Life’s Churlish Disappointments

It seems to me that when one sets off on an adventure, life ought to accommodate that quest joyfully and should suit itself to one’s sense of excitement.  It should bask in that frisson of anticipation that good things are to come.  But sometimes life doesn’t.  Sometimes it steadfastly refuses to become adventurous, and instead wallows in the mundane slog of life.  Otherwise stated, sometimes life is riddled with churlish disappointments.

One of my LinkedIn pals wrote a comment awhile back, observing that my life has certainly been an adventure.  When I read her post, I felt like I was harboring a dirty little secret.  Because the truth is that, in fact, my life, much like yours no doubt, has actually been long slogs of unremarkable life, punctuated by the occasional — and thus all the more memorable — fun adventure.

I’m luckier than many in the adventures I have had.  They have been numerous and they were terrific fun.  But adventures are often little more than an upbeat attitude cloaked around a life passage, rendering it remarkable, uplifting, inspirational, or just downright fun!

So perhaps what is striking me now as a Churlish Disappointment is little more than February doldrums dressed up as seasonal affective disorder.  Unfortunately, however, this Churlish Disappointment has an air of finality, not seasonality, to it.

We are all, of course, accustomed to Life’s Little Disappointments.  They pepper our days, and we shake them off like a dog scatters raindrops off its back after a recent inclement sortie.  Then we move on purposefully about our business.  Life’s Little Disappointments are eminently forgettable.

dog shaking off water
Shaking off life’s little disappointments.

On the other end of the spectrum are Life Regrets.  They are the big ticket items — the things we thought we would never experience or would never miss experiencing, but somehow we did and suddenly it’s too late reasonably to believe that the missed opportunity will present itself again.  Or it will forever be impossible to undo the magnitude of the experience one regrets having had.  Life Regrets are things like never getting that hoped-for college degree, never having children, losing a child, getting a divorce, or perhaps not getting a divorce.

Churlish Disappointments are midway along the ‘life sometimes stinks’ spectrum, although perhaps leaning closer in towards the Life Regrets end.  Webster’s dictionary says that churlish suggests “surliness, unresponsiveness, and ungraciousness,” as in churlish remarks.  And that’s the way I feel about the Churlish Disappointment of which I write.

Life Sometimes Stinks
The Life Sometimes Stinks Spectrum

Life turned downright surly, unresponsive, and ungracious on me as I moved forward on my adventure to transition from a career as an erstwhile civil rights and employment lawyer/HR consultant to the life of a wildlife/ecosystem conservation professional.  My hopes were high, my network has been both informative and facilitative, and my enthusiasm burned hot.  So what happened?  Or rather, perhaps, what did not?

Regular readers will recall that this adventure was the driving force behind this blog, which was to chronicle the unlikely but enthusiastically undertaken career transformation.  It’s fair to say that over this four month quest, what happened is simple.  Life happened.  The slog of life.  The reality of life.  The adventure led to certain inescapable conclusions which follow and which qualify regrettably more as ‘slog of life’ reasons than as ‘snippets of glorious adventure’ reasons.  (Like I said earlier, my life, no doubt like yours, is often an unremarkable long and lonely slog.)

uphill slog
Life is sometimes an uphill slog.

The realities are that it’s hard to change careers when one can offer only transferable skills, rather than a skill set in the chosen career path.  Other realities abound.  Opportunities are few and far between in the conservation/ecosystem space, and the competition is fierce, especially among those with the proper skill set.  Folks like myself are viewed as well meaning, but better suited to board posts or volunteer activities.

The gig is not completely up.  I have a few remaining irons in the fire, and a dynamite new network of incredibly talented wildlife, animal care and protection, and ecosystem professionals whose work literally may mean the difference between the continued existence of some species we hold dear (elephants and lions, to name but two) and others you may never have heard of, such as the little known pangolin, About the Pangolin, the world’s most heavily trafficked creature.  Yet, the dye is likely cast.  This particular adventure may be morphing into a more modest undertaking of volunteer proportions.

I prefer to look at this endeavor as one that is not over, rather as one that requires a lot longer time horizon than I anticipated or could sustain for near-term employability purposes.  I will continue my volunteer efforts and hope that this will provide a path to more sustained involvement in wildlife conservation efforts.  In other words, the slog of life continues without the romance of adventure for the moment.

Fortunately, as one door closes another opens, and my search for a position in the Human Resources compliance arena (which is congruent with my past work experience) has gained early and strong traction.

