Finding My Identity After Losing My Job at 60
How a dream, a bay and blackberry bushes are leading a new path
I turned 60 last year, and within months learned that the job I'd hoped would be my last before retirement was being cut. I was angry, afraid, sad, anxious and felt betrayed. My confidence was punctured. But I felt relief too, and an elated sense of freedom and lightness.
Maybe it would be okay. Was this the creative freedom I'd been longing for? I'd been struggling for years unable to get my next book worked out.
Then along came COVID-19, throwing many of us into confusion, chaos and uncertainty, me included.
By profession, I'm a writer and a strategic planner and organizational researcher at colleges and universities, and an analytical person. I wasn't prepared for where I was.
Using Dreams, Metaphor and Reflection to Find My Way
In challenging, confusing situations like these, when reason and planning hit a wall and I'm stuck, I rely on dreams, metaphor, reflection and receptivity to find my way.
I woke up to the silent words, you have to go back.
Sometimes, I set an intention for guidance before I fall asleep. I might say to myself, internally — not orally — in that drifting state, I'll remember whatever part of my dream is important to remember. Or I state a specific intention or ask it as a question. The answer doesn't always arrive on the first try, but I usually get at least a clue at some point.
This time, though, I had a spontaneous nighttime dream that changed my focus and feeling. Agonizing over options I might or might not have, given my skills and age, I asked myself in that hypnagogic state: What should I do?
I woke up to the silent words, you have to go back.
"What?!" I was so surprised I huffed out loud.
You have to go back before you can go forward.
One thing I've learned is, if my intuition tells me something I didn't expect, and that I think I don't want, there's a high likelihood it's telling me truth.
Even so, I was stunned, then later, anxious. I wanted to move on, not back.
Did this message mean I had psychological, emotional stuff to work through that was holding me back? It didn't make sense.
Getting Unlocked By the Bay
Then one day I was standing by my window, watching the shoreline in reverie. Where I live, much of the bay was filled in almost a century ago for housing, business and other human activity. Now, at high tide, water washes over side roads, creating islands. It covers walking and bike trails, so bicyclists take an alternate path riding along the freeway instead.
People move their cars to higher ground. The marsh becomes sea bottom, hidden from view. The bay is reclaiming its natural ground. I felt a kinship, a settled, bodily recognition — I'm reclaiming my natural ground too, I realized.
Joy, gratitude and calm streamed through me.
This is what the dream was sending me back for.
It was about recovering parts of who I am, my nature, that I'd lost touch with during my career — things I love that energize me.
Cultural expectations about what's accepted and what's not (on the job and in general) can lop off parts of who we are, sometimes parts that matter deeply to us — even our gifts.
As a child, I was deeply connected to the natural world. Growing up on a farm, I played alone in the woods, creeks and ponds. Nature was a guide, companion and comforter. And as an adult, I've tried to live in places with natural beauty; I appreciate nature aesthetically and respect its power.
What Else Have I Lost That Matters Now?
But engaging with, or learning from, nature had largely gone by the wayside. Re-establishing that relationship now is part of my reclaiming and it has restored my confidence.
It also freed up enough emotional and psychological space for me to relax and take stock of the resources I have, versus what I need.
When I could do that, I realized, I might not be able to live at the level I'd been living, but I'd be okay.
Equally important, this bay kinship experience — what I think of as an intuitive metaphor — shifted my focus from what to do, to who I am. That's a much more expansive, enlivening question.
It made me want to go back. What else in my nature might I have lost that matters now?
Allowing myself to relax and give myself time lets information I may not have noticed come into conscious awareness. With this receptivity, answers can arise. Instead of churning away mentally trying to figure out things that are far too ambiguous and complex to control, I'm now open to recognizing when relevant information or potential solutions show up.
What I Learned From Blackberry Bushes
For example, riding my bike past wild blackberry bushes recently, I stopped to pick a few. The black ones, the ripe ones, were soft and fell easily into my hand. They tasted so sweet. The red ones, picking a couple of them broke the stem. And they were sour and heard. They weren't ready yet.
I thought I was just picking blackberries. But that subtle sense that they're a metaphor arose in me. They reminded my Type A personality who wants to bear down and get on with whatever this new direction is, that I need instead to stay open and wait. Forcing it, well...it doesn't work.
With these kinds of metaphorical situations, the meaning isn't the same for everyone. It's very personalized. To most people, this wouldn't even be a metaphor or if it was, it might have a different meaning to that person. It's a way of being alive to the world, of letting the world guide us.
For me, there's an interplay of analytical and intuitive, proactive and passive. So even though this "becoming" process feels right, I need to check.
I asked again as I was falling asleep, what should I do? When I woke, the clear message in unspoken words — intuitive with a sense of calm assurance that this is true and right — was stay the course. Keep researching and writing about what you're already doing and just let it unfold.
I'd begun researching and writing about expanded consciousness and social change. These topics have been lifelong interests, but I've not had time to pursue them.
So, I'll keep doing what I'm doing.
My natural enthusiasm and curiosity have returned, and I'm open to new possibilities. My planner self isn't ready, but a deeper part of me is thirsty and willing to trust, to take a chance and let life unfold according to nature.