Careen

Six-year-old me at the top of a hill. Straddling my bike, everything normal except the absence of a chain. “This will be great,” they said. “Without breaks, you’ll go faster.”

1969, a blue Schwinn with a white seat, a twenty-inch job. Still too big for teeny, tiny me. The ubiquitous stingray design that dominated the kids’ bike market for the next thirty years was just getting off the ground. My bike wasn’t a stingray; it was a ten-year-old hand-me-down from a family with grown kids.

I don’t remember why I didn’t have a chain.

The big kids were encouraging, my brothers, their friends. I was the pioneer, the test-monkey. “Let’s see if Jeff can ride down a steep, third-of-a-mile hill without the ability to stop!”

This is probably my earliest memory. I’ve never talked about it with anyone. No conversation could conjure up the feeling of dread that accompanied that short ride.

I was on my quiet suburban street, a block away from the main thoroughfare, Greentree Road. Greentree connected our neighborhood to shopping centers and highways. Constant traffic, but my road went nowhere, it existed only to harbor houses. There were no intersections save one. At the bottom of the hill. It was the only way to get into the neighborhood off of Greentree Road. I was going to cross a moderately busy road.

I pushed off, and I was quickly going too fast to hop off, to bail. I was committed.

And then I felt it—for the first time in my life—I was fucked.

Careen is the word. Point A to point B. A straight line. No control. Too late to do anything about it. Along for the ride. Wherever it leads.

I’ve felt this way a few times in my life. When I was tanking college during my sophomore year, academic expulsion looking like a foregone conclusion; the day it became clear that my mother was rapidly dying from cancer; the two seconds before I crashed my bike into the side of a minivan, setting off a decade of recovery; last week, sitting at my desk, trying to get a handle on my new job.

Does this sound hyperbolic? Surely a rough start to a job isn’t comparable to injury, death, and life altering failure. I just need to get my feet on the ground, find my stride, keep treading water.

Last night, I went to bed late. I’m reading The White Road by Sarah Lotz. An engaging first-person narrative about people ruining (or ending) their life by climbing Mount Everest. It’s been a while since I’ve been this engaged in a book, and for the past four weeks (due to my new job), I’ve barely had time to sit and read. Reading for three hours was a simple luxury that I’ve truly been missing.

The White Road does a good job of placing the reader in the midst of the poor decisions people make when they think they’re doing something positive. Last night, I hit that spot in the book where it looks like a good pull will get me to the end of the story, but as I kept reading, the distance to the end of the book never seemed to shrink. I kept pushing, and I read an hour later than I wanted to. I took my meds and went to bed.

Meds? I’ve got OCD. For years, going to bed worked like this: Hop in bed and fall asleep. Wake up two hours later with all of life’s details racing through my mind. Meditate, get up and pee, toss and turn, get out of bed and make a list, toss and turn and meditate some more. Finally, I fall back to sleep until my alarm. About five years ago, a psychiatrist prescribed Lorazepam. A light-weight barbiturate that shuts off my brain. I take it at bedtime, and I sleep for eight hours straight. Until last night. When I went to bed, I couldn’t quiet my mind. The internal conversations from the past month at work continued deep into the night. And then they started up early this morning as well. The things I did, the things I didn’t do, the things I did wrong.

My old life was pretty good. Yes, I was bored at work. Sure, I wanted to earn a bit more money. True, I was ready for some new challenges. But my job change feels like an ill-advised attempt to summit Everest. I’ve hopped on a bike that I can’t stop. I’ve made my choice, I’m careening, and I have to ride it to its conclusion.

The four moments of clarity I described earlier ended with mixed results. I didn’t die in either of the bicycle incidents, but one left me seriously injured and permanently scarred. I never did flunk out of college, and I pulled my grades up to a respectable level my senior year. But my mother died right on schedule, exactly when they said she would.

Susan tells me that doubt and stress are a usual part of a job change. And because my position is large, there are lots of moving parts. It’s unsurprising, she says, that I’m feeling overwhelmed. But late last night, I simply wanted to hit the brakes.

31 thoughts on “Careen

  1. You’re doing exactly what I imagine to be the antidote to such feelings–honoring them. By acknowledging that you want to stop, you give yourself permission to choose. You decided to take this leap, with all that comes with it, and you get to choose what you do now. The death of a loved one or a dangerous ride down a street at the behest of older kids weren’t your choice, obviously. But what you choose to do or take from the experience is. Personally, I’m inspired by your thoughtfulness in moving forward, despite the fear. That’s courage.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. So glad to have found your blog. I am in a similar situation after moving and taking a new job in new field in a small town. It is also interesting to see how you link earlier childhood risk-taking to current patters; this also parallels my own. Thank you for sharing Jeff!

