Midlife Clarity

Beginning Again vs. Starting Over

The thing I love about working with my coach, Meg, is that she steers me toward some real discoveries and Aha! moments. She laughed yesterday as commented that it can sometimes take me 45 minutes into an hour-long session for me to unearth a useful nugget, but the value of the discoveries are always worth the time it took to excavate them. I may share more about the major "find" from yesterday's emotional dig, but I am still unpacking all that it means and how I will work through it. Something else came up in our meeting yesterday , though, and it led me to write this post.I think one of the hardest parts of making meaningful change is breaking away from old, often lifelong, habits and behaviors. I don't know what those habits are for you, but, in my case, it's weight loss and a poor body image. Poor body image kind of speaks for itself. Weight loss, however, is kind of a catch-all. More specifically, I am talking about food choices and portion control, physical movement, and identifying and addressing triggers that lead to (or allow for) poor choices.

Something has been nagging me for quite a while is the challenge of making commitments or intentions stick. I feels like the proverbial "one step forward, two steps back" scenario. I get all excited about making a food plan for a week. Go to the store and purchase all that's needed. Two or three days later, I'm sitting in a slump, full of guilt after eating two veggie hotdogs and some oven-baked Ore-Ida fries. How did that happen? Ugh! Ok. Get your shit together Matthew! Shake it off and start over.Here is the rub with my idea of starting over. It means that I am going all the way back to zero.I never thought about how this thinking or mindset has created, or added to, a sneaky defeatist attitude. I never realized that, somewhere in my psyche, knowing that I am going back to zero has discouraged me from trying. I get tired of taking steps toward a healthier me only to find myself back at the starting line again...and again...and again. I thought about a quip by that wise sage, Homer Simpson, "Can't win. Don't try!" Sometimes I would even find myself saying that I am on the path toward healthy eating and consistent exercise, only to self-sabotage by not practicing portion control or not pushing myself to be challenged on my bike rides or during gym workouts.As I talked through this dynamic with Meg, she reminded me that I should give myself space and permission to begin again. It was in that moment that I revisited a concept by Mark Nepo -- life is about a "practice of return."

"Being human is to always be in return: to sacredness, to wakefulness, to the fact that we’re on the same journey, alone and together. We’re safe, then afraid. We’re calm, then agitated. We’re clear, then confused. We’re enthusiastic, then numb. We long for the moments of lift and run from the moments that weigh us down. But the inescapable rhythm of life lifts us and weighs us down by turns, just as the ocean swells and dips with each wave. When we lose our way, each of us is challenged to discern and embody a very personal practice of return -- to what matters and to what has heart."

Living a healthier lifestyle and taking better care of my body matters to me, and I feel my practice of return is what allows me to keep trying. With that said, I never gave thought to the cumulative emotional toll of starting over. Back to the starting line. As I talked to Meg about how this dynamic hallowed me out, I stopped for a moment to question how I viewed this pattern. The more I thought about it and talked it out; I almost stumbled into a fresh perspective on rebounding from poor decisions.I had to ask myself: Why does beginning again mean completely starting over? The short answer was/is: It doesn't. I have spent years throwing the baby out with the bathwater every time I made a choice that didn't serve my goal(s). I would completely discount the progress, no matter how small, and figured everything that came before a mistake was part of the road to failure. I had to scrap everything and start anew.

Yesterday it hit me that not viewing a poor choice in isolation has been a significant reason why I feel, under the surface, that I am incapable of truly being healthy and physically fit. I have joked with friends about how I have exhibited an all-or-nothing interest in things (situations, beliefs, faith, people) over the years. It only dawned on me yesterday that this mindset is what is shaping my approach to a healthy lifestyle. I hit one obstacle or roadblock, and I fold up the tent and go back to what soothes my wounds: eating and lethargy.I know it is going to take time for me to establish a mindful practice of return so that I know the difference between beginning again and starting over. I have to truly embrace the notion that a poor choice -- whether on day 12 or 82 -- doesn't negate or invalidate all the work, progress, and experience gained in the preceding days. Making a poor choice is not an indictment nor confirmation that I am incapable of change and consistency. If flip it around, I have another chance to keep moving toward my goals again...and again.