The blog too will continue as that is the essence of life.  Whether it relates to a blog or a journey, one continues on even as the adventure fades, and the purposeful stride settles into a less ambitious slog.  Either way, you’re covering the territory in front of you and sometimes, on a bitter cold, sunlight-slighted February day, that’s all you can hope for as you move forward, putting yet another Churlish Disappointment resolutely behind you.

hiking a snowy mountain as sun sets
Putting one foot in front of the other on a sunlight-slighted day.
open door
As one door closes, another opens.  Onward and upward!

“Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way” — Finding your new path …

One of my favorite sayings is “Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”  As it turns out, this is a quote from General George S. Patton, and it bespeaks both patience and impatience — at least from my perspective.  It conjures up impatience at obstacles, be they human or inchoate ones, such as indecision.  Yet, it also conjures up the patience to follow a true leader, once he or she emerges.

So it is with transition directions, you know the right direction once you’ve identified it, but you sometimes need a muse or guide to get you to that point.  Sometimes that GPS route finder just doesn’t cut it.  As described in my last blog post, this was my dilemma, and it was not resolved until I had a long, hard look at my bookshelves and queried them as to where my heart’s interests lie.  Figuring that might not work for everyone, I started querying my Colgate sojourners for their advice.

Jack Blanchard, ’60, says, “Don’t be shy, and reach out.  It will evolve.”  He recommends that seekers talk with all of their contacts, their interesting contacts, and see what they do.  “[I]t’s almost instinctive,” he adds, saying “we need to connect the dots to blend the discoveries of what others are doing.  Nothing is more important than reaching out and making contacts to follow the thread of what others are doing.”

Your contacts will help you orient towards your own true north.
Your contacts will help you orient towards your own true north.

Jack believes there is a core of creativity in every Colgate grad, saying you didn’t get admitted to Colgate unless you have it.  That creative tinder will be sparked by your contacts with the folks you admire, and create a fledgling flame that, when stoked, becomes your next exciting transition.

The creative flame
The creative flame

The right transition path, he adds, involves something you would love to do, something you think would be really interesting to do.  The questions that naturally arise include things like what would it cost, or what would it pay, or how could I do that?  But you can’t let the cost or ‘how to’ questions slow you down too much since there will always be “financial surprises.”

When he was researching his own transition from public relations professional to therapist, Adam Sachs, ’85,  took comfort  from a study that showed that those making a transition eventually wound up back at their old income levels.  Indeed, many found themselves making more money.  All the more reason not to get stuck on the question, what will it pay?

jigsaw puzzle money
Don’t get too hung up on how the financial end of things will piece together.

Jack rightly notes:  “The scary part is the ‘what if’s’ but the problem is if you don’t evaluate the other paths, in spite of the ‘what if’s’, you will wind up hating yourself, you will pay a price for that indecision.”   And the price you pay is a soul-sapping one that takes its toll over the long haul.

Diane Danielson, ’89, has a system she recommends to folks who are stuck that reminds me of some of the exercises in my how to books, only her system is a lot simpler.  She recommends that you write down three projects that you’re really proud of.  They can be work related, volunteer projects, or hobbies.  Write three paragraphs about what you liked about those three projects.  Common themes will emerge from those ‘likes,’ and they become the core of your next endeavor. Diane has a friend who used this technique and quickly realized that teaching was a thread than ran through all three of her favorite projects.

Another test Diane employs is to look hard at what you like to do in your free time.  Whatever that is reflects the type of work environment you need.  Diane continues to play soccer.  She plays all positions, and will cover for anyone, so she needs a work environment that mirrors that.  Her chief operating officer position is perfect for her.  As COO, she gets the variety of responsibility she craves, with never a dull moment between tasks.

In closing, it bears repeating:  don’t be put off by the challenges posed by your new direction.  Rather, to quote Patton once again:  “Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.”

victory is yours
“Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.” General George S. Patton

Harebrained schemes I have had … and thrived!

This is … there is no doubt about it … one of my more harebrained schemes.  Lunching on the back deck after searching LinkedIn Groups for wildlife conservation groups, and finding but a few, kind of brought it home to me.   Leaving a career predicated on the lawyerly skills I earned over the years, and deciding instead to land a job in wildlife conservation — preferably involving elephants — is a downright wacky idea.  After all, there are no elephants in my little corner of Pennsylvania.

Then, however, I recalled other harebrained schemes I have hatched, pursued, and oddly enough, survived.  Even succeeded at.  I credit Colgate University and the old Jan Plan program for this propensity to succeed at harebrained schemes.

Back in the day, as all my old fart classmates will recall, you could come up with an independent study project, find a professor as wacky as you were to sponsor it, and then spend the month of January accomplishing the project for course credit before resuming the more traditional spring semester of coursework come frigid-in-Hamilton, NY- February.

