So a few weeks ago I spent a glorious weekend with my sisters, my Mom and my Burke cousins celebrating my birthday and the not-often-enough opportunity to enjoy each other’s company and relive (mostly with laughter but sometimes with tears) the moments we’ve all shared throughout our lives. We were out in the Hamptons, a wonderful place to be once you get there but it’s the getting there – and the getting back – that is mind-numbingly slow. An area designed to keep the locals safe from the invasion of seasonal tourists and wannabes by consisting for a good chunk of the trip of one lane of traffic each way.
Not surprisingly my sister – who is able to ferret out the fastest way to get anywhere – had found a route comprised of back roads out of the Hamptons years ago, a route guaranteed to slice a nice amount of time off the journey home. Except now everyone knows about the back roads and – in a statement so common-sensical that I had to remember it – she said “there are no back roads anymore”.
And it got me thinking that while maybe that’s true for some things, it might be just the opposite for so many others. We all have our routines, our practices, our schedules that give us comfort by their regularity. We know where we have to be, what we have to do, sometimes even what we’re supposed to say because we traverse the road that’s set in front of us and perhaps never question if it’s the right road. Or if it was the right road at one time, is it still the road we need to be headed down? Should we be looking for the back roads, the ones that take us out of our comfort zone? The ones that force us to look at things differently, to make different decisions, to consider things we might not have before. Would you make the same decision today that you made yesterday if even one thing was different?
About 7 years ago, I started to wonder why time seemed to be slipping through my fingers so quickly. Work, of course, was one reason. A 50+ hour week and a 3-hour round trip commute each day didn’t leave much time for myself, let alone to spend with my great kid, who was on the cusp of beginning his journey towards college. Nor did it allow that much time to spend with my parents or friends or other family. Life seemed an endless loop of the shampoo equivalent of lather, rinse, repeat. I woke up at 4:30 and went to bed at 9:00 and tried to sandwich everything I needed to into that time period without giving short shrift to anyone or anything. I wouldn’t use the term “succeeded” but I somehow pulled it off. Some days were easy; most were not. And I know that there are millions of others like me who faced the same life-juggling moments every day. Where is the balance?
So after much thought and time and prayer, I decided to take the back road. I crunched the numbers with the help of a brilliant financial guy (thank you, Shaun) and told my company I was leaving at the end of that month. No pleas for me to stay, no thank you for your contributions to helping our bottom line, no fuss, no fanfare. (Although my fellow workers and my customers were ever so kind and sent me such lovely words that I printed and saved each e-mail that was sent my way). My back road was a chance for the company to shed itself of a too-highly-compensated, over-the-hill employee (not that they ever said that in words but they didn’t have to) and a better chance for me to open the door onto a new future, one that let me do all sorts of things yet to be determined.
Now it’s 7 years later and my life has taken lots of twists and turns. The plusses are immeasurable. My time with my son, my parents, my friends is a gift that I never will regret. The opportunities to write both professionally and personally (through this little blog, which I am ever so grateful when someone reads it and tells me it meant something to them). The chance to travel a bit and meet people I would never have met otherwise. The phone conversations I’ve had with nary a thought about rushing the other person to finish because I had laundry to fold or dinner to cook or homework to check. All of it was a blessing and still is.
But some things haven’t worked out the way I had hoped because I took that back road. I won’t bore you with what hasn’t been successful or fulfilling because I’ve tried to take a lesson from each – I won’t call them failures – experience. When the writing gig ended, I was able to find a great local job working for a wonderful woman whose life work has been enabling and empowering and caring for our seniors. I’ve learned a lot, I think I’ve helped some people and what I do matters.
When someone I loved and trusted betrayed me, rather than go down the bitter road, I chose a different path. I felt sorry for them, that their life had been such as to bring them to a point where they needed to hurt others. I couldn’t change what had happened – none of us can because we can’t turn back the clock – but I could learn and grow from it, make the best out of it that I could. And doing that led me down another back road, a road where I learned to reach out to people and accept their kind offers of friendship and support. I was and am blessed with friends and family who lift me up each and every day.
So while there may be no more literal back roads any more, making a decision to take life’s back roads (and a great shout-out to my DC girl, Carol, who pointed me in the right direction when writing this) may be the best thing you can do. Be open to what may not seem comfortable. Be receptive to things that might have scared you before. Be willing to try something different or new. Try. Try harder. Try again. Find your back road to happiness. It’s out there, I promise you.