Let the summer book reviews begin! It’s a bit surprising to me that I’ve read as much as I have this month, since June has been dominated by moving from Kansas to Canada and the emotional and physical tumult associated therewith. However, I took advantage of our host house’s library and the feeling I had of being a bit unmoored and read Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility. Transforming Professional and Personal Life. It sounded like a good read for someone in a transitional sort of mood.
I’m not entirely sure that I am the intended reader for the Zanders’ book. They do coaching for executives on how to transform stale business environments, in addition to inspirational speaking that addresses individuals. They position the reader of this book as–potentially–a manager who needs to make some sort of change, get out of a rut and also–potentially–an individual (parent, teacher, coworker) who is vaguely dissatisfied with the course they’ve plotted for themselves emotionally and professionally and are looking for avenues to change. And although I wasn’t entirely sure they were talking to me and my concerns right now (the gall!), I think one of the fundamental strengths of the book is its realization that our professional lives and our “private” lives cannot be easily compartmentalized. Many of the strategies they packaged as useful tools for “personal” conundrums could work equally well in the office environment and vice-versa. One of the central themes of the book is a focus on abundance rather than on scarcity, trying to get people to see where the possibilities lie instead of allowing them to focus on the lack they experience around them.
As an example: Ben puts forth, in the early pages of the book, the response “how fascinating!” when one is faced with a major snafu. Things do not turn out as planned, your goals are not met, reality does not mesh with the idea. Your first response (or, let’s be honest here, MY first response) is “dammit! Why did this all go so WRONG?” (or, in keeping with honesty: Dammit! Why won’t the house sell? Why am I going to lose money on it? I don’t want to live in this teeny space with one bathroom for four people! Argh!) Ben suggests that, instead of allowing the internal tape reel to play “dammit” over and over again, we take in our surroundings and say: “How fascinating!” This positive response demands of us that we see the possibilities–unexpected, unplanned for, not ideal–inherent in the situation we have, not in the situation we imagined we wanted.
We cannot always determine the paths our lives take, or what happens to us along those paths. I have made a decision to, at least temporarily, walk away from a tenured job in the humanities. This is a dream job. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there on the job market who desire more than anything in the whole world the life I’ve just walked away from. Those people imagine “If I just had a tenure-track job/tenure, then everything would fall into place and I would experience fulfillment on the professional and personal level.” But it isn’t so. I was fulfilled in my job and in my life, but my partner wasn’t and I like him more than any ole job, so we picked up and moved to Canada. My original plan: “We’ll try this out for a year or two and then I can pick up my career where I left it off” is likely a totally delusional one and, with a wee bit of hindsight, I have no clue what we were thinking when we imagined that there would be some sort of smooth, navigable path for me to take once I moved up here. And so part of me is frustrated–what was I thinking!!! But, I’m not unhappy. My family is together, for pete’s sake, and that is worth a very great deal, and I have projects to work on. I’m a bit concerned about money in general (will we have enough?) and in specific (I want to earn my own) but I am really embracing the “how fascinating!” plan.
This is Neuland for me, Terra Neuva, and there is no point in wishing and pining for the professional life I know. Instead, I am looking around, figuratively and literally, for the possibilities inherent in the life I have now. I will look for academic jobs in my field, rare as rubies, but will also cast a wider net and learn about who I can be and what I can do in a new environment. I want to write, and read, and be with people, and do meaningful work, and have time for fun. There have to be possibilities.