One of my Jan Plans, for instance, involved writing a paper in French about how the Paris subway system was constructed, with a special focus on the tunnels underneath the Seine as this was, if my memory serves, a construction first for a subway system — underwater tunneling.  Granted, this Jan Plan gave me an excuse to return to Paris for the month of January where my Lebanese boyfriend awaited, but I did read lots and lots about la construction du metro Parisien while haunting the Hotel de Sens in the fourth arrondisement, and got credit for the paper I wrote on the topic.

Another, perhaps more useful Jan Plan, involved getting approval to translate Albert Camus’  20th century masterpiece, L’Etranger, into English as the then-existing translation was piss poor, and mangled just about every bit of Camusian symbolism that the unsuspecting Albert had worked into the original.  It was a really bad translation.  The then head of the Romance Languages department, Elwyn Sterling, agreed with me on that and the need for a better one.

Interestingly, Prof. Sterling never raised an eyebrow, or indeed expressed le moindre scepticisme, about the fact that I intended to translate an entire novel in four short weeks.  By week 3, I was roughly at page 9 out of 85 fine-print pages in the Gallimard edition.  Trust me on this:  translating a major work of French literature is just not as simple as ordering a wedge of drooling Camembert from your local fromager!

I returned during week 3, hat in hand, to give him an update.  “Love the project,” I declared enthusiastically.  “I’m really learning so much.  And I really want to continue it,” I said.  But, I sheepishly informed him, I was not as far along as I had hoped, and would not be able to complete it during the Jan Plan month-long semester.

No worries, was his ready reply.  (And, again, he had the grace to act not the least surprised that the project was taking longer than my absurdly naïve initial estimate.)  “Take the spring semester as well, and knock it out by the time you graduate in May, and I’ll arrange for January and spring semester credits.”  And so it was done.  And by May, I was done.  I had translated L’Etranger into a more respectable English language version of The Stranger.  Someday, I should self-publish the darned thing because it was a heck of a lot of work!

Some other harebrained schemes that worked out well that I recalled over lunch include the following:

Pursuing a civil rights case that everyone declared a dead, bang loser, and creating the hostile work environment sexual harassment cause of action for my client Cathy Broderick and other women and men in the workforce.  (That baby got international press coverage — my 15 minutes of fame — which was tarnished only by the fact that I had to hide softshell crab schmutz beneath a borrowed jacket when interviewed by the Today Show because the crab gunk had squirted onto my chest over lunch.)

Deciding at age 17 to spend a year abroad before college.  It was the only thing my Mom ever forbade me to do.  She thought I was too young.  Colgate thought it was a grand idea and told me to take two years if I wanted to, my admissions place was secure.  After heavily lobbying all my Mom’s friends, who also thought it a grand idea since it did not involve their teenaged daughter, I spent the most fun year of my life in the City of Lights.  (That’s when I started to wonder, while of course riding the metro, how on earth does one put a subway tunnel under the Seine after all?!)

Swimming upstream in the Okavango Delta in Botswana after a long, hot day traveling in a dug out tree trunk — preferred travel mode in those parts.  Our very pissed off guide informed me that the place was teeming with crocodiles, and was not amused when I asked, why then had he said we could swim.  (He meant rinse off in the puddle close to shore.)   Even the local villagers tried to warn me, but the confusion on my part was understandable since I didn’t speak Tswana.  Thus, when villagers along the shore smiled broadly, waved, and shouted “kwena,” as I swam upstream, I smiled and waved back between breast strokes, calling out, “Yes, it’s a beautiful river.”  Kwena, as you have wisely deduced, is actually Tswana for croc not river!

Okay, granted that scheme was stupid, but I did survive to tell the tale.  Indeed, I thrived.

So, now you can understand how the most harebrained schemes are hatched, pursued, and how they succeed.  It’s a Colgate thing.  It came with our meal plan and Jan Plan, all neatly included in the fee for tuition.    No matter how harebrained your scheme, if you had the confidence to try it, the professors backed you up wholeheartedly as you inched your way towards a successful outcome.

And that, gentle reader, is how a former civil rights lawyer/investigator hatched her plan to pursue her heart rather than her head in seeking out a career path in animal conservation.  Yep, preferably involving elephants despite a marked shortage of that noble beast here in my backyard in PA.  And I’ve insured my ultimate success by reaching out to Colgate’s Career Center who is enthusiastically backing my plan.  So, I’m bound to succeed.  And thrive.  That’s the Colgate way.

Come along for the ride!   Hold my hand!  Send words of encouragement my way!  I’m going to need it for this may be my most harebrained scheme yet!  And doesn’t it sound like fun?  Go Gate!

Matriarch elephants with baby
Elephant with baby calf