“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!” ~attributed to Goethe
Before leaving San Francisco in early January, I did some decluttering. I wanted to create space so that whatever new idea or vision came forward, it had a clean surface on which to land. In one of the boxes I was sorting, full of paper scraps with quotes, I found a greeting card I bought in the mid-80s. The card shows a drawing of a young woman outfitted for camping and climbing, wooden staff in hand. She looks out wide-eyed at us with one step forward up the incline; there’s a mountain goat at the top of the card. Scripted in the cloud above her head is “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it,” a version of the quote (above) attributed to Goethe.
I understood why I had that card in my possession all these years: it reminded me of the many times I have pondered next steps in my life, and realized that some small inkling of self-belief called me to move forward, to begin. That inkling has often defied articulation but has been no less real to me. Occasionally, one of my decisions would seem particularly bold: the less I knew exactly what was ahead, the bolder I considered the move. What is boldness if not defined in part by the uncertainty, the not knowing? I consider leaving my employer after 28 years both inevitable and bold. There could be more to do, more leadership to bring to bear there, but it would be the same world I’ve already known. My bold move is to see what other worlds there might be for me to discover.
I’ve done this before. At 25, I left a perfectly good “first real job” after a terrific three-year experience as a recruiter at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York . I knew that the job, and the place, wasn’t my future, so I moved to San Francisco. I didn’t have a job, but I did have a friend from college to room with. In my mind, bold became foolish as I flailed while figuring out what I wanted to do. I did the next thing, and then the next, exploring work, making enough to pay my rent. One thing led to another, as doing the next thing often does, including a successful career in a remarkable organization.
In the weeks since I’ve been gone from work and my employer, I’ve gotten word about a number of changes, some necessitated by my departure and some unexpected. A colleague got a big new role, and his impending departure has already created a ripple effect of change and opportunity. I found myself viscerally remembering all too well what that dynamic would be like: the discussions about the news, the potential options for reorganizing or filling new positions, the news breaking, and for staff, both the uncertainty and the excitement about what might come next. I know that if I were still there, I’d have been in it, been a part of the conversations about the architecture of change. I felt a twinge, not entirely unexpected but not exactly welcome: I felt I was missing out.
I woke up last night after a dream populated by former colleagues, the fabric and tension of the dream reminiscent of the complexities of my work days. In that half-awake state, I remembered another greeting card I had kept for years: a young gal with her stuff tied in up a scarf and to a stick over her shoulder turning on to a fork in the path marked by a sign “Your Life.” The other fork said “No Longer an Option.” The truth is that I am on the path of my life and there is much that is no longer an option. (After I turned 30, I occasionally remarked that it was now “too late to be a child prodigy.” That’s still no longer an option.)
I am here in God’s Pocket, so named because it has provided safe harbor for boats from storms. I am fully awake to this experience, yet I can still feel what my work would be like if I were there. And while it is no longer an option, it is still alive to me, informing my view forward. The excitement of the draw toward discovery is sometimes tinged with small shards of loss and regret. So I will, sometimes boldly, do the next thing. And the next. And one thing will lead to another.
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