Two weeks before I boarded a plane to Europe, I lost my job. Divorced at 30 and now jobless at 35.
I went right over to Ace and Gary’s. They popped their bottle of good champagne and we toasted, a good riddance to the past and a hello to the future. Ace looked at me and said, “When you go on vacation you only have one question to answer. What did you learn from this?”
So far I have about 30 pages written of everything that I learned and I scratched all of it because it only kept coming back to one thing, learning how tough I am.
You guys, I’m pretty fucking tough.
I once had a student teacher that was really struggling. She came up to me one day and told me she couldn’t do it, she said she wasn’t as tough as me and she told me I was like Michelle Pfeiffer. I wondered for a long time if being tough was something that could be learned or something that people were just born with.
Then I remembered when it came to my dad and his sickness, we always looked to mom. Looking to my mom on my dad’s worst days was like looking to the flight attendants on a turbulent flight. If they’re calm, you’re calm, the plane’s not going down. Externally my mom was always calm and collected, internally I’m sure the plane was going down.
The day I lost my job I happened to be mid sob when my mom called. I pulled it together and kept it cool. She was upset and she asked what I was going to do. I told her the only explanation I had was that everything happens for a reason. I told her my career needed to change, everyone on the planet knows I’m not meant to sit in a cubicle and push papers; it would all work out the way that it should. I said I’d be fine.
I got off the phone and returned to crying in my champagne. Then I laughed because I pulled my mom’s own move on her- acting tough and keeping everyone calm when internally it’s mass chaos. So, yes, it can be learned! There’s hope for all of us!
Spending the evening with Ace and Gary was the best place for me that day, it’s my emotional safe place. I can speak candidly, they ask the right questions and they always see the bigger picture. I can’t be around people that panic for me and then ask the questions that they think need to be answered right away- Where are you going to look for a job? Do you still want to do sales? Do you want to go back and teach? What are you going to do with your life?
I don’t know. I don’t think I like sales. I don’t want to teach again. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. “Well if you don’t know any of those things. What are you going to do for a job?”
I. DON’T. KNOW!
When I said that Ace and Gary understood the bigger picture, it’s that they knew for a girl who’s busted out of every cage she’s been thrown into, trying to lock her back in was not the right answer. Because of their deeper understanding, conversations with them always begin with, “I remember a time when …,” it all either starts with or comes back to a story.
Although my friends were coming from a great place and trying to understand what I wanted so they could help me, asking me what I wanted to do with my life triggered all sorts of negative emotional responses. It was too much of a complex question to answer in the midst of a difficult time. But Ace asking, “What did you learn from this?” followed up with, “Don’t worry about having the answer right now,” is the kind of question that starts an honest, yet positive thought process, especially when I was assured that it was ok to take my time. When I can slowly begin to answer questions about what I learned, that’s what starts to give me the strength to move forward.
How many times do we move forward without resolving a past issue? Sometimes we think putting it behind us and charging forward will make it all go away, until it happens again. It’s the universe’s way of saying, you didn’t learn so we’ll try this again.
Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Too many times I had relied on other people in my career and in my relationships to change things for me. The only time I had ever noticed anything change for the better, is when I made the decision to change things for myself.
So here I was again, face to face with another big life change. Much like Ace and Gary, I also believe in the power of a good story and the beauty of a blank page.
I saw on Facebook the other day that people were picking three movie/book characters that they identified with. If I had to pick three characters it would be Clarke from The 100, Katniss from The Hunger Games and Khaleesi from Game of Thrones. All leaders, all tough. I love the evolution of their characters, I love that in the beginning they’re all unsure of themselves but you know they have an edge, it just needs to be pulled out. You know you’re going to see them get knocked on their assess a few times before they figure it all out and realize who they are and what that means. But if they never learned from the moments, they’d never be where they are.
It’s all about learning.
I sat at a bar one day with a friend and I was telling him about a recent encounter with a guy and he just started laughing. He wondered how every interaction in my life always ended up playing out like a movie.
