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November 2023 – Cracked Ice and Chrome

Hi, I’m an instructional designer

Yes, that title means that I GOT A JOB.

I have tried twice to write a blog post in the past couple of months. I even had the same title for the last two attempts: Free Fallin’. That is how I felt this past summer as I worked to get a job and was getting nothing but crickets for most of it.

I never finished and published the last two blog posts because I felt like I was just whining – whining about being done as a teacher and the mixed emotions that caused, whining about the job search and how frustrating it was, and whining about stressed I was.

No one wants to read that. I was bored as I re-read my own writing, and that is always a good indication that such writing does not need to be read by anyone else.

They’re still there in my dashboards as drafts, and I will probably keep them as a reminder of what this summer was like. I am hoping that I do not have to be unemployed again anytime soon.

Like Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Toward the end of August, just as school was starting and I was reeling with feelings of panic about how I was going to stay afloat with no job, I got a call just as my husband and I were starting off for a visit to Chicago. The call was from a place I had interviewed at the very beginning of August. Although I had asked for and received an update about the job a week after my interview (the VP of Professional Development was on vacation and would be making a decision shortly), another week went by without any word, and I figured that they had gone with a different candidate. But on August 24th, they called and offered me the job, and I happily accepted. I even pulled over on the side of the road to get my laptop and digitally sign and return the offer letter before they could change their minds.

Feeling relieved does not begin to describe what I felt. Days after I had gotten my last teaching paycheck, I got a job! I started on September 7, and it has been a month and a half of absolute joy and relief. That sounds like an exaggeration, but I honestly mean it. I hadn’t worked in the corporate sector for 24 years. On my first day, my boss took me out to lunch and said that she did not want me working on weekends or even thinking about work. If she happened to send an email on a Saturday, she said I was under no obligation to read it or answer it. Work-life balance is very important to her, and I am still trying to get used to having a job where work-life balance is valued. In teaching, it was expected for us to work nights and weekends to keep up with everything. It was accepted even though it is a horrible habit to get into. At my current job, we leave work AT work, and that is exactly how it should be.

I have lived in small towns for most of my life, so you can imagine that working on Michigan Avenue in Chicago is a bit of a change. My commute to work for the past 17 years was 7 minutes long. Now my commute is 45 minutes on a good day. We are able to work whatever hours we want to make up a full day, so I have started to leave for work at 5:15 a.m. to get to the office at 6:00 a.m. That lets me leave work at 2:30-3:00, which is just as the rush hour traffic is starting to ramp up. Although I don’t like the traffic, I only have to deal with it two days a week because I am remote the other three days of the week.

I love to people-watch, so some mornings I will go to the Starbucks that is across the street from me and I’ll sit facing the traffic so I can watch the city wake up. The Starbucks I go to is attached to a hotel, and it is fascinating to hear all of the languages spoken by the patrons who filter in from there.

There is always something happening on Michigan Avenue, and I love going for walks during my lunch break to see what is going on outside. I never feel unsafe, though, because the cops are thick around there. Every day there is at least one cop car right outside my building, just hanging out and waiting for stuff to happen. Some days it is hard to see the realities of life when a homeless person winds up sleeping in front of my building; I am certainly not used to that sight. But most of the time what is happening on Michigan Avenue is entertaining and interesting to watch. And if there’s nothing happening, the people-watching is always good.

Even though I’ve been employed for a month and a half, I am still trying to find the right words to summarize how this year has been. I have always been a small town/country girl. The largest city I lived in was only had about 150,000. I’m not used to congested freeways and vibrant downtowns and skyscrapers and lots and lots of people. But for some odd reason, this feels right. I will always be a country girl at heart, but the time was overdue to move away from the small town where I’d been living for over twenty years. I was tired of not having any privacy because I was a teacher in that small town; quick trips to the grocery store often meant conversations with fellow teachers, parents, or students. While I love seeing people outside of school, sometimes I just wanted to be invisible, get what I wanted, and go home. (Other teachers will understand that feeling.).

It’s taken a lot for me to get to the point where I was comfortable challenging the status quo. If you would have asked me twenty years ago to move to Chicago, I would have gotten wide-eyed and said, “NO WAY!” My brain would have been overloaded with a long list of all the things that could have gone wrong with a move to the big city.

