Friday, April 20, 2012

Taking the Next Step - by Susan

Over the past two years George and I have been on a roller coaster ride battling his Hodgkins lymphoma diagnosis.   At this point, George only has one more SGN-35 chemo treatment and then he is done with the clinical trial.  He is basically healthy and happy, although his red blood count is still too low.  We are expecting that to go up as soon as he is off the SGN-35.    Right now we are enjoying every moment of our lives, so thankful that George is in a good place. 

Like so many people who go through this experience, it has made us re-evaluate what is important in our lives.  I had been thinking about transitioning to a new career for the past several years, but my dreams of quitting my job in IT were thwarted by George’s diagnosis.  Now that things are looking up for him, it seemed like a good time for me look for something new.   I was worried about our financial situation, but in reviewing our budget we realized that we had saved up enough money for retirement, we had finished putting all four of our kids through college, and George’s income was sufficient to support us until we both officially retire.    So, with George’s full support (actually, George’s PUSH), I quite my management job at a software company to follow my dreams.

 I have spent 30 years in the IT business, being a programmer, systems analyst, project manager, and finally a manager, and I am ready for something new.    I originally went into IT because I wanted to try a non-traditional field for women, and I wanted to make enough money to support myself and my family.   I also found that I had a knack for the type of analytical, creative problem solving work that goes with programming (not everybody does, as I found out in my first computer programming class).    I also found that I liked management when I got into it – but the part I really liked was in helping empower others and leading teams.   However, getting into management led me to short-change my individual creativity, that fun-loving part of myself that somehow got pushed into a box over all those years. 

So, thanks to the support of my wonderful George, I have quit my IT job and I am now unemployed and looking at my next ventures.   For starters, I will be working to support the cancer survivor community through LIVESTRONG.  George and I are both active with the Colorado Cycling Team Benefiting LIVESTRONG.  To find out more about this group, you can go to    The other thing I’m planning to do is to work on my writing.  I have always written through all the years – journals, poetry, short stories, technical writing, and (I hesitate to admit), a half-finished novel.     I never had time to do as much as I wanted to because of all the time I spent at my job (plus all of my athletic, musical, and social activities, of course!)

I have had several conversations with my son Ross and his fiancĂ©e Maruja about the creative life.  Both of them are pursuing music careers in the Netherlands, and it is a grueling, demanding job.  The question is, how do you nurture the creative side, which requires imagination and a sense of play, with all the technical skill and sheer hard work that is needed to get your work out there in the public eye?      Maruja sent me a book to help get things going, called The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle Laporte.    I have just started it, but it looks like a great guidebook to find your inner fire and creativity.  

French sociologist Emile Durkheim coined the term “deformation professionelle” to describe a person’s transformation due to their profession.  This could be mental or physical, and can go so far as to affect a person’s entire world view.   Think about our stereotypes of accountants, lawyers, professional athletes, rock stars, etc.   This phrase has even been used in a negative way to describe what happened to average bureaucrats in Nazi Germany to account for their war crimes.  This is how I felt in the corporate world.  Now, if you know any IT people in Boulder county, you will say that the “deformation” is not that onerous – most IT people dress in a pretty relaxed fashion,  say what they think, and even bring their dogs to work.  However, just being in the corporate world, and especially being in management, requires that you “walk the talk” to use a management-101 phrase that actually makes me physically ill. For example, I could not wear loose, flowing, sparkly dresses and be taken seriously.    Without going into too much detail, I feel now that I was like one of those stretchable dolls that was pushed into a spherical plastic container, and now the container has been removed and I’m gradually expanding back out into my natural shape, complete with legs, arms, head, and all kinds of bumps.    I’m sure this will take some time to figure out where I end up, but I am SO THRILLED about beginning this new phase.    As Mary Oliver wrote in her peom, “The Journey”,

One day you finally knew
What you had to do, and began.