Grammy's Axioms -- Old Endings, New Beginnings
Tuesday June 3, 2003 Grand Junction Free Press Page 10
(c) Copyright 2003, Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall, All Rights Reserved
Axiom: We need to welcome endings in our lives. Each offers opportunities for new beginnings.
By Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall
Have you ever noticed how impossible it is to focus on one thing when you are even slightly distracted by another? Too often we encourage our own distractions by holding on for dear life to a past we want to lose or change. We try to walk away from an old, familiar path to place our feet on a newly chosen one... but something prevents us from making the transition. Retirees, for example, often face the challenge of establishing totally new lives. After spending a lifetime establishing close relationships, they leave parents, children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors, and fellow employees. These are the people who once gave them a sense of self. We all gain a portion of our identity from our relationships with others. When retirement time comes, they implement plans they designed to help them enjoy their “golden” years. (Those of us in our golden years know what the quote marks mean.) They have worked hard. They have earned their moments of rest and relaxation. They envision a warm moment in the sun. They can sleep late, eat when they want, go to bed late, watch television or not – they will have time to do all the things denied them during their working years. They move to a beautiful place but never really become a part of the community. Things aren’t like they used to be in their old hometowns. Their traffic signals were better coordinated, their license plates were less expensive, summers were a little cooler, they had air conditioning rather than swamp coolers (like the ones we use in desert country). In other words, they are so busy remembering the good part of their old lives (memories of the bad are easier to forget), they never totally enjoy the new one. They have not embraced an ending. Until they do, they will not enjoy the new beginnings they expect. Those who lose an endeared friend or family member may have a particularly hard time embracing endings. Such endings are usually not sought and are most often unwelcome. Regardless, a grieving process is the normal way humans learn to embrace (if not happily) an end so a new destiny may begin. Like me, you may have had many opportunities to learn this principle of life. There have been a lot of endings and, thankfully, a lot of new beginnings for me. Writing this column, for example, is a new beginning. Since my last book was published in 1998, I had pretty much stopped writing (at least on a disciplined basis). I don’t know why. It is my strongest form of expression. I know my friends and family would tell you I’m strongly verbal – in the idiom of the day, I have a big mouth. That’s true. I love to talk. I love to argue. Passionately. But when I say things from the heart, it almost always has to be in writing. When I found out I was disabled in 1993, I wouldn’t believe it. I thought “denial” was psychobabble. I learned that it was not. Disability was an ending I could not – did not -- embrace. My professional life had been too good, too perfect. I was earning a lot of money. I was flying around the world seeing places I’d only read about. There was a lot of recognition. Who wouldn’t love such a lifestyle? I thought the career and all its perks were what I couldn’t give up. Surely that was what depressed me. I learned that was not the problem. I had to learn to redefine who I was. Physical shortcomings have a way of making you realize you cannot do certain things. Okay. So I couldn’t consult anymore. Did that mean I couldn’t work? The concept of not being able to work and support myself was foreign to me. I had always supported my family. In June of 1993, I bought a sandwich shop at the Denver Tech Center. I moved back to Denver from Battlement Mesa where I had a home I loved. It was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. Not understanding why you cannot get your feet off of an old path and onto a new one can cause you to make huge mistakes. This mistake cost me a fortune. Within three months of the time I purchased it, my doctor told me to stop going there. He might not be able to keep me from it, “but until you do your pain is going to get worse. It will finally stop you.” I hate it when doctors are right about such things. He was also right about the disability thing. When I finally accepted it, life became a lot easier. I moved back to Colorado';s West slope – this time to Grand Junction. You see, the path my feet refused to leave was independence. It took me awhile to figure that out. It had nothing to do with being a consultant or owning my own company or being called by national and international publications for my opinions. Those were great and very enjoyable perks, but had little to do with my confusion. My reality had changed. I had to redefine “independence” and “productivity” and “purpose.” When you analyze why adjusting to a change in your life is difficult, examine carefully the precise path at the root of the problem. For me, it was the fear of losing my independence and life purpose. It had nothing to do with no longer being able to consult and travel and give speeches. Such fears make even the most logical person do stupid things. I finally figured out that positive thinking must be kept closely aligned with truth to maintain its integrity. My son, for example, was hurt because I never called to ask him for a tour of the new Denver airport. He was/is an air traffic controller at DIA. How could I tell him I was afraid there might be stairs and I was having great difficulty with them? What if it required too much walking (no way was I going to appear before my son’s professional associates in a wheelchair – I wasn’t really disabled, after all!)? Too, all the anti-inflammatory drugs caused me to gain weight. I’d always been slender. It shamed me. My son interpreted my avoidance of the subject as disinterest in him and his profession. He’s a little like his mother and didn’t say anything about it, but I finally figured it out. I exhibited acceptance of my new self by writing a book. It wasn’t the book that made a statement of my acceptance. It was the subject matter. I did not even realize it at the time. This book was different from those I’d written in the past... books about bank loan policies, profitability analysis, organizational structure, etc. My 1998 book became the loudest statement I could make about severing my ties with my banking past. I was already a published author, so writing a book was nothing new for me. Writing a book was not a means to chisel out a new life purpose. My new book was called Cosmic Canines (Ballantine Books, 1998) and was about dogs and astrology. Now that’s about as far away from banking and my previous career as you can get What banker do you know who would accept business advice from someone who writes about dogs and astrology? That was the way my psyche told me I was ready to move ahead. That is what getting my feet on a new path meant to me. I finally kissed the old life goodbye by embracing an ending. I was then able to find what I’d been looking for all along: A totally new purpose for being alive. I found a new kind of independence, a new kind of productivity, a new life purpose. My feet were now happily on a new path. I learned that to continue being a positive person, I had to redefine my capabilities. Before I reached that point, I kept getting depressed because my old guidelines for positive thinking no longer worked. I finally figured out that positive thinking must be kept closely aligned with truth to maintain its integrity. I kept promising myself I would accomplish things it was no longer possible for me to do. Of course, I failed. Setting high but achievable goals is positive. Setting unachievable goals is the height of negativity. Those people who relocate upon retirement may not really care a whit about the non-coordinated traffic lights. That may be what they complain about, but maybe what they really miss is their kids or parents or friends. Maybe what they really miss is the purpose in life one receives from a job. It’s easier to complain about the traffic lights... while keeping their feet on the old path to the place they still consider home. People who want new beginnings need to warmly embrace an ending. Until they do, new beginnings are put on hold.