Five weeks ago, in perhaps the least Marissa-y move of my life, I left my job without a next job lined up. The plan? To release, to submit, to discern, to heal, to explore, and to get to know myself again after a decade of grueling, albeit tremendously satisfying and impactful, work within the educator sector. I was fortunate to be able to leave my organization with grace and integrity, and to joyfully celebrate the ending of one chapter and the beginning of “something else” with mentors and coworkers alike. Unsurprisingly, I fielded a lot of, “So, what’s next?” questions. And each time I was asked, the confidence in my response grew. “I don’t know yet,” I told wide-eyed askers, “I’m taking a leap of Faith.”
I was expecting to spend time mourning the loss of my job as my work has been the primary way that I define myself. So much of my identity was wrapped up in the busyness, in the to-do lists and the deliverables and the spreadsheets I spent so much of my time immersed in. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that when I woke up on my first “free” Monday morning, I still existed. My identity hadn’t gone anywhere, and the gifts and experiences and skills that fostered my professional success were as much with me when washing the dishes and watching the Mets as they were when I was working 60+ hours a week. And I realized that I was happy. Truly happy. Happier than perhaps I have ever been. Quickly, more quickly than I ever could have imagined, the scum of doubt, fear, and anxiety that had coated me for so long, simply and effortlessly washed away. I went swimming for the first time in years and it felt like a baptism. The unknown that initially felt so dark and scary began to glow with possibility and hope. The strange emptiness of my calendar began to feel comforting rather than unsettling or troublesome. I felt more present and patient and loving and understanding both with strangers and with loved ones. I sensed that in my leap of Faith I was somehow defying gravity. And in many ways, I have been defying gravity because I have discovered that the leap of Faith doesn’t end when you take off from the ground; it ends when you land, and I haven’t landed yet. Not even close.
Earlier this week, the first job offer came in. When I applied several months ago, it was the dream job, the perfect and most appropriate next step on my career path, at least on paper. Yet, when I got the email with the offer letter, the enthusiasm I would have expected was replaced by panic. I felt myself falling, tumbling, even crashing towards the ground. The fear and doubt and anxiety reappeared, the nightmares I had been experiencing before giving my notice returned, and the happiness died. I felt incredibly frustrated and disappointed with myself for not being excited, for not jumping at this incredible opportunity. Why, when all the pieces were falling into place, did it feel like my soul was being crushed? Had I finally gone insane and lost all bearing on reality? How could so much change in five weeks?
I spoke with mentors, cried with my partner, and worshipped and practiced discernment with spiritual peers. For three days, the advice and insight that I received varied, only adding to my confusion. Then I got a series of messages in pretty quick succession that began showing me the way. “I hope that whatever you decide, you are able to live fully into your full remarkable self. I hope you give yourself space to nurture your gifts,” one friend shared. “You need to do what is best for YOU right now,” another texted. “Whatever you do will be a leap of Faith; make space for joy and continuing transformation and let go of obligations to others,” a wise Quaker elder urged, “I sense that you are not clear now and I also sense that you’ll have clarity in the morning. I’ll hold you in the Light.” I went to bed feeling loved but still bewildered. I did not have nightmares.
Every morning since I left my job, I have gone for a long walk to start the day. On this morning, the day I needed to give an answer to the potential employer, I opted for a podcast produced by two of my heroes, Parker Palmer and Carrie Newcomer. These were the opening lines:
When we follow our growing edges, what we are doing may look unwise or just plain wacky to others, including significant people in our lives. Following the soul’s imperative can mean venturing into new and uncharted territory, and it can be difficult to explain things to others when we are still trying to explain it to ourselves. To live an undivided life, to follow the call to wholeness, may feel lonely when others express discomfort, concern, or view what we are doing as dangerous. Have you ever needed to follow a path where you felt lonely or misunderstood, perhaps getting active pushback? If so, what helped you persist and carry through?
Two hours later, I turned the job (and the stability, salary, and prestige that would have come with it) down. I have no doubt that I would have done good work there and taking the position would have been a fine and natural decision should I have landed in that place. However, I am now abundantly clear that my leap of Faith isn’t finished and for now, I am enjoying the sensation of defying gravity, of transforming and following the call to wholeness. I am taking motivation from another of my heroes, Simone Biles, who last week quite literally defied gravity and performed the impossible not once, but twice. If you haven’t seen the slow-motion video of her Triple-Double on floor yet, watch it now. This is a move she was never supposed to be able to do and she herself admits to being skeptical when her coach first suggested it. But watch her leap and twist and twist and twist and turn and turn. Watch as every muscle in her body engages in the work of performing the impossible. Then watch her land and watch her entire body smile. Certainly, she could have still handily won the competition with an easier opening pass, by perfectly performing the moves expected rather than redefining her sport in less than thirty seconds. But the magic is in the fact that she throws herself in the air and flies with power toward feats that nobody could have imagined. The magic is in the number of times she probably fell and failed before getting it, understanding it, and sticking it. The magic is in the fact that she dared to leap in the first place. Such is the nature of Faith.
I’m no Simone Biles but I am ready to engage and train my muscles to do the unexpected, to not only master this leap of Faith but to construct a life that is comprised of myriad leaps and astonishing, whole-hearted connections. For now, I’m still twisting in uncharted territory, but I must trust that the ground will be there when I’m ready to land, when I’m ready to leap again, when I’m ready to stick it.
Today, in perhaps the second least Marissa-y move of my life, I turned down my “dream job” without knowing what comes next. The plan? To release, to submit, to discern, to heal, to explore, to get to know myself again, and to plunge joyfully into the unknown. What’s next? I don’t know. I’m taking a leap of Faith.