Maybe it was the time I stole that guy that was on the date, or the time I was making out with a guy in an alley and two women in a parked car started beeping and told us to get a room- I told the women I’d do what I want, so we continued our make out session on the hood of their car- they weren’t happy. Or the time I put a desk together and when I flipped it (which was a two person job) the leg broke, the whole desk came crashing down on my feet resulting in a broken toe and blood everywhere. Through blood, sweat and tears, armed with an Allen Wrench and a meat tenderizer, I put that damn desk back together like I was Bob fucking Vila. In case you’re wondering, a dough cutter and cheese knives will take a door off its hinge. Or there was the time I got in a fight with my cab driver in London and he felt bad so he gave me a tour of the city. And of course there was that time that I met Justin Bieber.
While I’ve had thousands of fantastic, movie worthy moments, those moments were all apart of some very important lessons that I had to learn. Those lessons were all a part of a bigger story that would have never been written if I hadn’t gotten divorced.
If I take a surface level look at my favorite characters, they all exhibit the same qualities, leadership skills, strength, positive attitudes, etc. But if I take deeper look I know that they all have something else in common. They’re all emotionally intelligent. Any big story that requires a leader, especially a successful leader, will exhibit all the qualities of having high emotional intelligence.
There have been numerous studies that have determined that people with high emotional intelligence are far more successful in life/business than their counterparts with a higher IQ. When you’re emotionally intelligent you’re not only aware of your feelings and emotions in situations, but you’re able to detect other peoples too and your intuition and judge of character is pretty much off the charts. People with high EI know change is necessary and can adapt to any situation, they don’t hold grudges, they forgive their mistakes, they know their strengths and weaknesses, they know how to let go and they have incredibly thick skin.
Just like my favorite characters, I needed the moments that would set off the chain reaction of events to turn me into the person I needed to become. But you don’t get to be the person you need to become without using a bit (or a whole lot) of emotional intelligence. I had to learn from past mistakes to enable me to move forward.
My first year teaching down south I got my ass handed to me in my first class. I walked into the hall when class was over and from the look on my face my neighbor teacher knew it didn’t go well, she told me not to move. She walked into the hall holding her choir robe in the air (she was a math teacher). She grabbed my arm and said, “GIRL! YOU GOTTA HAVE A COME TO JESUS MEETING!”
My first lesson about conflict- deal with it directly, never skirt the issue. And yes, sometimes that means you’re going to need to bring people to Jesus to let ‘em know what’s up.
However, there’s another aspect to this, and that’s that you have to be able to let go. Sometimes it’s as simple as letting someone else lead a project at work, other times it’s as severe as having to leave a job or a person. Although I needed to change things in my classroom, I did need to let go of having so much control over my students. They were teens, independence is crucial to their development and I had to cut them some slack.
The silver lining in this, is that when you start confronting issues and you let go of things that are holding you back, that you’ve outgrown, or that aren’t good for you, it makes room for new experiences and new people that serve a better purpose for your life.
When I see myself starting to get stuck in relationships and wonder why things aren’t changing, I know it’s me and I gently remind myself I’m never going to get the knight in shining armor if I keep entertaining the court jester. Sometimes you even have to bring yourself to Jesus!
I was on a plane recently and my neighbor and I happened to start talking about our divorces and things we’ve learned. He said, “Do you think you’re becoming too independent and you’re not going to need to date anyone.”
I laughed and said yes, but I wanted to take it back. I don’t think I’m becoming too independent. I think I’ve needed to experience some difficult things on my own in order to appreciate how much it’s going to mean when somebody wants to tackle future problems with me or for me. I definitely would have loved having someone around the night I put together that desk. I can’t even tell you how appreciative I’m going to be when a man takes the meat tenderizer from my hand, replaces it with a glass of wine and says, “Go relax, I got this.” I’ll lose my God damn mind!!!!
I was talking to Ace the other day about what I was writing and we started a discussion about all of these emotionally intelligent characters. I pointed out that the other thing they all had in common was that they all had some kind of coach or teacher that had an even higher level of emotional intelligence. Think Dumbledore, Gandalf, Jorah, etc.