When I was in my mid 20s — soon after I had my first child — I started having major anxiety related to the huge responsibility of taking care of a child. All the what ifs got me big time. What if he got sick? What if he choked? What if he died of SIDS? What if I turn out to be a crappy mother? What if he has special needs that I can’t accommodate? What if? What if? What if? While I was 8-months pregnant with my first child, 9/11 happened. That is probably where my anxiety stemmed from. Suddenly the world felt steeped in chaos and I no longer knew what the future would be for my child.

It was, quite frankly, paralyzing. I stopped enjoying everyday life and most of my waking hours were consumed with fear. I eventually decided to go on anti-anxiety medication, and I will never, EVER take that route again. I truly believe such meds do nothing to cure the actual anxiety; they just mask it. What I was really afraid of was having a loss of control over, well, pretty much everything. I wanted to control whether my child was sick or well or whether or not he lived a long life. However, I was floundering in the wake of the simple reality — very little of that is within my control. I avoided airplanes because of my fear of flying; I avoided traveling to big cities because I feared possible chaos; I avoided social situations where I felt unsure of how things would unfold. I missed so many opportunities in my life because of fear. That fear was preventing me from living my life.

Living in a small town did little to assuage my anxiety, as I felt *seen* everywhere I went. As an introvert, I was not used to that sort of life, and I really struggled with it. I just wanted to go out in public and not know a soul.

I learned to live with the non-anonymity of a teacher’s life over time. I started to just expect it and anticipate it. I knew I would see them, so I stopped fearing it. I took the time to have conversations with the students working at the grocery store or K Mart (while it lasted). I learned that it was a good thing to be able to have “normal” conversations that had nothing to do with school because it helped humanize me to them and helped me get to know the other facets of their personalities.

I stopped the anti-anxiety meds about a year after I started taking them, and the withdrawal was brutal and scary. Lots of weird things going on in my brain that I can’t even begin to explain, but obviously the medicine was doing something to my brain as I weaned myself off of it. I started to take a hard, honest look at what was causing my anxiety, and only then was I able to move past it.

My anxiety was caused by a loss of control at a time when I felt I needed ALL the control. I wanted to ensure that my children were safe; I wanted to make sure that I was safe; I never wanted to find myself in any sort of emergency; I had a weird, dark obsession with stories of chaos where people had to rely on their instincts to get them through. I wondered what my instincts would lead me to do. I doubted whether I would make good choices.

I have learned that there is very little that is linear and predictable about life. If you try to control the trajectory, you will fail big-time, and you will also incur a lot of unnecessary stress. Do you remember that song that came out in the 90s called “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen”? If not, here it is. It is a surprisingly deep song that spoke to the anxiety I was feeling at the time; in fact, I used to have the lyrics printed out and hung on a bulletin board in my classroom. I wanted my students to internalize the advice because it was so freaking true.

You do not know what will happen in life. Some horribly bad people live to be 90 and never pay for their mistakes. Some really good, kind people die at a young age and never get to live a full life. The injustice of that stings, but it’s not an isolated example either. One of the stanzas of the song is this:

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the ‘Funky Chicken’
On your 75th wedding anniversary
Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much
Or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s

All we can do on this earth is do the best we can with each day we are given. As I type this, war is raging in the Holy Land. Again. People are suffering and wishing they were elsewhere. Meanwhile, here I sit in relative peacefulness in the suburbs of Chicago. I do not understand why I have been able to live a decent life while people across the globe are suffering, and dying, and fighting for basic freedoms.

I also know that I can’t do a damn thing about it.

I also know that taking chances and facing uncertainty head-on have done wonders for me in the past few years. People may not understand your choices, and you will undoubtedly suffer some criticism for what choices you do make, but the important thing is that you feel OK with what you’ve chosen to do.

It’s your life. No one else’s.

I think living in Chicago has given me the anonymity I have desired for so many years. I can go shopping, walk down the street, have a glass of wine in a restaurant without knowing a single soul, and that is liberating. On Michigan Avenue, when I walk down the street and take pictures of buildings, I am just another person in a sea of tourists. I listen to the sea of dialects around me and know that this is all just as new to me as it is to them.

For me, anyway, I have made peace with the idea that life happens and there is very little rhyme or reason as to why some of us make it to 90 and some die as infants. I don’t know why evil people are allowed to run free while good-hearted people die from cancer. All I know is that each one of us is given a gift every day we wake up to a new day.

It is up to us what we choose to do with it.

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