Thursday, March 14, 2013

Leaping into the Future

Last weekend, I gave some surprising advice to a friend's daughter. Surprising not in the sense that it was out of the ordinary or unsolicited (it was not at all the first, and entirely the second), but that it was coming from me.

The young lady in question is a high school senior. That in itself amazes me because I've watched her grow up. She is staying local for college next year, and was talking about the plans she was making to volunteer in what is now her high school, and this time next year will be her alma mater.

I found myself telling her not to make promises, not to lock herself into too many things just yet. I told her that was important to move forward and connect herself with what was to come, that at some point, those opportunities at the school she loves wouldn't feel as essential as they do right now. At some point, when she least expected it, she'd find herself immersed in something new and less in need of the things that seem so important now.

In retrospect, I should also have told her that volunteering was great, that she'd always have a special place in her heart for the junior-senior high school that had been the alma mater for her mother and aunts and uncle as well - though I'm guessing she already knew that.

So instead I told her what people were telling me a year ago - don't overbook yourself right out of the gate. Give yourself some time to find out what you really want to do. The unspoken piece to that second part is that the possibilities are endless.

It felt odd being on this end of that advice, and odder still that more than a year has passed since I was the one hearing it. In that year, I've taken steps toward a second career - one that I love as much as I loved the one I left behind. So much of my day-to-day life is completely different, yet I feel no sense of loss. It has been almost a year of knitting together the past and the future, stitching them with the threads of friendships that have remained constant and true.

Last year, on the cusp of retirement, I realized that I hadn't made a change this big since I'd finished graduate school and begun my career - just a step or two ahead of where my young friend is now. In my 20s, still single and with my whole life ahead of me, it was hard to imagine how all the pieces would someday fit together. Last year, more than two decades later, I once again tried to reconcile the desire to hold on to what was important with the need to move on and move forward, knowing on some level that it was the people that were the link. I devised ways to stay connected - volunteer opportunities and social gatherings that kept me in touch with the people and things that were important - much as my friend's daughter is doing now. Initially, I clung to those opportunities and those people, but it wasn't long before they weren't the only thing that kept me afloat.

And that's what I wanted to tell her. While the connections you have now will always be your ports in a storm, you'll create new ones as well. Some of the old will fall away - and that will be both necessary and sometimes even desirable - and although what's important will remain, it will need to be integrated into the ports you've not yet sailed to or even imagined. Sometimes your business in new places will keep you away from what is familiar for longer than you expect, and that will be okay. Clinging too closely to what you know simply because it's familiar may not be in your best interest because the seas are vast and full of opportunity. Know where your ports are, but never be afraid to venture beyond them because the journey may be more incredible than you can imagine.

But the journey is something we all must discover - and create - for ourselves. A year from now she will be in a new place, but at them moment, she has both feet in the old and is merely contemplating the leap to new territory. And I hope with all my heart that her leap will take her into amazing things.

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