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Some Assembly Required

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I meet with my wellness coach, Meg, every Friday morning. She always sends me the session worksheets a day or two in advance, and we typically work through the material in our meetings. We start each session with me sharing some accomplishments or good things that took place in the week since our last meeting. Meg then invites me to discuss what challenges I faced, but we always start with the positives.

Despite our planned session work, our time was overtaken with me digging into some challenges that are broader than week-to-week observations. Basically, it boils down to a very direct question.

Do you want this?

The this at the center of this question is my stated goal of losing weight and toning my body. I seem to be going in circles with choices regarding food and exercise. I struggle with the proverbial one step forward, two steps back. In fact, it often feels like one step forward, five steps back. The backward movement seems or feels larger because it is coupled of with guilt, shame, and self-judgment. Why can't I stay the course? What will it take for me to get my shit together and honor what I say that I desire? Self-sabotage is a real thing, and its pull can come up in ways so buried that you don't even recognize you're undoing your progress. 

Thankfully, Meg took time for us to walk through my feelings and frustrations. As discussed in my last post, one thing that keeps coming up for me is impatience. Beyond that, I thought back to a discussion I had with Carla several years ago about being authentic. We discussed that I tend to be a nice person and say the right things. But, it begged the question, was I being honest? Like many people, I was raised to be polite. I think that I also developed, or picked up, the trait of being a people pleaser. I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings and typically steered clear of criticism that might be deemed too direct or sharp.

As we talked, it became clear that I was doing the same thing with Meg. I have been very honest with Meg in our meetings, but I think that I fell into the habit of saying what sounded right. I am a pretty emotional person, but I have been pretty stoic when discussion my struggle with weight and eating. Where is the part of me that is screaming inside and wants to run around the room with my would-be hair on fire?

Perhaps more revealing was digging past the surface to examine how this behavior manifests. I had to offer that I am extremely engaged in our meetings and walk away feeling charged to take on my action items. However, just a couple of days later the enthusiasm fades and I'm back to the same 'ole same 'ole. I analogized it to Sunday Christians. You know ... the folks who show up for church every Sunday, but do very little worship or reflection Monday through Saturday.

As much as I give lip service to acknowledging that change takes time, I believe that I haven't embraced this truth. I walk away each Friday as if the meeting itself will transport me to the desired end point. That's not how it works. The hard truth is that I have to account for decades of behaviors, actions, and attitudes about myself. I have to lay out all of my habits and feelings and take a good hard look at what serves me and what does not. Only then will I be in the position to take on the task of assembling -- piece by piece --  a more complete, self-loving self. A self that is motivated and willing to take on the challenge to move toward goals. A self that knows that, in many ways, there is no "end." There is a path to achieve goals and I can't get there if I am so focused on the horizon that I keep tripping or falling into holes right in front of me. 

The big takeaway from this week's meeting is that I want to try setting more immediate goals and milestones. I need to set daily accomplishment points that feel more tangible, instead of the, seemingly, exclusive focus on "the long game." I think through this; I will find more confidence that I can continue to make progress toward my goal and quiet that naysayer on my shoulder who wants me to believe I'm not capable, deserving, or worthy.

