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Meant To Be, by Andrea Simmons

It was a numbingly hot, smoggy August day in 1978. Talk radio droned in the background. The air-conditioner was out in my butterscotch colored brown trim Buick Rivera...

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It was a numbingly hot, smoggy August day in 1978. Talk radio droned in the background. The air-conditioner was out in my butterscotch colored brown trim Buick Rivera. Staining to concentrate I had my knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel, jaw tense. Then out of nowhere:

‘Is this what you were meant to do, produce polyester blouses for Mode O’ Day?’ 

The question came from some internal voice I’d never heard before. I lived three miles from my employer’s, Mode O’ Day headquarters in Burbank in a little track house in North Hollywood. It had taken me years to become a buyer and merchandise manager for Mode O’ Day, running a division called “Fashion Crossroads”.  I’d taken it from the worst division in the company to the best in five years, traveling to New York five times a year and to thirty states. This was the dream position I’d worked for all my life, wasn’t it?  I’d always made choices from the cafeteria line of life, taking the best of what was in front of me and buying it. Knowing what I was meant to do wasn’t something I had ever considered.

Once home, I couldn’t get the question out of my mind.  Was this what I was meant to do?  I didn’t even know what “meant to do,” meant. Over the next few weeks, I had trouble focusing at work, always coming back to that question: then another epiphany.  

“What if you took some time off and give yourself the mental space to think through whether this career is what you’re supposed to do?”  

Before I knew it, I was sitting in my boss’s office asking for a month leave of absence. My soft spoken, unassuming boss had his own questions.

“Aren’t you happy with your job?  Why do you need so much time off?”  

“I’m very happy. I just need to sort some things out.” 

We sat in silence, assessing each other. Then he simply said, “Okay.”  

My shoulders relaxed. I never dreamed he’d allow this but he did.  

Free of responsibilities for a month, I checked into the Oaks at Ojai, a small health spa in the spiritual, artistic community of Ojai California. To ponder what, I was meant to do and decide whether what I was doing already was right for me. I’d been to the Oaks for long weekends, always feeling energized when I left. It was the best place I knew to go.

Ojai with its ancient oak trees was nestled in a valley circled by starkly beautiful, barren mountains. I wondered its tiny main street of Spanish arches and parks, exploring galleries filled with exceptional local craft, pondering my life. I enjoyed getting into the routine of the many classes and eating healthy meals with interesting women. 

Then I heard a motivational speaker during an evening entertainment at the Oaks.

“So many of my clients are living their lives like they’re rehearsing for the next trip, there is no next trip. If there’s something you want to do, you’d better go do it.”

That sentence made me feel like I’d been punched.  I didn’t know if there was a next trip but I certainly understood that there wasn’t a next trip in this life. It totally registered with me that I needed to make sure I was doing the things in life that mattered to me. I asked myself, ‘What is it you most want to do before you die?’  That question motivated me to create a list. And the list gave me focus.

Adopt a child 

Get a college degree

Open a business  

Take a trip around the world  

When I returned from that month at the Oaks, I knew two things: one-making polyester blouses for Mode O’ Day wasn’t what I was meant to do, and two-I didn’t have a clue what I was meant to do.

While in Ojai I’d met the elegant, 98 year old Beatrice Wood, wearing a colorful Indian Sari with bracelets up her arms, and still doing some of her finest work. And Vivika and Otto Heino, married 44 years and a model of what was possible in relationship. All were world-renowned potters and long time friends.  A calm confident joy radiated through them, their environment and their work. Clearly they were doing what they were meant to do. These people gave me a role model for what doing what you were meant to do looked like.  

I spent the next several months wrestling with which item on my list was most important to me. Then another voice came to me.

 “What if you don’t have to choose? What if you did them all in rotation?”

Once I digested that outrageous concept, I knew that to do them all I’d have to begin with the round the world trip.  If I started with anything else the probability of ever having time to take an extended world tour would be slim. My heart began racing and I felt overwhelmed. To take the trip, I’d have to resign from Mode O’Day. I didn’t have the nerve. I did call a travel agent and began planning the trip. I told myself I wasn’t really choosing.

All I knew was that I’d always wanted to go to the Galapagos and to Bali.  Everything else would have to fall into place. I found an unbelievable around the world ticket: any airline, any flight for $2200. It was good for a year with 20% extra miles for zig- zagging as long as I continued traveling forward. Machu Picchu was added to the list, which added Quito, Cuzco and Lima to get there. China had just opened to tourists. Thinking how exciting it would go be to there at this time in history, I started shopping for a tour that would allow me to join up with them in China. To get from South America to China, I included Africa, Seychelles, Bangkok, Hong Kong and then Bali. Unconsciously, I was inching toward this trip I’d dreamed of since childhood.  I still didn’t believe I’d actually do it. 

For months I lived a double life: an unlikely adventurer planning a life altering world trip and being the same capable Merchandise Manager. My illusion of not needing to choose was erased when my travel agent called on a Friday with a two-day deadline, “ You’re going to have to pay for your super ticket and book the Galapagos tour or you will lose them.”

 I felt seasick, having one weekend to decide whether to give my boss notice or to tell my travel agent I’d changed my mind and wouldn’t be traveling after all.

I spent the weekend hibernating under the covers, stuffing my face and running back under the covers. I didn’t talk to anyone, listen to the radio, play music or watch television. I was screamingly filled with self-doubt, yet deeply sure of what I wanted to do. 

At 3 am on Monday morning, after a sleepless weekend, I sat straight up in bed, hearing another little voice.

“You only have to get two words out of your mouth…I resign.”

Later that morning, I barely managed to get those two words out of my mouth. My boss didn’t believe me.  So I promised,

“You can have all the notice you want. I know the right person to replace me and you can call me in for consultations when ever you want.”

My boss, looked at me as if wondering if he could talk me out of this. Seeing that I was serious, he sighed, 

“Alright Andrea… I want three months notice.” 

How would I ever get through those months, when I my heart was all ready on the trip? Without any hesitation I responded,  

“You’ve got it.” 

 So it began.  My tie to reality was a vow that when I returned, I’d begin working on the other goals on my list. Before I could change my mind I escaped to my office and made two phone calls.  The first was to s dear friend and colleague who worked at Lane Bryant where we both worked five years ago. She was a serious minded, ethical brunette, totally ethical and always up for a challenge.

 “Hi Lee, Andrea.  I’m about to offer you a great job…mine.”  I told her about my dream.

After a half hour of Lee screaming that I was crazy for handing everything I’d worked so hard to accomplish over to someone else, she  agreed to come in for an interview.  

The next call was to the travel agent. 

“Buy the ticket.”  

I was in the eye of the hurricane. I sat at my desk, smiling numbly to myself, trying to assimilate what I’d just done. I knew my life would change in ways I couldn’t possibly predict. What was I meant to do or be?

My mother was thrilled for me, adding $2000 for the China portion of the trip. My Dad thought I was insane, which was probably true. My friends were in shock.

Within a year of my return from what was indeed a life altering experience I enrolled at Antioch University and headed down a path that led to a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Psychology. And that led to, what I was meant to be. And yes...I accomplished everything on that list.    

Today I work as a psychotherapist, ceramic artist and writer. I live in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington. My view is of fir trees, the ocean and Canada.

firtrees

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