It was March and still cold and gray when I was sitting in my office, totally and completely burned out and frustrated, wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. I was telling myself what to do rather than asking myself, even if the thought was in the form of a question:
“Should I quit my job?”
It was a question I’d been asking for a long time and the impending answer was becoming more inevitable by the day. It was one of those rare moments of tremendous and terrifying clarity. No sooner had I asked myself the question did I know that the question was actually the answer. The time had come to make the move. Petrified at what quitting actually meant (getting a new job, leaving Italy, going someplace new, not having an income for X amount time) I sat very still in my black swivel chair and tried to discern whether or not I was acting impulsively or irrationally. Or was this what enlightenment felt like? Unable to tell the difference, I pleaded for some kind of a sign.
My pleading was interrupted by a knock at my door.
It was my coworker.
“Hey, Regina, I just came across this. I guess I forgot to give it to you.” She handed me an envelope that had my initials on it written in my own handwriting. Unsure of what it was, I took the envelope and put it on my desk off to the side.
Then I remembered about a year ago last August this same coworker who was knocking on my door now had encouraged me, along with the rest of the staff, to write a letter to ourselves. It was an exercise reserved for the students who had just arrived for their four month stint in Italy. It worked like this: the students write themselves a letter, turn it in and then at a given point during the semester, usually when they’ve long forgotten they’d even written the letter, she delivers the letter to the unsuspecting students. It’s a fun and interesting way to benchmark just how much (or how little) they’ve grown.
We’d done the same thing while I was getting my Master’s at Goddard. On the last day of our ten-day residency we’d all write letters to ourselves or to each other and the staff would post the letter at some point during the semester—usually when we were at the point of desperation. Every semester when I’d receive the letter something would lighten. A surge of creativity would suddenly energize my work or I’d at last be inspired to complete that final book annotation that I’d been putting off. Receiving a letter written by a distant, past me, composed in a completely different state of mind, was strangely and unbelievably effective.
Yet in a work context I resented it. In fact, to be completely honest about it, I thought it was dumb. I didn’t want to participate but because I liked my coworker and didn’t want to hurt her feelings I decided to humor her. I hastily wrote a very quick and brief note to myself, stuffed it into the provided envelope and gave it back to her. Only my coworker didn’t hand my letter back to me that semester. I completely forgot about it and so did she. Until March, that is.
“Thanks,” I said slightly embarrassed, remembering my initial bad attitude. “I completely forgot all about this.”
“Must have been lost in the shuffle,” she said, shrugging a bit as she left my office.
I got back to whatever I’d been doing before my moment of panic had been interrupted. Then curiosity got the best of me. I had no recollection of what I’d written. I quickly tore open the envelope, unfolded the piece of paper and turned it right side up. It simply read:
“Do you really still work here?”
Back when I’d written that note to myself I was certainly in a sarcastic frame of mind. I was running on the fumes of a total burnout. Yet funnily enough, the note I’d address to myself in one context actually ended up serving me in a future moment. The “letter to yourself” exercise had once again served its purpose as a bout of encouragement. It was also that sign I’d just been pleading for only moments before. In fact, it was more than a sign, it was a confirmation. A summoning from myself, my higher self, that it was time to go forth.
So I did. And now I’m here, in New Zealand—a beautiful, scary place. Scary because it’s new and it’s not familiar yet and I don’t know a single soul. But that was the whole purpose, it was the point: to make a change. Life had become stagnant for me, it felt devoid of possibility. I looked out into the distance and saw Italy, gorgeous, panoramic Italy but within that I could not see a future. My goals, writing and pursuing a career in teaching (among others), were unattainable from where I was, in those circumstances. If I was going to get to where I wanted to go, I was going to have to change course.
The last few years my life have been one big transition. There have been many changes to my course and while I don’t always know if I made the right choices overall, I do know that the decisions I did make were what I whole-heartedly believed were right for me at that given time. Both big and small changes yield huge benefits, benefits that are largely unforeseen when you actually first make the choice. Really, it’s kind of magical how even the smallest of choices have exponential power and momentum. If you don’t believe me, try it sometime. If all else fails, try writing yourself a letter.