My Struggle With Patience

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It has been a while since I've posted an entry. In all honesty, I had it my head that I would stay quiet for a while and come back with this beautiful story of transformation. Well, that still may happen, but I think that I have grossly underestimated the time required for a shift to occur, let alone a wholesale transformation.A few months ago, I signed up with a wellness coach, and it has been great. Meg has taken an approach that has helped me explore the emotional side of my struggles with weight and self-image. The work has been far less about "Eat this, not that. Do this. Lift that." and much more about peeling back the stories I tell myself about myself. The level of self-sabotage within me is much higher than I realized or ever imagined. I will be the first to admit that I am hard on myself, but I had no clue how I have been employing behaviors that completely undermine my goals or intentions. It has been pretty hard to stand in this mirror and see who is looking back. One of the hardest parts of this reveal has been that I feel sad, embarrassed even, about my weight and physical shape. I jumped on the scale a few weeks ago and saw that my weight had ticked up by about five pounds. The number on the scale's screen was devasting. I sat in a stupor afterward with the digits swirling around in my head. I wished that I could have released it all with a good cry, but at that moment, when my angst, dismay, and self-loathing completely boiled over, I was paralyzed. Numb.Why can't I seem to make any real, substantive progress toward the weight and body I so deeply desire?I took part in the first meeting of a workshop led by Mark Nepo, and I shared my frustration of finding myself at 52 not knowing what my "thing" is, as well as this constant struggle with weight and body image. Mark lovingly reminded me that things take time. Not long after the workshop, I was reading Emily Maroutian's new book "In Case Nobody Told You," and one passage, in particular, grabbed me by both arms and shook me.

"The only thing that can change your life in one day is either a trauma or a miracle. Everything else takes time."

Wow! I genuinely believe when something repeatedly shows up in your life it's because there's a lesson you're meant to receive, and the agitation with that thing keep coming up until the lesson is learned.Of course, making change takes work, but it also takes time. The deeper I examine my emotional triggers, it becomes clear that I have been struggling with weight and body image since I was a teenager. Realizing how long these feelings have been present (upfront or in the background), it is unrealistic to think I will see the change I desire immediately. I have fallen victim to the trap of expectations and immediacy. There's a saying, "Expectations are premeditated resentments."

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The path from where you are to where you want to go is rarely a straight line. That's easy to grasp, but often hard to practice in day-to-day life.I keep saying to myself, "I am smart enough to know better. I know what I shouldn't eat. I know that I should find some regular movement and exercise." After a while, it has become clear that intelligence or willpower have less to do with making this sort of transformation than patience. I can't go to the gym for a couple of weeks and expect a six-pack to appear magically, but somehow that expectation shows up. I cannot eat a steady diet of quinoa and kale and think my man boobs or 40+ inch belly circumference will melt away in a month. Real talk: I have simply given lip service to having patience. I want results now! When they don't show up when I want them, that little naysayer sitting on my shoulder is quick to chime in with "See! You're not losing any weight. You're meant to be a fatty, so go ahead and have that pint of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food. Treat yo'self!"It has become clear that willpower I need to summon is more about patience than food. I have been known to very disciplined with food in the past, but the execution always seemed to wane after a few months. Now, at 52, I know this has to be a lifelong commitment. I am committed to the journey of physical fitness, but I have to be patient for the change I desire. I'm not trying to lose weight for beach season or a wedding (though I am attending one in a couple of weeks that is giving rise to some anxiety). My patience will not only have to be measured in pounds and inches but also forgiveness. I am going to make mistakes along the way. I just made about eight of them last night with Halloween candy. The test will be to look at the behaviors with a non-critical lens. Examine what were the triggers and not why the actions mean I'm a loser.As stated at the outset, I have been keeping to myself about the ups and downs, successes and setbacks. I had some grand "Tada!" reveal in my head, but that would likely mean I wouldn't post for a year or two, if not longer. I think part of the process of working through my issues will be to share them openly. It may help others struggling with the same issues. It may present an opportunity to hear and learn from others traveling on their paths toward self-love. So, stay tuned for more posts from me. Some may be short, random thoughts/musings. Some may be mental or emotional dumps.Peace!

