The subject line popped up on an otherwise uneventful Monday: Team Happy Hour! I smiled at the familiarity of the sender and memory of frequent get togethers in what often feels like a past life.
In reality it has been fewer than six years since I left the comfort and certainty of a job I enjoyed to explore a less traveled path. And while my current venture provides a rhythm that is particularly well suited for this stage in my life, I felt a wave of nostalgia for the past and the people alongside whom I worked long days, experienced significant historical events, and shared major life changes.
Without hesitation I made arrangements to attend. I was eager to reconnect - to learn what others were doing professionally and what had changed in their personal lives. I wanted to hear their stories and marvel at their witty observations. I looked forward to seeing their faces and being, once again, in the presence of smart, driven people united in a common pursuit.
As the day approached, I had flashes of uncertainty: So many of my former colleagues are doing "great things"! Many are still working in the same arena, shaping policies that directly affect the daily lives of millions of Americans. Others had traded their government IDs for business cards bearing the names of well-known companies, industries, and consultancies. Would I even be able to keep up with their conversations?! But I reminded myself of a lesson learned almost exactly one year ago and showed up. And I was so glad I did!!
Upon arrival, I was immediately spotted and welcomed into the fold by a dear friend. I caught up with a former colleague who, since we last spoke, had begun a new job, bought a new home, and become a father. I checked in with my former boss about his life since leaving office. In brief but enjoyable exchanges I learned about new jobs, relationships, and travels.
As the gathering grew, I stood aside and watched: transported back to a time in which this was my "normal." A time when I was constantly surrounded by these personalities and fueled by their energy.
But at the same time, I was also aware of a palpable disconnect. There was still sincere affection in the interactions, but there was a lost intimacy.
I realized that my memories of these people - this team - were rooted in the past. Preserved in amber exactly as they had been six years ago. Seeing them gathered together again - altered by time - disturbed the static image that endured in my mind. I had always imagined being able to slide seamlessly back into the scene, but instead, I realized for the first time that my place in their world had long since ceased to exist.
Change is, of course, inevitable. And in the abstract, it is easy to wax poetic about needing to clear out the old to make room for the new - the importance of turning our focus to where we are going rather than dwelling on where we have been. But in the moment we experience it, change is often unsettling - even painful.
It is tempting to move quickly through such discomfort, but we are better served by instead being still: letting our thoughts and emotions flow and acknowledging them without judgment.
As we continue to grow and change, our path will necessarily take us away from the familiar - whether a job, a community, relationships, or some combination thereof. Even when we leave on the best of terms and believe sincerely that we are exactly where we should be, it is natural to mourn. And I would like to suggest it is also beneficial.
Next time you are confronted with a change - or realize a momentous shift has happened while your focus was elsewhere - give yourself permission to sit with it, perhaps even wrestle a bit. What did you learn from the experience - and its conclusion? What relationships will you carry forward? How have you grown? Explore change and the lessons it brings...