Last week, my brother was laid off.
Not too surprising, I know, in this economy, and even in his own mind, since he’d witnessed the episodic downsizing of the biotech company where he’d worked throughout the last year and had been one of only two employees retained on work-at-home status after the shuttering of one of its labs.
What was surprising, however — and even awe-inspiring to me, as I watched from the sidelines — was the attitude with which he took the news. His sense of calm and instinctive trust in the face of what, to many, would have portended only upheaval filled me with pride. It wasn’t just that he’d walked into and away from the situation — he had some intimation of what was to come when he got a call inviting him to a meeting at corporate headquarters — with such composure that moved me but that, in many ways, he’d practically set it up.
And while events may not have unfolded exactly as he’d imagined, he was wise enough to see that, sometimes, life’s unexpected storms are but a brief and mighty wind blowing open the door to other opportunities, and, sometimes, even our dreams.
My brother, who is two years younger than I and my only sibling, was good at his job as a calibration technician. But it wasn’t his passion. The prospect of going to work every day didn’t have him charging out the door, and when he thought about using his gifts, it was never in the context of a company that distributed scientific equipment and supplies, even though his deeply caring nature had impacted more than one employee in his several years with the firm.
For months, he’d been pondering his path, for years actually since a health crisis had cut short his college career and forced him to abandon his dreams of following in our father’s footsteps to become a commercial pilot. He’d floundered for a while, the shock of such an abrupt change and the painful, frustrating work of managing his condition setting him — and seemingly, too, every bold and beautiful plan he’d had for his life — mercilessly adrift.
Eventually, he returned to a semblance of his former self, a bright, compassionate young man with an easy charisma and a goofy sense of humor in marked contrast to his penchant for philosophizing and soulful contemplating. When he fell in love with his now-wife and they had a little girl, his goals became not so much about tending to his long-discarded dreams and the new ones taking shape but making sure he could provide for them and ensuring that my niece would have a positive, nurturing home environment in which she could thrive.
By then, after a period working various odd jobs, he’d settled into a career as a lab tech. But unlike those of us content to live our lives outside of a vocation that inspires us or without even a glimmer of some greater purpose propelling us to a fulfillment beyond the familiar, my brother has always been attuned to that tug. He emerged from his post-college struggles certain that they had not been in vain. But it is only in the last few years, as he’s deepened his faith and become more impassioned about music, poetry and nature and more aware of how his innate empathy draws others to him, that he’s realized an insistent calling to live a life of service.
Yet, with a mortgage, a young child and a wife who worked part time, he was confronted with the voices we often hear when the urge to step outside convention beckons: the ones yammering their dictates of practicality and prudence, the ones driven by fear and negativity and, in many cases, bound to the litany of excuses they have long marshaled against the possibility of breaking free of their own quiet discontent. Hedged in by all of it, my brother wavered, confronting his own doubts about the prospect of stepping off the staid and steady path. But even then, I saw him little by little chipping away at the constraints of his life and creating more room for the things that lit him up.
So when he announced earlier this summer that he wanted to be a life coach — doing so with such clarity and conviction after considering and ultimately discarding several other options to combine his creativity and spirituality with his love for people — I didn’t even blink. And, yes, the perennially cautious and sensible readied once more for battle. But my brother, in his own words, had done mediocrity long enough. It was time for him to be great.
He saw his being laid off as the proverbial yanking of the rug that sometimes forces us to take that next step or make that bold choice without the luxury of being able to languish in our complacency. But even before such unusual affirmation, there had been the signs: an unexpected introduction to a life coach who assured him that he had what it took to become one; the invitation to attend a free workshop being offered by another life coach; his presence at a sermon, in which the speaker’s eyes met his just as he was talking about being willing to brave the upsets that can follow the decision to heed one’s calling ….
My brother took notice of each and every one, shoring up his hesitancy until there was only a solid commitment to his plan. Driving home on the afternoon he was laid off, he decided he would begin taking courses toward certification as a life coach. He didn’t spend too much time on the hows of it all. He simply trusted that in starting to build his dream, as outlandish as it may seem to some, he would benefit from the unforeseen events and circumstances that somehow conspire to move us forward once we seize such control of our life.
And I heartily applaud him, for the courage to be true to himself and for modeling so beautifully what it means to walk in faith. On his first day of being unemployed, he was presented with a job opportunity that would allow him to keep providing for his family while also pursuing his dream. But even given the long, hard road he’s walked to get here, I know his decision is more than just a personal victory. It is an example to my niece to fearlessly chase her heart’s desires and never settle for anything less than living her very best life.
And that, to me, is an invaluable lesson — and a reminder to all of us that the risk to seize whatever it is that brings us fully alive can also be what thrusts us from our smallness into a world awaiting our gifts.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times