This week the words of an old friend came to me as I reflected back on how I was frustrated for lack of a job offer. It’s been a few months now since I’ve been actively seeking the next job and it’s been an extended carnival ride. The experience reminded me of my previous career as a learning consultant, traveling internationally to talk to young leaders, and to share my experiences about leading people through tough financial times. This one class was for a favorite client in San Jose, Costa Rica. As managers sometimes had done, there was an informal class standout who suggested those with flexibility plan to have dinner on the night of our last workshop day. We were coming home from the dinner and Luis our arranger had asked permission to stop for gas after kindly offering to shuttle a few of us home. Luis was a very busy Project Executive who had made time to socialize with me his leadership development class instructor and the few classmates able to join us for some great Costa Rican food. He was divorced, successful, and a philosophical man, an excellent fit for the job of Project Executive, or as he called it the one-throat-to-choke contact for problems. I’d noted several times during our 3 day workshop that his reflection, his thoughtful responses to difficult situations during his work and home life had come from his own life lessons. We’d said in the car how fast change can come at us and sometimes be showered upon us like a cold rain. Luis smirked and said “my father always told his kids, ‘you wanna make God laugh? Plan your life!‘ ” None of us believed God to be so cavalier or capricious and mean, but those words come back to me each time I’ve been struck by the events that compelled me to write a blog about depression and anxiety. We can plan for small portions of our lives, but the universe has plans of its own, and our ability to cope, be resilient, and persistent will keep us sane and moving forward.
Depressed people are often obsessed with looking backwards in the rearview mirror instead of the path out of a dark depression. One of my favorite films “Midnight in Paris” is a Woody Allen fantasy where the main character believes he would’ve lived better in France’s belle epoque around 1920. In real movie life he was a frustrated but well paid horror movie writer who dreamed to run a Nostalgia store, and he was embarking on his first marriage to a beautiful, but totally ill-suited fiancee, as the fantasy unfurls. Each night he separates himself from his current day conflicted existence to take a walk through Paris at midnight when the universe sends an old Peugeot limousine to fetch him and show him how life might have been had he truly lived a hundred or so years ago. My love of Allen’s fantasy movies is that he has the ability to pinpoint the foibles and sad regrets of his characters, and then create a memorable and delightful trek through “what if”. In “Midnight in Paris,” Owen Wilson’s character goes back in time through the Peugeot portal and shares his life’s dream, while receiving sage advice from famous characters TS Elliot, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein living in Paris.
I wish that were me. I wish the Peugeot would come for me, the door open, and I could step back not to Paris, but to the points in my own life, which I’ve fucked up a time or two at junctures where I’d now choose a much different path.
The regrets of the typical middle aged man approaching senior/elderly status in life; the junctures where I put work before the needs of people important in my life. This is sounding maudlin, and I don’t mean for that to happen, but if there’s ever a man who needs a “do over,” it’s me. I should be set in retirement, ready for the Costa Rican casita near the Pacific, replete with monkeys, parrots, and fresh seafood at every evening meal. Instead I’m looking for the next job, and seeking encouragement, composure, and the energy to move toward return to work. God is chuckling about now.
I said earlier that God would never be mean and cavalier, and He hasn’t been. He has placed some wonderful people in my path, and some of them have come to me through social media and through happenstance. God, if you’re listening, I am grateful for every one of these sentinels– the kind of people who come close to the special level of wonderful that I believe only family truly attain. I compare stories with these friends, and as we compare our lives I see that damned few of them has received all they’d planned for to date. If they have a stumble, they dust their asses off, and they get up and back to their lives to whatever place in their continuum they may be. I want to be like them. I can be like them. I know that there’s a next step for me, and it’s just ahead. It’s just right now feels like I am waiting in a long line of people, all waiting to use the only bathroom for miles, and I’m trying to decide whether I can make the wait & retain my dignity or make a run to pee on the sidewalk or behind a nearby tree.
For now I’d like to say thank you to all of the sentinel guardians, the real angels who have stepped into a burning building to pull me out before the walls implode. It feels like that sometimes. Lights, I hope that I’ve told you how much I value your appearances in the storyboard that is this life. You keep me going, and hopefully I give something back to you in return, something that helps you to cope or distract you from a stinging reality that you’re facing.
So if planning our lives makes God laugh, then I guess choosing the plot we’d like our life’s continuum to match is a possible key tool to being happier, to setting attainable goals, and to surviving life with some greater degree of dignity and peace. If you’re one of my points of light, thank you. If you feel like you don’t have points of light, then I’d ask you to sit down in a quiet place, clear your mind of the imminent worries that bog you down emotionally, and see who comes to your mind. There’s someone there, and I know this because life and God are not so cruel. Sometimes our Buddha might be a neighbor, the person standing in a line in front of you, or someone you’re about to meet. Look for them, cherish the time you spend together, and make plans even though some of those plans may give God the giggles.