Category Archives: Autumn

October: In Silence and Chill

sugar-skull-cross-848x1000Most of us, at some point, while the  computer sops up all ten thousand years of grace to install updates,have gotten the prompt, “you must reboot your computer to complete this change”. There is a certain point in the process of  making life changes intended to be permanent that there must be silence and chill:life reboot. It’s the time our friends suddenly lose track of us: we don’t call for a couple of weeks; we don’t update the blog; we don’t answer the phone. Truth is we’re in the “hard labor” part of making a change so profound and pervasive that it affects the entire life operating system forever. Other examples of this: one day you’re single. The next day, you’re staring at the body lying next to you and wondering, “what have I done?!” One day you’re “just me”. The next day you’re “mami”. Between the “then” and the “now” is “the space of change”– the darkness and chill; the unconsciousness/black screen of reboot necessary for the decision made to change becomes permanent.

In the beginning of the life’s autumn, human beings begin the active, visible, handleable (read, reversible if I get scared) states of change. Loosing 5 pounds and the new toupee are part of this early stage of life metamorphosis. Then comes October’s end: the unconscious stage of the change where the old form disintegrates and the new form takes its place…

…Suddenly, the caterpillar could not take another bite. She took a big breath and her skin split down the back like a zipper on an outgrown dress. Beneath was a glistening new skin, just the same, but different. She could hardly move in it. “Ah!, the butterfly said, “now, it’s time to cocoon. When you’re inside, the magic of butterfly happens”…

It is in the period of “unconsciousness”, in silence, darkness and chill, that we grow wings.

The Last Tasks Of Autumn

Jefferson Memorial Fall
Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC
Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly

Everything is “bloomed out” by the end of harvest. Summer’s warmth has hopped the last train out of town and everything left looks so tired and sad and boring.  Good thing All Hallows Eve comes in late fall. October on the earth, in a lifetime or in a career is a good time to buy a fright mask because it’s the time when “being yourself” starts to feel like being the starring monster in a horror movie.  A pall of gloom spreads over the soul  the moment the conclusion comes that the old “self” everybody knows has changed. Let me explain what happens with this bit of the tale of the Butterfly Sister:

A big, fat , yellow and black caterpillar, driven by voracious appetite, crawled out to the tiniest twig on a branch. She felt something inside her was happening, but could not tell what, so she kept eating, hoping it would go away. Just as the caterpillar stretched for the last leaf dancing tantalizingly just out of reach, the twig snapped. The caterpillar dropped through the branches and plopped down on a bed of springy fallen leaves. She shook the surprise out of her head and lifted herself slightly to get her bearings.  As she started back to the roots of the tree she fell out of she felt whisper light feet land very close by. “Who are you?” the caterpillar asked the creature with huge wings edged in yellow and black lace. “I’m your sister”, the creature said. “I’m a butterfly and after you change, you will look like me”. “Well, my butterfly sister”, the caterpillar answered curtly,  “Do you mean that  I will change into you?” “No”, the butterfly said, “You will change into more you because you are already a butterfly inside. To make your wings come out, though, you have to go through your change. You will always be you inside, no matter what you look like outside”.

So it is in a lifetime; so it is in a career. Autumn, then, is the beginning of the awareness of the need to allow an older form to fall away, so that a new form with wings, the original vision of you,  can finally take its place.

When The Leaves Fall At The Job, or, It’s Over, Bubbie!

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My class was a disaster and I knew my job at one school was over the day my shiny new “classroom assistant” sauntered into my classroom to “help”. The Administration never informed me about what was happening. The third performance review was horrific and I knew in my bones and from overheard conversations from my students that I was actually training my replacement. “All the leaves were brown and the sky was grey”, as the Mamas and the Papas song would put it. The HR “chipper” called me in soon after that. I guess they were also the ones who came up with the idea that I pack up my tools while the class was away on the Halloween pumpkin picking field trip. It would look like I disappeared one afternoon; vacuumed up, as it were.

The reality is that careers and jobs have life cycles just like people and software do. There are distinct ways of knowing that it is definitely autumn in your job. Know the mulch maker is near when you see:
1. Drop in the environmental temperature of relationships with supervisor and coworkers – Suddenly, you are paying for your own coffee and nobody chooses to sit with you at break or lunch.

2. Withering looks/overexposed to the sun – Being micromanaged – You are watched more closely and criticized more frequently and/or publicly for mistakes.

3. Becoming “Pot bound”/feeling “cramped” –No growth in raises or increases for you, but coworkers start bragging about their “new buds”– responsibilities that carry new titles with corresponding higher pay– and flashing the bags from shopping in upscale stores after lunch.

4. Being reclassified as a “weed” – Assigned to major in minors –   Teams wait until your day off to vote on your getting the project nobody else wants.

5. Relocated to a sunless, windowless space in the office – Suddenly, your desk is the one off the regular office traffic path– like the table next to the restroom in a restaurant– “in the booth, in the back, in the corner, in the dark”, as Flip Wilson used to say.

6. Falling “out of favor” – Being “forgotten” or left off email distributions – Given the wrong or no fertilizer–going unnoticed–or, the office becomes the “wrong soil” for optimum productivity. Certain information needed to do a job never gets to you anymore. Coworkers are always talking about something commonly known to everyone except you.

7. Not invited to “Flower Show” meetings – Since you never get the emails anymore you’re the only one not in the conference room at certain times, so opportunities dry up to be seen or acknowledged by the team for excellence at work. You are not dreaming. It IS unusually quiet at the same times of the week.

8. Asked to cultivate a new plant you suspect is your replacement – You are assigned to “show the ropes” to a new person who asks suspicious questions about your present job. This is not a mentoring relationship.

Just as the show of fall is turning leaves, certain signs at work is the “show” that means career winter is definitely approaching. It’s time to start planning to sow in another plot. Book a few discreet networking coffees–start searching the seed catalogue–because the marker is up to be the next “plowed under” in the present garden.

AUTUMN’S WORK: TRANSITION

Autumn is my favorite time of year. Autumn is an artful stripper and I love the way she strides  boldly on to the seasonal stage with a glamorous dance. She titillates the senses with golden maple, then a tingling breeze. At last, she walks off with a flourish of crimson oak.

Of all the seasons of the year, autumn is the one whose core work is transition and most of it involves harvesting. Harvesting is losing, choosing, and stripping.  It’s the same way with these autumn days of my life: bold and honest; brutal and beautiful all at the same time. Consider that once upon a time I used  to prance down the street in my hip-hugger bell bottom jeans, turning all the heads, thinking to myself in Ebonics, “I cool! I cool, y’all”. I am harvesting the results of the spring and summertime of my life these days. In my tailored power suit, I  stop by the pharmacy and search the shelves with my short-sighted eyes for a product called, “icool”. I am losing the favor of a society that prefers youth and beauty. I am choosing to ignore that preference and to strip my life of the idea that anything in Forever 21 will fit.

I am harvesting–taking in and examining–all the fruit of the ideas that grew in my thought garden to see what I will preserve, take cuttings or seed from and what I will compost. The idea that I have intrinsic worth apart from and exclusive of my net worth gets preserved by the gallon. The idea of tagging myself “damaged goods” because I do not meet all the “must have’s” on a job description gets bagged for the curb. Autumn is such an awesome season so full of creative chaos that it has to be the earth’s studio where she makes the beauty of the rest of the year.