Gratitude

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Almost six weeks ago, I jumped on a Metro bus to return home from a Yin Yoga class. I had my phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note 8, in my pocket. After getting settled into the house, I went to play some music and realized that I couldn't find my phone. I pinged the phone from my watch to no avail. It was then that I started to panic, though it was initially a measured panic. I say that because, on the way to class, I struggled to fit the phone into the pocket of my yoga shorts and close the zipper. Naturally, I had to take the phone out of my pocket for class, but I guess that I assumed the pocket was zipped up around the phone when I left. After tossing every cushion in the living room and walking around in a few circles, I jumped online to see if I could track my phone. Android devices, much like Apple devices, has a feature, if enabled, that allows you to track the last known location. I was ready to jump in my car and chase down the bus to see if I could retrieve the phone. I saw the device on a map that seemed to mirror the bus route. Unfortunately, within a couple of minutes, the phone sat idle on along bus route.Perhaps I was still in denial or just shock, but I surprisingly sat frozen in time for a few minutes. I started at the green pin that indicated the phone's location on the map. The green pin meant the phone was still powered on. I came to my senses and locked the phone remotely and pushed an emergency notice to display on the screen. "THIS PHONE IS LOST. IF FOUND, PLEASE CONTACT ME FOR RETURN AND REWARD." I included my email address. I waited for about 10 minutes, starting at the green pin. Nothing. I kept thinking, "Maybe I should drive to the location to see if someone ditched the phone." The problem was that I didn't have another device to keep tabs of the phone's location so I could be too late by the time I got there. What to do? Another five minutes, or so, pass when I noticed the green pin went grey. That meant the device had gone offline. Someone had powered down the phone. Ugh! I felt like I went through several stages of grief in the 20-30 minutes after discovering my phone was missing. I quickly moved to acceptance or resignation that the phone was gone. I arranged for the phone to be completely wiped the next time the phone was powered on. I keep my phone pretty secure, so I knew a data wipe would be fine. My only residual worry was the microSD card in the phone. It was the default location for saving photos from the camera. While all of the images were backed up with Google Photos, I was concerned about someone being able to get access to the images and do something stupid. Nothing scandalous, mind you; but still. I went into the wireless account to report the phone lost/stolen. This is supposed to flag the phones electronic ID, preventing anyone from being able to register the device with any U.S. carrier. At this point, there's no way to know if that flag worked because once I wiped the phone I could no longer track any of its activity.For a while, I thought about using this loss as an opportunity to take a break from smartphones. I frequently think about stepping away from the smartphone game and giving myself the benefit of a notification-free life. Fortunately, I usually keep a spare phone or two in the house; including a flip phone that a few friends mercilessly roast me about owning and using. Oh, shoot...I remembered that I wiped those "dumb phones" and donated them to a charity. That left me with an iPhone 5S and a Huawei Nexus 6P (Google's Android flagship released in the fall of 2015). Since I've been using Android for the last three years, I decided to dust off the Nexus 6P and activate it on my line. I was back in business.While I was happy to have an extra phone in the house, that is not what lead to this post.Carla was making arrangements with Samsung to get the new Galaxy Note 9. Full disclosure: She's been an unpaid talent ambassador, of sorts, for a few years. She asked if the Samsung rep if they set her up with two Note 9s, and shared the story of me losing my phone on the bus. They could not offer me a Note 9 but told her they would send me a Galaxy S9. Sweet! A couple of weeks turned into a month, but the phone was finally shipped and I was giving a shipping tracking number. On the scheduled day of delivery, I was like a kid on Christmas morning, sitting on the front porch anxiously waiting for the UPS driver. The driver handed me the package and I went inside to a clear dining room table for my big reveal and unboxing. I tore the edge of the padded shipping envelope. Anticipation is at full throttle. And then...

