Sunday, November 16, 2008

One-Year Anniversary in Nashville

A year ago this coming week I hopped on a plane in Florida to fly into Nashville, with enough luggage for three days, in order to start my new leadership position with T-Mobile USA. I stayed in a very nice hotel suite in the Cool Springs area of Franklin, Tenn., on the company's dime, and spent what little free time I had in the chilly, drizzling and often dark weather looking for a place to rent. I drank out of a fire hose at work for three days, signed a lease for a little 3/2 house, and flew back to Florida that Wednesday night in time for a Thanksgiving weekend with my family before hopping in my car the following Sunday and driving back to Tennessee with enough stuff to last me a week at a time.

I am amazed that a year has passed since this odyssey began, this massive life and job change that was inspired in part by months of studying Joseph Campbell's "Journey of the Hero' motif. The hero responds to the call to adventure. The hero finds that, when he takes the risk out of his comfort zone, mentors and tools and supernatural aid shows up to assist him. The hero encounters trials and tribulations, but is equipped to endure if he keeps his eyes on the prize.

In the aftermath of that first day of work at T-Mobile, driving in the dark and drizzle down to my hotel, I felt more like a zero than a hero.

"I think I've made a mistake," I said to my wife Jenna, who would remain in Florida with my kids until Christmas, on my cell phone as I drove on a crowded Interstate 65. "I think I've made a mistake," I said to my now-former boss Mary, with whom I'd had a wonderful two years of experiences, on the next call. Both were empathetic, and both encouraged me to hang in there and give Day Two a try.

Change is always difficult, especially on the magnitude I was experiencing--even when it is change for the better, as the past year has clearly demonstrated. Certainly being without my family for so long was emotionally draining, and created the perception that the choice wasn't worth it. The sun going away by 5 p.m. and the constant cold made me realize just how much I was used to Florida's almost year-round paradise. And you don't grasp how much you value the close proximity of family and friends until you put several hundred miles of real estate in between you and them.

The hardest stretch of time was the first 12 days after Thanksgiving weekend, when I was staying in a little efficiency motel on my dime sans amenities, akin to a college dorm without any friends down the hall. I microwaved frozen dinners in the little kitchen that was part of the single room, watched way too much TV and spent the evenings on the laptop trying to figure out my job. I spoke to my wife and kids every night, wondering why in the hell I was so far away from them. When I flew home for a precious three-day weekend it was amazing to hold them all in my arms. I wondered how soldiers did it, making sacrifices so much greater than mine, given the anguish the entire experience was causing my heart and mind.

After enjoying the sun and warmth and getting to take the family to see Santa Claus, I flew out again for what would be a 10-day-time-zone-world-tour, starting off with a visit to Boise, Idaho, of all places, for work. I ate some great steak there while observing a three-day leadership workshop with a few of my colleagues who were based in the Northwest, and it was a nice break from my little dungeon of a motel room. After a few days back in Nashville I was off to Kansas City for another training, another excellent diversion, before gratefully boarding a plane to Orlando for a permanent reunion with my family just in time for Christmas. There was little time to celebrate as we packed up our entire Florida house in less than 24 hours and began a caravan that would lead us back to Franklin and our little rental house with the naked little Christmas tree I had purchased before I left.

Even though our family was re-united, the next several months did not erase many doubts about whether embarking on this "hero's journey" was the right destiny. It stayed cold and on the dark side well into the beginning of spring. We missed friends and our parents terribly. The rental house had its issues. The sense of being transient, and trying to find our way in the midst of the "affluenza" that infected our county of choice as wonderful a place as it was...all of it had us going back and forth, weighing the pros and cons. I tried my best to pour myself into work, wondering when we would feel settled enough so I could begin networking and establishing deeper friendships, things that make for a more-rounded quality of life and vocation.

Gradually, the pieces of our new life began to come together. The sun did come out tomorrow. We settled in at a downtown church with an awesome Sunday school group of fellow parents of young children. As the summer heat kicked in we spent quality chunks of time at our local rec center pool, and I recaptured my Florida tan. We finally felt brave enough to go on a serious house-hunt, and bought a home we love back in August with a backyard large enough for a soccer field and lots of surrounding trees. Today I am networking and building vital friendships and Jenna is thriving in graduate school. We have some wonderful neighbors. This is our home.

We still miss the parents and some of our close friends in Florida an awful lot. We haven't figured out how to fix that problem. I miss many of my former colleagues at Health First Inc. in Melbourne, Fla.

But there are many blessings abounding here, and I now cannot imagine living anywhere else. The hills and mountains, the changing of the leaves, the kindness of the people, the diversity of the economy, the publishing industry, the arts, the ubiquity of Vanderbilt University, the nerve center of United Methodism--it's all great stuff to be around, and a strong fit for us as a family and as career people. The kids have adjusted well. Somehow, we are Middle Tennesseans.

Campbell has been proven right again. When you answer the call to adventure, the doors of opportunity and assistance do spring open. Sometimes, because the trials and tribulations also come along for the ride, the doors seem to lead into dark, murky hallways. You're not sure if you can find your way toward some light.

But the bright seasons arrive for those who stay on the journey and mitigate ambiguity, who find just enough slivers of faith to push against the uncertainty. I can look back at my life and see multiple calls to adventure that I have pursued. Each began with a leap of faith followed by stutter-steps of doubt, but eventually the light bathed the choice and I couldn't have imagined not responding to the call.


At 6:49 PM , Blogger Kristie said...

This is a GREAT post. I cannot claim to have read all your entries, but this is by far my favorite. I think it needs to be in a magazine.

At 1:37 PM , Blogger John Michael De Marco said...

Thanks, Kristie!!

At 8:59 AM , Blogger elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Powerful post, John. So good to "read" the adventure. Better live it!

The last two paragraphs will preach, and while the author Campbell may have spurred your adventure, there is another Author who wrote it first.

Jesus Christ has been the wildest ride of my life. There has been dark and din and fear mixed with my feeble attempts at believing big, but is the Light that "comes in slivers" that keeps me to the road and toward growing big in my belief accordingly.

As a clergy family, I can so relate to many of the feelings expressed in this post. It touched me deeply. And your wife? Pretty well close to sainthood in my opinion. Please send her my love.



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