He looked at me and said, “You’re always going to need someone that has a higher emotional intelligence than you.”
I laughed and said, “SO THAT’S WHY I HAVE SO MUCH TROUBLE!”
I guess in that moment it all kind of clicked for me. When I was teaching we attended classes to learn about the gifted and talented students. These are your kids with insane IQs. You might think it would be a dream to teach them, but it’s actually a very difficult job. Turns out, when they’re not appropriately challenged they get restless and bored which causes them to act out. It makes them look like they’re defiant, when in all actuality they’re just extremely frustrated that people don’t understand them and can’t figure out how to teach them.
Ace agreed and said, “Right, and what those students didn’t know how to do, and what you need to get better at is verbalizing what it is that you need, because you know that people don’t easily understand or know how to get to the level you’re on.”
“So you’re saying it’s ineffective to call people twats and tell them circus monkeys could run an office better than they could.”
(For the record, I’ve never called people twats and told them circus monkeys could run an office better than they could. But I’ve dreamt about it!)
Ace was right, in my career and in my dating life I will definitely need people with high emotional intelligence. These people will be able to help me act more like a matador and less like a bull- although they appreciate the times the bull goes rogue and shoves a horn up somebody’s ass.
When it comes to dating, I think my largest problem was that I was always going after guys that I could try to control. I felt like I had to control something because I didn’t have control over my own feelings and emotions. I wasn’t able to clearly state what I needed in a relationship because I didn’t know. I know now that I need balance, and I was never going to find balance in a situation that I was trying to dominate. I spent way too much time hanging on to illusions I had created of these “perfect” guys until I learned to see them for who they actually were. I soon discovered that real strength didn’t come from my ability to fight, it came from my ability to walk away.
As for my career, I think the hardest thing I ever had to do was find a balance between the teacher version of myself and the corporate version. To give you a visual, think about Michelle Pfeiffer from Dangerous Minds getting hired at Dunder Mifflin. It was a balance of two extremes, when I was teaching I had to get raw and truthful more times than not, in Corporate America it was all about being overly PC.
I wasn’t a fan of the overly PC environment. I was typically pretty good at handling things on my own, but there came a time when some issues were beyond me and my level of experience. In my 5 ½ years I only walked into HR’s office once, when I sat down to talk about issues I had with leadership, I was told to go back to my desk and email some topics they could use in a training they’d hold with managers they were having trouble with. That was the first time I wished I owned a choir robe.
Obviously, nothing was resolved and I was left to deal with a manager that deserved an Academy Award for his outstanding ability to play victim and an HR department that deserved one hell of a #kudos for their continued success in avoiding another employee concern and hiding behind red tape.
Well, what happens to my favorite characters when they’re in their greatest hour of need? They find their Gandalf and I did just that. I called a former coworker, he was a savvy businessman and I always valued his opinion. When I gave him the laundry list of happenings he told me I had two options, to create a new position for myself at work, or to get my resume together and get out there.
Throughout the entire conversation, the solution was very clear. I needed to get my resume together, but when he asked me what I wanted to do with my life I froze. I had no idea, I never thought about it. When we got off the phone I started looking for jobs and immediately got defeated. I didn’t like anything that I saw and even though I had issues at work, I was comfortable, so the easiest option for me was to go after a new position at my current job, which was management.
I met with an executive and expressed my thoughts. She told me she was a fan, she was excited to see someone so passionate about their work and wanting to lead. I was excited and felt like I was on the right track, I felt like I was finally talking to the right people that would help me in my career. But something was wrong. I had already been severely let down by a broken leadership system, was I really going to give that same system the power to decide the course of my future? Wouldn’t they most likely just fail me again?
The answer was yes, and when a system you’re supposed to trust and believe in repeatedly fails you and then backs you into a corner, the only option left is to take a page from Khaleesi and light shit up. You set fire to your world because sometimes the only way we learn and the only way we change is by watching it all go up in flames. I watched a world around me burn and I finally got it. No matter how this story played out, the ending was always going to be the same. I didn’t belong here. I had outgrown this place and I was forcing a relationship to work when it had ended a long time ago.
