originally posted on Rx4Caregivers.wordpress.com
Two weeks after my mother died, following an epic elderhood & a purpose-embracing dying, I was shown the door from the big-wig financial services company where I was ten months into being an Employee of the Year (think $1,000 check & a bauble from Tiffany!). They were apparently none too happy that I’d used the Family & Medical Leave Act (FLMA), over the seven weeks between a fall & Mom’s passing. Lesson learned – I didn’t know that all protections under the act are OFF once I reentered my workplace (well worth a separate post!).
Within three weeks, my mother/housemate/buddy/sidekick/wise elder died, my sibs dropped out of my life, the terrific friends that had been part of my life THROUGH Mom disappeared. And, without warning, I lost my job. Sounds horrific & it would have felt that way if I hadn’t been numb.
To the rescue – the Universe totally had my back! Within two weeks of my life spinning into oblivion, a pleasant acquaintance found herself without the data entry she’d lined up to input reams of time-sensitive material. When I declined – data entry is NOT among my skill sets – she explained there would be no rush, but she had to get these statements logged in by February. She didn’t want speed, she wanted someone she knew would show up every day until the job was done. I accepted.
Which is how, from mid October 2001 – early February 2002, I ended up entering statements into a data base to be used as part of an astonishing program that nurtured women for leadership roles. And the statements? They were Statements of Excellence that each applicant to a prestigious year-long fellowship! From the first moment to the last farewell, I knew the experience was filled with magic.
There I was, emotionally splat on my face, all my life supports – save John – knocked out from under me, the job I’d been praised for in November 2000 Xed out in October 2001. I was just beginning to realize how isolated my post-Mom life was going to be. Then, out of the blue, for 3 1/2 months every day found me at the most WOW data entry job on the planet – reading & inputting incredible statements on what astonishing women thought about excellence. Hundreds & hundreds. Magic!
What I learned is that when we’re down on our luck, knocked back on our heels, feeling at a loss for meaning ~OR~ feel stuck in a rut, like there is no way to be more than what & where we, a great revitalizing pick-me-up is to read about excellence. It doesn’t matter if we are in a mega $$$$ career or trying to wedge in sleep between multiple jobs, if we are self-employed or maintain a home or able to get by without any job – – aiming for excellence & backing it up with actions will always put you in a place where wonders can happen, where the zowie unimagined becomes your norm.
Which brings me to James Clear’s excellent article on Sir Richard Branson, who dropped out of school in his teens, followed his dreams instead of someone else’s game plan, makes billions & is still having unabashed fun doing it.
Sad but true – can’t count all the times I’ve talked to brilliant caregivers who shrugged off where they could take their awesome talents. All the “don’ts” & “can’ts” & “I never…” come out. And I have been just as guilty, quietly holding myself back with “I’m tech incompetent” & “I’m a poor delegator” & “I’m don’t have the money.” Versions of the same woe – “I’m not ready.”
As one of my guardian angels would say – “Get over yourself.” Richard Branson didn’t wait until he was ready – he just plunged into things he enjoyed doing. He dropped out of school & started a magazine FOR students, making money through advertising. He sold mail order records as a way of growing magazine readership – the marketing ploy turned into a brick & mortar store which turned into Virgin Records which evolved into a recording studio & his own record label. He started Virgin Airlines because he was with a beautiful woman & the flight to their island paradise was canceled. He became one of the wealthiest me on the planet by following his interests & having fun. I’m pretty sure that not once did he ask himself, “Am I ready?”
It drives me nuts how talented people with plenty to offer label themselves as UN whatever it is that calls out for them to be. We are called to be excellent, yet sell ourselves short.
Inputting all those Statements of Excellence was ideal – dare I say, excellent – grounding for my new reality. I’d love to say that it helped me bounce right back, take on the world, usher in a bright new tomorrow filled with rainbow days & star-drenched nights. In truth, I went through a year of personal oblivion, another of struggling back up on my feet, a whole bunch of simply trying to stay upright. Hey, I’d lost my almost everything that had identified life! But I was fueled by all those thoughts on what excellence meant to stupendously gifted & brilliant women.
Novelist John Gardner noted, “Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” It doesn’t matter which side of the care partnership equation someone is on, doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way will always lead us to greatness. It might be recognized by others, it might never be noticed. My mother never failed, even in hospice, to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways, from big things like answering e-mails from a local college’s Psych 101 students to maintaining a positive attitude as John & I changed her sanitary pad. John showed it in his smiles & sunny disposition, his tenderness toward his m-i-l & his never-failing kindness to me. As for moi… you’d have to ask them.
There is incredible power in excellence, wherever you are on the care partner equation. Am leaving the last word on the matter to Plato, who nails what I’ve tried to say – “Excellence is not a gift, but a skill that takes practice. We do not act rightly because we are excellent; in fact, we achieve excellence by acting rightly.”