This promises to be a very personal article: personal rather than theoretical. Last Monday the movers came, I guided them as they filled up their truck (and emptied our long-held storage bin), and, separately, we headed to Washington, DC. I arrived there first (on Monday evening). They were to follow and land at our 12-story, brick-faced residence’s loading dock on Tuesday morning. We spent Monday night in our empty bedroom comfortably enough on a queen-sized Aero Bed. In the morning, I set up osdacs ur new coffee makers (first things first) and dug out the plastic plates, bowls, and utensils I had brought with me in the car. After breakfast, Craig decided to go in to work early and leave at noon time, because we weren’t expecting the movers until 11:00 AM. I wasn’t alone a half an hour when sirens started blaring down below our front windows on Massachusetts Avenue. They were very loud even for the city, and even from nine stories up.

To properly appreciate what happened next, you have to understand that Craig lived in DC for almost 20 years before we sold his condo ten years ago. He’s from South Carolina and, whenever relatives or friends would come to visit, he was always able to find some diplomatic entourage or other passing through, so that he could tell his guests, “Oh, look! There goes the president’s motorcade!” That way, every visitor got to ‘see’ the president!

Now, back to the sirens and me at the window above Massachusetts Avenue. First there were a half a dozen motorcycle cops, lights flashing and sirens blaring; then came four or five DC police cars, then a big black SUV with tinted windows or two, followed by two big black limousines, and then came another big black SUV – this one with antennas sticking out all over – then more big black SUVs, and more DC cruisers with lights flashing and sirens blaring. It couldn’t be, could it? My first morning in DC, and not a stick of furniture in the apartment, and President Obama passed underneath my front window. Talk about auspicious beginnings! Just to make sure, I called Craig at work and described the scene. “Yup!” he said, “that really was the president’s motorcade!”

I’d like to say that the rest of the week continued with that level of excitement, but it did not. As a matter of fact, it’s not been an easy week at all, and that’s given me a deepened appreciation for what guys in midlife are experiencing all around me right now. Transitions – both the pleasant ones and the not-so-pleasant ones – are most often tough.

I would like to be able to say that I’m overjoyed to be here in DC. The fact is that I’m not. Don’t get me wrong: we found a great apartment and, after a week of opening and emptying boxes and putting things together, our place is really very, very nice. We found an apartment in a building that feels more like a hotel than an apartment complex: they even post funny little graphics about the current weather daily in both of the elevators. All of the neighbors we’ve spoken to say that love living here. I like it quite a lot. Also, I’m not very busy these days, so I’m able to focus on putting everything in its place and making sure everything works the way it’s supposed to (punctuated by innumerable trips down to the loading dock to recycle stacks of flattened cardboard boxes). You’d think that I’d feel really good about it all, wouldn’t you?

Regardless of my age, I’m experiencing first-hand a midlife trauma: career change. It’s one of the three ‘biggies’ of the midlife ‘apocalypse’: career change, relationship change, and health change. Even with all my experience, even with all my knowledge, changing careers ‘gets’ me where it really hurts: in my self-image. Much as I (or anyone) maintains a spiritual awareness and realizes the fallacy of ‘I am what I do,’ still, it may very well be a practical impossibility not to identify with your work. If I’m not a minister, if I’m not a corporate manager, if I’m not a life coach, then who am I? It doesn’t feel at all good to have to look the man in the mirror in the eye and admit that I’m not really sure anymore. I keep thinking that I know, but then the rules of the game seem to change and, whenever they do, the grieving process begins all over again. So, I grieve: I grieve for my comfortable home in Rehoboth; I grieve for my community of friends; I grieve for the clients that I’ve had to leave behind; I grieve for the connections I made in cyberspace.

Wisdom dictates that, for every life element that we humans are required to relinquish, there opens a new creative possibility. Although I genuinely subscribe to that belief (“When God closes one door, he opens another”), grieving must occur for every door that closes, and few (if any) of us can fully enter the opening door before fully grieving the closing one. That’s why I think that ‘s/he’s in a better place’ is such a pitiful response to news of a death. Regardless of the truth of the matter, that’s not where the bereaved is emotionally right now, nor is it where s/he should be yet. From this side of the fence, it now seems almost cruel to reassure someone who’s just lost a job or a career that ‘something better will assuredly come along.’ That may be true; however the grieving unemployed shouldn’t be forced to look there quite yet. The onset of a transition has to be a time for licking one’s wounds and undergoing the grief experience – all five stages.

I have to admit that, although I know what needs to be done to complete this transition in my life, I don’t quite know what to do about it today. I still hvaave to deal with ‘those pesky emotions’ (as we say in recovery). One of the most difficult aspects of any sort of grieving process relates to how painful emotions drain our energy and sap our initiative. It’s very hard to get anything done at all. Everything seems like an up-hill climb, getting steeper all the time.

The very worst thing that anyone (including me) can do in this situation is ‘keep a stiff upper lip,’ as the British used to say. In our culture, we call it ‘stuffing your emotions.’ That’s a sure-fire way to catapult yourself right into a crisis because the repressed emotions will come out, either obliquely (“Sure you have a headache… tense, irritable…. but don’t take it out on her!”) or in a moment of vulnerability. Rather, the only healthy way through grief is straight ahead, feeling every step of the way.

And, by the way: talking about it with others (or, if that’s not convenient, writing about it) as much and for as long a time as you need to get it all out provides you with the healthiest outlet possible. That’s one of the reasons that women seem to process trouble more quickly and thoroughly than men do: they’re not afraid to talk about it. Men, it takes a lot of courage to face and share what’s going on with you emotionally. Do you have what it takes to go against the cultural grain and to really live your feelings? Trust me. It’s the only way to go.

H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
ProActivation® Coaching

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Copyright © 2009 H. Les Brown

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