Detour Stories, Part III (Day #53)

Posted in: Thinking Big

Sometimes we don’t get a say in the matter.  Sometimes our detours choose us.

But other times, we choose them.  We decide to take that alternate route even thought we don’t have to.  Even though we don’t know where it’s headed.  Even though we’re not certain we’ll be able to find our way back.  We go anyway.

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Choosing Love

By Rachel Bertsche

I planned my entire career path the moment I declared my journalism major freshman year. I was going to start out as Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada and work my way up to Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly. (The fact that the book-turned-movie wasn’t even out when I was a college freshman just goes to show how ahead of my time I really was.) I did everything right—got prestigious magazine internships, wrote a weekly sex column for the student newspaper (My first column began: “I’m not Carrie Bradshaw.” Subtext: “But I could be!”) and networked, networked, networked. The plan worked. In September after graduation I started as an editorial assistant at a glossy magazine. A year and a half later, I was promoted to assistant editor. Less than a year after that, associate editor.

Meanwhile, in my personal life, I’d broken up and gotten back together with my college boyfriend. Getting back together entailed long, melodramatic talks about how this needs to be “for real this time” and how I “couldn’t handle going through that heartbreak again.” He told me that this go ‘round, it was for good. He also told me that as much as he loved me, he still hated New York.

You see, we’d been doing the long distance thing, which is why we broke up in the first place. It’s really no fun, even when the miles are fairly few in the scheme of long distance. I was in New York City, he was in Philly—it was an easy and cheap commute, but it was a commute nonetheless. We agreed that we could survive his law school stint but no more. So saying he hated New York was his way of telling me that if we were going to be together, we’d have to be together somewhere else.

I tried to explain that my career could only thrive in Manhattan, whereas he could be a lawyer anywhere. Would he really be willing to end it over something so logistical as location? When we were together the world would melt away anyway, so what did it matter where we lived?

“Don’t you love me more than you hate New York?” I don’t remember his reply, perhaps because I can’t bear to. I had to make a decision. Would I be willing to give up the professional dreams for the romantic ones?

In the end, I was. I nixed his hometown, partly because I really had no interest in moving to Boston, and partly just to assert my right to say No, too.  If I couldn’t have New York, then he couldn’t have Beantown.

I justified my leaving New York, and still do, in a million different ways. Matt didn’t want to be a lawyer in the soul-crushing Big Apple. I got that. I wasn’t even especially happy in my job anymore, and maybe by coming to a smaller magazine community, I could be a big fish. But in the end, it came down to the fact that I’d be happier with him and without the job than I would be with the job but without him.

So I took a detour. I left the magazine capital of the world and came to the Midwest. I chose love over career. I took a local Chicago magazine job that was a total bust, quit, and ended up working on the web instead. Not exactly the stuff of Miranda Priestley. Not exactly my plan. But it works.

The detour has made me happy, minus one thing. I was so fixated on the fact that I was leaving my office gig, I forgot that I was also leaving my friends. Jobs can be replaced, finagled. Virtual arrangements can be made. Lifelong friends can’t be replaced. No matter how hard I try, I can’t make a friend in Chicago that I’ve known since I was ten. I moped about this, literally and figuratively, for our first two and a half years here. Until I decided that if I could embrace the career detour, I can get a handle on this friendship thing too. I could go out and find a best friend instead of waiting for her to come to me. I could test out the friendship waters with women all across the Windy City, to see if anyone could compare to my lifelong BFFs.  I could write about it, too, to keep my editorial muscles in shape. It would combine my two passions, first-person narrative and understanding the nuances of social relationships (I knew there was a reason for that sociology minor).

I woke up one day and realized I’m doing everything I love, accompanied by the man I love. I’m just doing it 790 miles from where I’d planned.

(I just discovered Rachel’s blog, MWF Seeking BFF, last week, but I’m already hooked.  It’s fun, it’s witty, it’s heartfelt.  A trifecta of bloggy awesomeness.)

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Choosing the Detour

by Kelli Powers

My detour came in November 2008 when I got a random call from a woman I only barely knew and with whom I had not spoken for close to 6 years.  Her call was to let me know she was losing custody of her son (social services was terminating her parental rights) and she was asking for my help. I didn’t  know exactly what help meant?  Speak on her behalf in court?  Find her a lawyer?  Give her money?  Help was none of those things.  Help meant getting guardianship of and eventually adopting a then 13 year old troubled boy who had gone through years of abuse and trouble with the law.  Help meant that my husband and I, who at the time were in the fertility battle of our lives, were to add yet another huge item on our to do list.  And so we embarked on a very scary and unpredictable detour that has challenged us in every way.  The journey has been frightening, thrilling, frustrating and joyful.  Our lives will never be the same.  And we’re so thankful for that.  So when you’re headed down the same road you take day in and day out, just know that at some point you will come upon a big bright detour sign.  You can either take the detour or sit waiting for the road most traveled to open back up for you.  I think from now on all I’ll always follow the detour sign. I don’t know where it’ll take me, but I know I’ll be glad once I get there.