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Out drops the familiar black Samsung box with the words Galaxy S8 Plus. Hmmm. Frown. That's not what I was expecting. Though not as bad, it reminded me when my parents faked me out one Christmas. I asked for a boom box and there was a big box under the tree. I was so excited until I tore off the wrapping paper and discovered a clipper ship model. What...In the entire...F*CK!?Again, my reaction to the Galaxy S8 Plus wasn't that bad. But it would be quite disingenuous if I said that I wasn't disappointed. To the average, non-nerdy, non-tech following smartphone user/consumer, there's not much difference. But to someone who reads

The Verge

and

Recode

almost every day, there is a pretty discernable difference -- from the internal specs to the all-important camera upgrade.

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Galaxy S9+ < > Galaxy S8+

In spite of my grumblings and WTFs, I started to get the phone set up. Most things with the setup felt familiar because I was had the Samsung Note 8. I could not get the damn thing to upgrade from Android 7 Nougat to Android 8 Oreo, which only turned up the heat on my self-pity skillet. Why didn't I get the S9 or S9 Plus? Wah wah wah.After a few minutes (read: about a full day) of grumbling about receiving the S8 Plus, it felt like a huge sign fell out of the sky and hit me square on the head. It read.

GRATITUDE

Here I am sulking like the younger me staring at a build-it-yourself clipper ship under the Christmas tree. How about being grateful that Samsung sent you the phone? They didn't have to give you anything! Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth. Here I am scuffing my shoes because I received last year's model, and not appreciating that I have been spared spending $1,000 or more on a new phone. I was reminded of something Mark Nepo shared at a workshop in New York earlier this year.

"We're chasing there, but we need to realize there is no there. There is only here."

I am a little embarrassed about my reaction but so glad that I took some time to step back, process, and be truly appreciative. The upside of this episode with the phone is that it has led to examine where I need to display more genuine gratitude and thankfulness for people and experiences, much more than things, in my life.

In Defense of the Sensitive Man

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I originally posted this piece on my old blog, My Name Is Not Matt, in August 2011. I was humbled that it was picked up by, and modified slightly for, The Root. Have we made progress with regard to this issue in the last seven years? I don't know.

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In the past couple of weeks, a friend (who is gay) told me that two people asked him if I was gay. It appears that the common thread is that I am considered sensitive. I guess, more sensitive than one would expect a straight male to be. (more on this later) I didn't have a knee-jerk "Hell no! I'm a women-lovin' straight male." reaction. Instead, I was curious to get to the root of the issue -- Sensitive men. Funnily enough, I've been thinking about writing this blog piece for quite some time. If nothing else, I can credit a couple people asking, indirectly, if I was gay for prodding me to get these thoughts out of my head.For the better part of a year, or so, I've been thinking about gender roles. I've tried to explore why I get so annoyed when a guy is put down for being sensitive. The term, sensitive, is so used generically, that one is left to think that men are not supposed to express or display even a modicum of sensitivity. We're supposed to be hard. The flaw with that line of thinking is that it suggests that sensitivity is weakness. That it makes you, somehow, less of a man. Well…I'm calling bullshit on that!I would argue that a sensitive man is actually a strong individual. A sensitive man is someone with enough security and confidence in himself that being sensitive, compassionate, or even vulnerable, is not a threat. Far too often, I hear the expression, "You're too sensitive." This expression is directed at both men and women. I think when it's said to a woman, it is an attempt to silence her emotions and not deal with issues. When it's said to man, it's meant to deride the guy for caring. He's being soft. Going all Ralph Tresvant. Acting like a little bitch (the bedroom scene from Super Bad comes to mind). Oh…he's acting gay.I think it's too convenient to label gay men as sensitive, because it plays on a stereotype of (all) gay men as sensitive and effeminate. I have been around, or seen, plenty of gay guys that are far from what I would deem sensitive. In fact, many gay guys are just that…guys. They can be dicks just like the next guy. I almost think it's funny that a gay guy would question whether I was gay because I'm sensitive. I, honestly, think he was using that as a cover to play out what was in his head … but that's another story.Anyway, I feel like I am drifting a bit here. Maybe I am venting a bit because I have had more than a few rough patches in my life when I was derided for being sensitive. I think it's worth clarifying that when I speak of sensitive, I'm talking about actually taking an interest in others, being willing to listen more than talk, be empathic, and not have sex running through my head when interacting with a woman. As with anything else, I'm sure there are limits. I'm not talking about people who fall to pieces. That's the extreme side of sensitivity. Hypersensitivity? I do know. I really don't want to put a label on it. I had a good friend once get on me about using the expression "You're overreacting!" She averred that everyone is entitled to his or her own reaction to things, and it's not for me to define it. So, I won't try to draw a line around what I deem to be overly-sensitive, because that would be contradictory and defeat the very point of this post.Look up the definition of sensitive in Merriam Webster. While the string of definitions won't probably surprise you, I think it's very telling to look at the synonyms and antonyms.

