I realized a year ago that I was having trouble keeping my shoulders down. I'd be walking through the hallways at work, on my way to the kitchen or the bathroom or a meeting, or on my way to the train or the grocery store, and would suddenly be aware that I was holding my shoulders tight and high. All the tension in my body was pressing down on the base of my neck. "Well I can fix that," I thought, but somehow I couldn't. Day after day I would notice it, and tell myself to relax, but ten minutes later I'd feel the same thing, this same rigid clenching of my shoulders up to my ears. It was funny and then alarming and then sad. Days turned into weeks and then months, and then I knew I needed to leave New York.
Our CMO died last summer, unexpectedly, after suffering a stroke. She was in her early 50s. We worked on opposite sides of the floor but I would see her in the elevator once in a while, and she looked and seemed fit and healthy and strong. She was in a coma for some time after her stroke, this woman who seemed to have everything—family, career, health—and then she was gone. I didn't know her well, or at all really, but when I heard she had died, I knew I needed to leave New York.
I had been hesitating for a long time, telling myself that I would leave the next year, or the next, but her death was another catalyst, and it shook me out of my own complacency: there is no later.
If you follow certain bloggers or subscribe to certain newsletters, you'll have seen this quote floating around recently, a daisy chain of sentences connecting one online stranger to another, which I find comforting. It's from Carlos Castaneda's book Journey to Ixtalan: The Lessons of Don Juan:
To be unavailable means that you deliberately avoid exhausting yourself and others… A hunter knows that he will lure game into his traps over and over again, so he doesn’t worry. To worry is to become accessible, unwittingly accessible. And once you worry, you cling to anything out of desperation; and once you cling you are bound to get exhausted or to exhaust whoever or whatever you are clinging to.
I left New York for good on Sunday. I helped train my replacement at work last week, and on Friday I turned in my badge and my laptop and walked away. My first inclination yesterday morning was to panic and hit the ground running in search of a job, any job, but I made myself stop. I'm taking this week to reset, to get my balance and find some ground beneath me here, at home. I have to find a different way through, and forward, or maybe, if necessary, even take a step back. I don't know what happens next, which terrifies me, a natural planner, but I need to start rewriting my own internal script, my own expectations, and somehow learn, slowly, daily, surely, how to worry a little less, and how to keep my goddamn shoulders down.