Here I was again repeating old patterns, and because I ignored my gut, because I ignored the advice that people had given me and because I was too afraid to change things for myself, the universe did it for me. Thankfully, I’m a tough broad and I’ve forgiven myself. The only apology I ever needed to give was one to the woman in the mirror, because I let fear win and I let myself down. That was the only thing I was sorry about and I hope I never fail myself like that again. Now, because I’ve learned and because I let the old version of myself burn in that fire, it’s time for the new me to move forward.
With that being said, this will be my last post on Martinis and Pipe Dreams. Just like my favorite characters, I have also evolved and it’s time for me to do something different.
My blog was my first real attempt at writing anything, it was very experimental. I could have never imagined it would have gotten the attention that it did. At first I didn’t know how I felt about it and a part of me was glad I was hiding behind a pen name.
I’ve always tried to blend, fly under the radar and be what everyone always expected me to be. I tried in relationships, in my job and with my friends.
I told Gary one day that I thought I acted like a pretty good chameleon. He looked at me like I was nuts and he said, “ARE YOU CRAZY?! OH, HONEY! I could take you to a place that’s all yellow and you would end up turning the brightest shade of yellow anyone’s ever seen. YOU always find a way to stand out, even if you don’t try!”
He was right, no matter where I was or who I was with, my personality always ended up shining through and I know now that I can no longer continue to blend when I was meant to stand out. It’s time for me to let go because I need to make room for something new.
In my very first blog post I talked about my belief in Quest Physics, that if I treat each person along the way as a teacher, then the truth will not be withheld from me.
I have treated every single person along the way as a teacher, and I am humbled and honored to have met and become friends with such amazing people. I have traveled the world, I’ve gone to tons of concerts, I learned how to play craps in Vegas, I ran a 5k (over it, I’m good forever), I bought my own car, I started a blog, I hiked a mountain in Utah (I’m definitely a beach person) and I have laughed like I’ve never laughed before. Oh, and did I say I met Justin Bieber, just want to make it clear.
I also wrote about being a little bummed that I couldn’t fly to another country to do my soul searching, so I said I’d do it here in Cleveland. Little did I know that two years later I’d be in Greece.
When I got to Santorini there was a pamphlet in my room that said, “Welcome to Santorini! May the Light of this place inspire your Life, offer you extraordinary glorious moments, dreamy experiences and show you the Way to Ultimate Recreation … as the island itself was recreated thousands of years ago …”
I read an interview with Steve Jobs and he said Apple ultimately failed because they forgot what they were good at. Once they got back to what they were good at they became what we recognize today as a billion dollar business.
Not only have I learned exactly how tough I am, but I’ve learned to define myself by the way I move through situations, not by using words like divorced or unemployed. But what I’ve truly learned, is that if there’s one thing I’m damn good at, it’s recreating myself.
I’ve got another blank page sitting right here in front of me and it’s time for me to begin writing a new story. You didn’t think I was calling it quits, did you?!
Hell no! This train is still moving!
A guy by the name of LeBron James once said, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.” Nobody is going to show up at my door offering me my dream job on a silver platter. I’ve got to get out there and earn it, so I’ve teamed up with one of my best friend’s, Alex! We’ve been fast at work on a new blog called Locked Chronicles. John Locke was the philosopher who coined the “pursuit of happiness” and chronicles are stories written in order. At this point we all know we write our own happy stories in an order that’s different from the way society tells us, and that’s OK! SO, we’re after your stories! If I’ve learned anything, it’s that other people are my best teachers. It’s my hope that we can all learn something about ourselves through other people and use what we’ve learned to help us find our way.
Our first video segment is on careers and the following segment will be on relationships. You won’t want to miss this, so be sure to follow along!
Time to raise one last martini and give a toast. May we all find a way to turn our pipe dreams into a reality and on our very worst days may we all be surrounded by friends that think we’re still worth the bottle of good champagne. See you at the new blog!
Sarah Halko aka Queenie 🙂