Synonyms: delicate, fine, keen, perceptive, quick, acute, sharp.Antonyms: insusceptible, invulnerable, unexposed, unsusceptible.

I am sure there are times when people should be unsusceptible or invulnerable. However, I think in day-to-day interactions with people, being acute, perceptive, quick, sharp, or even delicate, is a more appealing and useful personality trait.I honestly think the way most of us have been conditioned, from childhood, to look at gender roles is the culprit. Girls play with dolls and tea sets. Boys eat boogers and throw rocks. Girls wear pink…boys don't. If that line, even remotely, is crossed, boys are admonished to "stop acting like a girl." It starts early. The funny thing is, girls get conditioned with this bullshit, too. Though I'm not going into any depth about how all this affects women, it doesn't mean I am not aware. I'm just taking time to expand on something I can speak on from personal experience.For instance, though I don't recall what lead up the encounter, something bad happened to me while I was in college. I went over to the dorm room of a woman I was interested in, and confided in her. As we talked, I became more upset and eventually started to cry. I don't remember everything about the exchange, because what stands out is what happened the next day. I walked into the student center and sat down with some friends. It didn't take long before one of them giggled and did a little "boo hoo" thing. I asked what that was about, and one of guys said, "Yeah, I heard you were over in ___'s room crying like a little bitch." Ugh! I was a little mortified, but, quite honestly, I was more upset with the woman that sat with me as I unraveled. I wasn't upset, so much, that she shared that I cried in her room. No, I was more upset by the way she clearly characterized the whole thing. You see, guys are not supposed to cry. We aren't expected to care enough to even reach that point. When we do cry or express concern, it's supposed to be masculine. Cry, but only three tears and you wipe them from your eyes in a manly way. Don't even think about sobbing.Of course, crying and sobbing are at one end of the sensitivity spectrum. The other, more benign, end is simply talking, listening, and sharing feelings. I saw a Tweet a few weeks back by a woman. She said (paraphrasing), "I can't stand sensitive dudes. If I wanted to sit around and talk about my feelings I would've called one of my girl friends. MAN UP!" The first thought that ran through my head is that this woman young, and she is going to get exactly what she asked for in a partner -- a hard, insensitive man. Then, when the guy treats her like shit, she will be complaining that the guy didn't care and didn't tend to her needs. I see a lot of couples that go along with this rigid role-playing. The guys go hang out with their guy friends -- ironically talking to them about personal stuff, often griping about what they're not getting from their significant others. The conversations will get clipped, though, if a guy is veering too far down a path paved with emotions and feelings. Meanwhile, the women talk to their girlfriends about their feelings, dreams and desires -- both met and, often, unmet. All the while, the two are going through the motions in the relationship. Does that mean the two don't truly love each other? No. Most do love each other, but I can't help but think about how much deeper that love would be if they eliminated the gender role buffers. So many couples don't really know what's going on, emotionally, with their significant others. Don't get me wrong here. There are plenty of times when I hit the point where I feel like there's just too much talking. However, when it comes to trying to get to the core of what's going on with my wife, my son, my family members or friends, I need to listen and explore.Ok, I could, honestly, write about this for a long time; but I will bring this to a close. I am sure there will be some that will see this post and scream, "Man up!!" That's ok. I have been slowly moving to a place where I am more confident and comfortable with just being who I am.In my mind, there is something perfectly normal about a non selfrighteous, sensitive straight man.

