October 17, 2014

On Learning and Starting Over

When I decided to leave my job to “do something different,” I met with mixed reactions.

Some people were truly happy for me, while others couldn’t fathom why I’d leave a job that eludes so many—a tenure-track position at a Research I institution. The reactions I got from friends and family, however, didn’t compare to what I was feeling—the gut-wrenching realization that I was starting over. Not changing jobs, but changing careers!

After years of hard work, I’d be back at the bottom of the mountain, pushing the rock up.

Some people like to romanticize starting over as a wonderful adventure with new and exciting people and places, and work that is full of high-speed action like we see on TV shows. The truth is: no matter how refreshing it might be to make a desired change, some degree of discomfort is inevitably part of the process.

My first month at Experience Institute has been just that—refreshing and eye-opening, with a healthy dose of discomfort. It reminds me of when I first started exploring Buddhist philosophy. I remember entering temples and being utterly clueless as I heard recitations in archaic languages like Sanskrit and Pali. Even when English was spoken, the words were still foreign to me. I found myself asking, What is a sutra? Sangha? The rituals bewildered me, too. Why can’t we just meditate in chairs? What is the symbolism of the number 108?

Despite feeling utterly lost, I stuck with it. I asked questions, talked to people, read books and eventually became very active in my Buddhist community. I loved the New Year celebration. Rather than Happy New Year!, we proclaimed, Happy New Moment! It was a time to remind ourselves that every moment is an opportunity to respond to the world differently, to be new, to start over.

As I begin this year of transformational learning at Ei, I’m finding myself at that familiar intersection of being inspired and uncomfortable. But, I recognize that this intersection is where real learning happens. I’m asking lots of questions, just like I did then. With each design nugget or tool I learn, each new person I connect with, and each visual story I tell, my gut unties itself a little more as I ease into this first term at Ei. Then, the process will repeat as I start over with a new project at a different company. Each time, though, I’ll be a bit more adept for the climb. And, step by step, those initial feelings of dread will have faded and I will have become a confident and active member in my new professional community.

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