Thursday, August 18, 2011

The woman in the mirror

I was getting my eyebrows threaded today when Michael Jackson's song, "Man in the Mirror," came on the radio. I never cared for this song or paid much attention to it until after Michael died two years ago and I went through an MJ revival (like the rest of the world) and discovered some hidden wisdom in that song.
I like the simple message that change starts with individuals and as an individual, you do have the power to change your life. I've been thinking about change a lot lately and it seems as if I have an odd relationship with it.
For the last several months, I have felt as my life is in a transition, one that I can't completely identify or grasp. Do I feel like my life is changing just because of my recent 30th birthday? Is my life changing or am I changing?

I like to think of myself as someone who "embraces change" — yes, that's a resume/cover letter phrase — but I must recognize that I tend to resist certain types of change. I don't like it when my personal relationships change in a negative way such as in losing friends or ending romantic relationships. Once I invest in someone, seeing them go always hurts even if it wasn't the best situation for me or caused me harm.
I also don't like it when my situation changes outside of my control. For example, when I was 23, I was in the sixth month of what was supposed to be a 3-year internship in Seattle and the program was cut. I was devastated because I felt like being a reporter at Seattle's leading newspaper was something I had been working toward for years and in what seemed like an instant, my dream job vanished. I took the opportunity to feel sorry myself, cry myself to sleep on a regular basis, conclude that life is and will always be unfair, and then took a job I was only half-way excited or sure about in Baltimore to prove that I wasn't a complete loser and could still write for a major metro daily.
Then I spent six months in Baltimore eating awesome seafood, but thinking of the West Coast all the time and how much I missed it. Luckily only half a year went by before a job offer in the Bay Area materialized and here I am, six years later, pinching myself whenever I witness another awesome San Francisco view.
I mention all this because looking back, I realize I made a lot of major decisions in that period, but I really didn't know what I was getting myself into — a pattern in my life. I could say the same thing about my decision to go to Vanderbilt and every boyfriend I've had in the last decade. I made choices without having a firm grasp of what could, should, or would happen.
On one hand, I could say blind risks pay off. I did graduate from Vanderbilt, after all, right? My time in Baltimore taught me plenty about myself (where I want to live: the West Coast, how much I don't like living alone, that my career shouldn't dictate the rest of my life). Those experiences seem to have a lot of value wheres with the men in my life, there's a lot more hurt and regret attached to the lessons and memories I gleaned.
The word "change" is neither positive or negative. But insisting that you have to change or improve your life sometimes feels like a back-handed compliment. It's like saying, "You think you are doing a good job at living, think again!" Or it implies that there are a lot of things wrong with you or your life. Sure, I want to be a better person, but am I fundamentally flawed? I don't think so.
I don't need to be a different person tomorrow, which, by the way, is impossible. I do believe, however, that making small improvements — tweaks, if you will — is a better approach.
I once interviewed a top female executive of a Texas bank who clearly took on more responsibility at her firm than anyone else. She told me people asked her all the time how she handled all her responsibilities. Her answer, "How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time."
Disregarding the gross visual involving eating an elephant, I agree.
Look in the mirror. Make adjustments. One bite at a time.

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