Pursuing Passion Can Pay Off

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I have been looking through old blog posts from my site My Name Is Not Matt to see which ones I'll repost here. I knew there was a video by Gary Vaynerchuk in a 2009 post that I wanted to carry over. It's something that resonated with me at the time it came out because I was trying to figure out how to do more with my photography and wondered frequently if I should go pro and do photography a full-time. (It's funny how this seed was planted nine years ago.) Given my decision to leave my job and take time to tune into my "thing," a few people have expressed concerns about me giving up salary. I have never been driven by a salary figure, but do believe in receiving fare compensation for whatever it is I do or provide. I wasn't thinking about Gary's video when I made the decision to leave my job, nor I am all that focused on making more money than I do in the job I left. That said...what Gary talks about in this video is food for thought.http://youtu.be/ael5Hoqqryg

Thoughts on "Next"

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The most common question asked since I started telling people I was leaving my job at the FDA is ... "What's next?" I revealed that I don't know what's next. I am not taking a sabbatical. I am not formally retiring. I am not leaving FDA for another job. While some immediately understood, a larger number of folks openly expressed, or poorly tried to hide, disbelief, befuddlement, or incredulity. It was as if saying "I don't have a plan" simply did not, or could not, compute and threw a lot of people for a loop. 

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Say what now?! How can you not have a plan?

At the risk of alienating some of you, I have say that I think a lot of people are obsessed with "next." As I shared in my piece

I Demoted Myself

, I think a lot of us suffer from tunnel vision when it comes to our lives and careers. So often, we are future planning. Planning and plotting sequential steps needed to get us from point A to point B, C, D, and beyond. Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think there's anything wrong with having goals and knowing what's needed to reach a desired target. I guess it's fair to say that I am searching for my "thing." Some might call that looking for what's next. *shrug* I call it mental and emotional freedom.What I'm really talking about when I talk of "next," is about moving through life looking well beyond what's in front of us. Primarily focused on what's over the horizon. Not to get all Eckhart Tolle on you, but many of us are ignoring the

Power of Now

. We might be happy now, but we think we'd be so much happier if we --> over there. To quote one of my favorite authors, Mark Nepo, "We're chasing there, but need to realize there is no there. There is only here. If you cannot see what you're looking for, see what's here. That is enough."What I've found in my life is that primarily focusing on the next job, the next pay raise, the next purchase, the next whatever, I wasn't fully present and appreciative of what I already have. I heard recently that whenever we count or compare we cannot be present. The only thing we have control over is our presence or absence. So, I made a decision to not be absent from my life -- right now -- and the ones I love.Funnily enough, it took some amount of planning to make the decision to leave my job and move into an undefined period without a plan. While the obvious is financial planning, most of the work to reach this point was more emotional/psychological. After going through a divorce that wiped me out financially, I became a bit of a squirrel with money. I saved with no clear plan other than I wanted to have a "just in case" safety net. Never did I think that I would rely on my frugality to support putting a 26-year career in my rearview mirror. Of course, it has to be said that support from my wife was essential. I don't know if I would have had the courage, motivation, given myself permission to create empty space without her encouragement.In the end, I made the decision to step away from the pursuit of next so that I might discover what excites, energizes, and sustains. That may lead me toward something to occupies some or a lot of my time. Whatever comes, comes; but I hope to reframe whatever I do less in terms of full-time or part-time, but merely putting my heart, effort, and time into something I love. As a father to a 23 year-old son, I also hope that my actions will offer him some encouragement and freedom to only reach for what stirs his heart and soul.