(Kelli is about to become a mom to a 14-year-old and a newborn simultaneously.  The good news is, she’s invited us along for the ride.  You can follow Kelli’s journey on her new blog, Success is Relative, “a brutally honest blog about women, work, family and fear.”  Brutally honest, yes.  But also hilarious and tremendously fun to read.)

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The Longest Book Ever Written

By Lindsay Hall

“You want to be a writer?  You know it takes at least five years to be published, right?”

Yeah, I had heard of such endurance needed to become a published book author.  It had already been three years since I began my book.  Well, let me back up–that could be misleading.  I was teaching part-time and writing part-time.  Does five years mean five years of non-stop writing or do the five years account for the time spent at jobs needed to pay for being a writer?

Somehow the stars aligned enough for me to quit my job and write full time.  In a year, I drafted a non-fiction book and send out proposals and queries to all the relevant agents and publishers I could find.  One by one the letters came back with the usual opening: “Thank you for submitting _____.  Unfortunately we are not able to accept your manuscript at this time…”  No rationale, just a closed door.  So I did what any truly aspiring writer would do.  I went to a writer’s conference so I could meet with these agents and publishers and pitch my work again.

At least the rejections were nicer this time.  It wasn’t the idea or the writing.  It was just me.  Nobody knew who I was, so no agent or publisher wanted to take a risk on me.  Platform, platform, platform.  That was the number one word floating around during the conference.  I needed a platform so that when I published something, there would already be people wanting to buy it.

On the way home from the conference, I took it all in.  I fought off discouragement because, hey, rejection is all part of the life of a writer, right?  And I knew exactly what I needed to do.  For the five hour drive home, I didn’t even turn on the radio.  Instead I dreamed up a business plan for how I could build a platform.  I was already committing to these next big steps in my heart, so that when I walked in the door at home, I would be ready to embark on yet another adventure in writing.

But instead, my husband and I made a decision that I needed to go back to work and make some much needed income.  The very night that I was supposed to launch my dream, I had to update my resume instead.

After three months of full-time job searching and nine months of full-time employment, I have not met any of my goals that I planned on my drive home from the conference.  The snail’s pace has been overwhelmingly discouraging for days, weeks, or even months at a time.  But every once in awhile, I’ll hear someone else’s story of patience, and I’ll be grateful for having to endure.

The website for building my platform is still not up, but I have managed to build a deep commitment to becoming a writer that, without having been tested, might otherwise have fizzled. My forty minutes of writing each morning has taken my strides in progress out of my own hands, and instead, I am left totally up to God’s timing.  God’s timing is something that I will never choose for myself, so thankfully, He chooses it for me sometimes.

And when the website finally comes out and the book is finally published, it will be a luscious victory well worth the wait, and my own endurance in pursuing something worth waiting for will have become a daily piece of my character.

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by Jeanette

I’m not nearly as strong as you.  I can’t leave.

Oh darling.  My sweet, wonderful, intensely brave darling.  Sit down with me here, cross legged, face to face. Take a deep breath.  I want to lift your chin and look deep into your eyes and tell you some things.

It is not the leaving that makes you strong.  Endings do not mark you as brave.  Courage does not only lie in being the one who initiates destruction.

Yes, all of those things require strength.   And oh, if you have ever been the one to leave, or end or destruct, I want to cradle you in my arms and tell you I know your pain.  But the other choices- when the only thing to mark the difference between before and after is your own quiet resolve – those also require strength beyond comprehension.

We are all on a path.   Day by day we decide if we’ll follow that path, or forage a new one.  Sometimes the choices are not clear, and everything seems twisted and painful.  But moment by moment we choose, because we have to.  That’s how life goes.  The big bold stuff gets the attention.  The tearing down, the crashing and banging and wailing and starting anew.  And we all say ‘Isn’t she brave?  Isn’t she strong?  Isn’t she courageous?’

And she is.  Of course she is.  But you are too.

Oh how strong and brave and courageous you are.

Sometimes stillness takes far more strength than movement.  There are times when choosing to stay requires a level of fierce tenacity you wouldn’t need if you decided to leave.  Boldness does not always declare itself to the world and demand attention, but rather lives steady and small in the spaces we choose to continue inhabiting, even though we are called elsewhere.

There is no shame, no lack of strength inherent in your decision.  To rebuild instead of tearing down.  To recognize that perfection is not always found in novelty, and that all the answers lie within, not without.  To know that what you have is precious, and to not be willing to risk it.  To look it all in the eye and say “I choose this.  Not what might be, but what I have now”.   This is nothing to ever be ashamed of.  It is not the lesser choice.

It is not weak.  It is not cowardly.  It is not less authentic.  No less worthy of respect and admiration than my choice, or her choice or their choices.    We often measure our choices with words like good and bad, right and wrong, strong and weak.  And they are all of those things, and none of those things.  They just are.

No matter which road we choose, it will always require a profound and audacious level of guts.  It will be a testament to our spirit and our faith, and it will push us to our edges and pull us to our center.  It will be the embodiment of love and heart and soul and inspiring commitment.   And it will be brave, and strong and true.

Because living is courageous.  Every single moment of it.


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