A Left Turn to the Right Track

Barbara - Bainbridge Island, Washington
Entered on October 24, 2005
Age Group: 50 - 65
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In April, 2002, while at work in my office at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in downtown Seattle, I got the phone call that changed my life. A nurse was on the line, and told me I had invasive breast cancer. That word “invasive” — it shook me to my foundation. In a couple of hours, I packed up, transferred my authority, said goodbye, and went home to prepare for the journey of a lifetime.

Before my cancer, life was busy, often hectic. I was married with three children, and a full-time job as an executive in government. If you asked me then how life was going, I would have told you, “Life is good.”

My cancer diagnosis and the events of the next six months knocked me off the fast track. But by slowing down, I turned inward and listened. Life-threatening cancer certainly grabbed my attention, and quieted me down so that I could hear that powerful inner voice which had been muffled by a busy lifestyle. What it told me was scary: slow down, stop doing, start being, ponder your purpose, get off the fast track, clean up your relationships, live the life you want.

Cancer made me vulnerable. Cancer stripped away my bravado and hubris, and I began to experience fully, for the first time in my life, emotions I had so long suppressed. I also began to notice things — simple things — for what seemed like the first time.

During the year of my treatment and recovery, life ground to a standstill. I felt entirely alone, as if in a desert. As Dante wrote, “In the middle of my life I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.” I was vulnerable, fragile, scared.

During that year, other changes crystallized. My husband of 23 years told me he wanted to divorce. “Early-out” retirement was offered at EPA. Almost before I knew it, I had moved out of my home and my marriage, and retired from my government career of 26 years.

Now, three years later, my life looks quite different than it did before my journey of transformation. I am living a life of my own design. It is less busy. I am divorced, own my own business, and have a very flexible work schedule. And I have rebuilt the important relationships in my life based on authenticity and openness.

So, what did I learn that I would pass on? It is to listen to your own inner voice. Don’t let the noise and clatter of your lifestyle, or the people you love, drown out your own truth and your spirit. Listen for a calling deep inside yourself, and if your life starts veering off in a different direction, follow that left-hand turn. It may just lead you to the right track, somewhere special you could have never imagined.