Be okay with not knowing for sure what might come next, but know that whatever it is, you will be okay.

Creating an Empty Space

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I first started work in the Commissioner's Office at the Food and Drug Administration in May 2005. In the fall of 2008 I moved to a position in the Center for Biologics Research and Review. I'm not a scientist, but I played one at work. Just kidding, I focused on congressional affairs at FDA. A couple of years ago I took a position at the Center for Tobacco Products within FDA. It was unquestionably an upward career move. A promotion. Greater responsibility. Greater visibility. A larger staff. Increased pay. By all accounts, moving into this position was making the best of it. Within a few months I was undeniably miserable. I left the position after eight months. After leaving that job, I returned to the same job I had before the promotion. I wrote more about that experience in a piece called "I Demoted Myself."

Being back at the old job was great. It was familiar and I had great support from the leadership of the office and a fantastic staff. Maybe this was the best of it. After about a year back in the old position, I decided to sign up for a 200-hour yoga teacher training. In my mind, the decision was purely personal. I wanted to improve my practice of yoga, and maybe offer some assistance to family and friends. About two months into the training (it was a program that met one weekend a month for eight months) I was moved by an experience in a class and decided that I wanted to teach. Not full-time, though. I completed that training, along with a second yoga teacher training, by June 2017. I secured the opportunity to teach two regular, weekly yoga classes. The teaching schedule worked well with my work schedule.

While this was going on last year, a position in my office, one step above me, was open. My boss had been promoted and was asked if I were interested in filling this position. I reflexively said yes and didn't think much about it after that. (The hiring process in federal government agencies can take forever.) Sometime last fall, the angst that didn't hit me when I turned 50 started to creep up. I wasn't sure that I wanted to take on the additional responsibility of the higher-level job, but I couldn't put my finger on why? Well...I could, but I wasn't willing to be honest about it. In the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year holiday, I did a lot of thinking and relied on my wife to help me put some shape to my thoughts and feelings. By the time my annual performance meeting rolled around at the end of January of this year, I had decided that my truth was that I was no longer interested in pursuing the promotion, and I was no longer interested in this job. It was again a moment of genuine honesty. More with myself than others. It was tough sharing this truth with my boss, who I adore. We both shed some tears during our discussion, but there was agreement and acknowledgement that this was my truth and a good thing

.A couple of months ago I had lunch with one of the senior leaders I worked under during the “promotion job” I'd left a couple of years ago. We talked about this and that, and I shared that I was planning to leave FDA for good. What was most illuminating about that conversation didn't hit me until much later. Unbeknownst at the time, it occurred to me that the decision to leave that job two years ago was really the beginning of me reaching this moment of clarity. Turning some mythical mid-life age -- 50 or whatever -- wasn't something that induced a crisis. Quite the contrary.

Instead of suffering from a Midlife Crisis...I am discovering Midlife Clarity.

Midlife clarity has less to do with accepting that life is short or without guarantees. Those truths are relatively easy to grasp. For me, midlife clarity is all about being true to my heart and finding comfort with no longer being willing to knuckle down to do a job I don't love or enjoy. Of course, I worked through the normal concerns of any middle-aged person -- mortgage, insurance, other obligations and benefits associated with a salaried job. I am not completely free-spirited, just yet. I spent months crunching numbers to see if it were feasible to have at least a year to step away from what I don't love in the hope that I could connect and get clarity about what fills my heart and brings me joy. Teaching yoga is definitely something that I enjoy, but I am not certain that it's something I want do full-time. In fact, part of this burgeoning midlife clarity is knowing that I want to move away from framing what I do as a full-time job or otherwise. I don't know if this resistance is something I've earned from toiling away at one type of work for almost 26 years, but I'm going to unapologetically assert ownership of my time and headspace.Thanks for reading. I will share more of my thoughts about midlife clarity in future posts, but for now I'll close with a quote by Dr. Rebecca Ray that really resonated with me.

 
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