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  3. As AngelaNoel said, honoring your feelings and naming them is important, I agree. I also have come to recognize that the first several (days to months) of a major change is pretty disruptive. In med school, once I realized that the first week of every clinical rotation would feel terrible (not knowing where to go to the bathroom, much less who the patients were and where to find supplies), I was able to “normalize” the experience and take the feeling incompetent and overwhelmed as a usual part of the event. That reduced my stress considerably and I suspect allowed me to acclimate to my new environment more easily.
    Hope the break-in period on this new job ends soon. Hard work, you may want a bike helmet.

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    • My first 2 weeks on this job I had to use a MacBook. Talk about feeling out of one’s element. I felt like I was walking around wearing someone else’s glasses.You’re correct, As I find my way around my new workplace, I’m getting more and more comfortable. But now, I’m at the point where I can tell when I’m screwing up.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m too young to say it, but then again when has that stopped me from speaking my mind, even I’ve felt like this one too many times. Careen. Changes are scary and no matter how we soothe our psych, it still feels scary. But maybe it’s the scary part that drives us to reach the final point. Who knows. As I said, I’m too young to say any of this.

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  5. I’m starting a new role in a couple of weeks time and am already feeling that doubt. Richard Branson says “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” I’m trying to live with the ‘can do’ attitude 🙂

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  6. “Careen is the word. Point A to point B. A straight line. No control. Too late to do anything about it. Along for the ride. Wherever it leads.” Is it ever really beyond control? One could swerve into a bush halfway down the hill, but where’s the thrill in that? Life will pick the hill. The journey to the bottom, for better or worse, is better than jumping off at the top.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Aye, I was in a an annoyingly zen mood when I started thinking about the metaphor you used. I’ve never been one to take the ‘safe’ approach and bail at the start. I find those are the times I end up regretting. For the more practical comment, I tell everyone that starts new in my department that it takes 6 months to feel like you can breathe, before you stop leaving every day wondering what you did wrong, and a year until you feel like you really know what you’re doing. I think that’s applicable to any new position.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I liked how you wrote this – from your original story and back again. I am sure you are doing a great job. It is new, it is a learning process – you are going to make mistakes – but I am sure you are doing more good than bad. And I am sure you will find the feeling of “I got this” more and more often as you go. Keep at it – Good job!

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  8. Susan is right. It does take several months for you to settle into a new job – so you are quite normal. We also seem to be more critical of ourslvels in this transition. One thing I have learnt – it is not change we fear or resist – it is feeling out of control. If you haven’t done so yet, have you thought of a 90 day plan that helps you focus on what you need to achieve? Then each Friday take 30 minutes to tick off what you have achieved, then plan out the next week. I find this at least helps people switch off over the weekend as they can feel accomplished about the past week, and feel In control knowing what’s coming next week. Apologies if I am telling you what you may already be doing, the coach in me can’t resist.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a great idea. Actually on Fridays I’ve been leaving uncomfortably early to provide training to the guy who replaced me. Something I should probably rethink. I did put together a ninety day plan during the interview process, bu I haven’t even looked at it since I’ve started. Great advice, thanks.

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  9. “And then I felt it—for the first time in my life—I was fucked.”

    I laughed. I have felt this a few times and there’s nothing that makes your blood run as cold as that particular feeling.

    I think you just need to take a deep breath and give yourself a) a break and b) time. From reading between the lines it sounds like you’re really getting to grips with things now and although the adjustment period might be longer than you’d like and more terrifying, I think you’re doing better than you think. It’s extremely rare for people to slide into a job and feel comfortable in the very short term. Things almost always require more adapting than you originally anticipated. Grab those handlebars so tight your knuckles turn white – it will be okay!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I truly appreciate the encouragement I’m getting – from you and everyone else. I’m interested to see how my attitude differs at work tomorrow. I plan to re-read this whole thread tonight before bed as extra fortification.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Jeff, you get to use the “I’m new” thing for at least a good year (that’s my opinion anyway 🙂 )..There is no doubt in my mind that you will be excellent and successful where you are. You will develop your own groove and before you know it, you’ll be thinking “I got this, no worries!”

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