One night last week, I flossed my teeth. And that’s when I knew that things were about to change. Stick with me, it’ll make sense in a bit.
We all understand about valleys and mountains in life. Some of us are better at managing our time in the valleys, while others might need reminders that the valley isn’t permanent, and that there are roads that lead to higher ground. For the last year or two, I’ve been in a bit of a valley. I’ve known all my life that I’m capable of greatness, but I’ve struggled with the execution, the discipline, the hard work needed to rise up and do something truly great. I’m most comfortable in the valley, where there’s less chance for failure, and where falling down doesn’t hurt as much, as I’m already pretty close to the ground. That’s not to say I haven’t had some success, and achieved some level of greatness in many areas in my life. It’s just that many (maybe most?) of these successes have come fairly easily to me. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point, I stopped working hard, stopped pursuing excellence, and settled for the mediocre. It’s a comfortable, yet miserable existence. I was made for better than this, and I know it.
So, I’m in this valley. I feel stuck. I’m 40 as of October 2012, and my résumé seems to indicate that I’m a fairly competent Information Technology professional, though I have no real passion for it. I’m thankful to be working and providing for my family, but there are many other things I’d rather being doing as a career. I sort of fell into this track back in the late 90’s, and really enjoyed it for the first several years. I learned what made computers tick, solved difficult technical problems, and impressed others with my knowledge. Then, at some point, the honeymoon was over, and I realized that I wanted out. I wanted a career that made more use of the creative side of my brain before it atrophied. BUT, I was the sole bread-winner in a family of six, and I didn’t want my wife or kids to worry about food or shelter while I “found myself,” so I stuck it out, tried to make the best of it. I stayed in the same position at a small liberal arts college in rural Southern Illinois for over 10 years. I really liked the people there, but grew less and less fond of the work I was doing.
Finally, I decided to take a risk and started looking for a new position in St. Louis (an hour commute each way). Although I’d resigned myself to continuing on in a technical role, I thought that perhaps a change of scenery would help me. Of course, it didn’t. I mean, there were certainly bright spots, like getting to work in the marketing office for an upstart toy company, sharing offices and other resources with Build-A-Bear. There, I had some great opportunities to exercise the creative side of my brain from time to time: regular brainstorming sessions, occasional creative writing projects, sitting in on design walk-throughs for virtual world game development, but I was still in a largely technical role. I worked in two other roles in St. Louis before returning to work for a local company in town as an IT Manager.
This valley is made up of more than just career woes. I start things and don’t finish them. I had an amazing opportunity to do some writing for a travel website this summer. I wrote a couple of articles, and had 2-3 more assignments to go before I just stopped. I got scared of failure or something, and just stopped responding to the editor. I leave projects untouched all over our house. Simple stuff, like changing out a light fixture in the bathroom to slightly bigger projects like leaving a hallway half painted for two years. I get overwhelmed, and rather than do just a little something to attack a problem, I give in to fear or apathy, and find the path of least resistance.
Back to flossing. I was standing in front of the mirror, evaluating myself. What had I become? Would I always be like this? Was escape from the mundane even possible for me? Did I deserve to ask such questions? Shouldn’t I just be content with what I have and stop complaining? I mean, there are plenty of people around me who are struggling to find ANY kind gainful employment, and I’m whining about some perceived lack of pleasure for eight hours of my blessed life. I concluded that I could at least try to change direction. I could chose to work hard. I could take baby steps. I could stop giving up and conceding. I could begin to crawl out of this valley of OH MY GOSH IT’S PROBABLY BEEN A YEAR SINCE I FLOSSED MY TEETH WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU BRIAN!!!
So, I flossed. It was something. It was a small step, yes, but I felt like Neville Longbottom flying through the air and slashing the head off Voldemort’s snake. Plaque and apathy be damned, I’m climbing back up out of this stupid valley.