed a positive plan, especially for a job that I actually loved, because I knew leaving would be hard even though it was what I needed to do. So, an exit strategy to leave the shore of my comfortable place came into play.
I really needed to take control of this decision, this strategy, because for so much of my life, other circumstances or people made decisions for me. Fear of financial distress pushed me away from work I could do and into jobs I hated instead. And far too often, I simply allowed other ideas to be better for me than my own.
What do we really have control of? Can we really take control of our lives? I’d like to argue that we can. We can be the one who chooses to make changes happen, even if we don’t know how they will turn out. We can dive in on our own, without being forced or pushed, to say “I am going to try this!” We can say, “I now need to move into something bigger, to be bolder. I have dreams, and these dreams will not happen if I stay back here in my comfort zone.”
Now, two and a half years ago, this job was not in my comfort zone. Though I had previously trained and worked as a victim advocate, I used that training very little, and now here I was, stepping into the discomfort of crisis on a potentially daily basis, meeting people on some of their worst days possible. I remember being afraid every time the phone rang or someone walked in the door who might need me. Eventually, though, I became very good at coming face to face with really hard things, and I also became very comfortable with the work.
But I began to feel a call to step into a bigger role, into darker places. Much of my work outside of the job centered around abuse and violence, the journey of telling my story and of healing, and I realized I was being called to that very uncomfortable place. To leave the shore of what had become comfortable and enter into a new place, to dive into bigger ponds, to swim in murkier waters.
I resisted the call for a while. Yet, as I realized that everything was leading to this bolder place, this uncomfortable change, I began to feel peace at accepting the challenge. And I realized that I could be the one choosing to make the change rather than the change being forced upon me.
With my exit strategy in play and a greater understanding of my personal strengths, I took a leap, and though I don’t know exactly how the next year is going to go, I do know that choosing to leave the shore – not being pushed – has been exhilarating and full of peace.
I’ve learned that fear-based sink or swim is no way to leave the shore. I’ve given myself permission to be who I am meant to be, to do what I feel I am meant to do next.
So I ask: Are you going to make your transitions from a place of choice or are you going to stand by and wait for someone to push you into the water?