Have you ever had an idea for something but thought, “I’d be crazy to________” (Fill in the blank with your own wildest dream.)
Well, that’s where I was 2 years ago.
And some may still call me crazy, depending on who you ask.
Last December, I quit the job I loved, ending my 25 year career as an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By quitting and retiring 5 years early I gave up 50% of my government pension.
Crazy, right? Maybe.
My career at CDC was equally rewarding and challenging. My co-workers and I authored several papers that shed new light on intimate partner violence and sexual violence as a public health problem with long lasting physical and mental health impact for survivors. We showed that such violence is far more common and far more damaging than researchers had previously believed.
The most rewarding part of my job and my biggest public health contribution was the culmination of my 10-year effort in leading a national surveillance system on intimate partner violence and sexual violence.
This Report provided an important foundation for those who dedicate their lives toward preventing such violence and to those who work toward providing the large number of victims the assistance they desperately need. I am grateful that our report has been used by the White House in a number of ways, including the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
On the darker side, things at work became extremely difficult for me and many of the scientists I worked with. I choose not to bore you with details because I respect the important work that CDC scientists and public health officers continue to do to contribute to the greater good. And in truth, none of these details really matter in the larger scheme of things. What really mattered to me was that for the first time in my life I began to hate coming to work. It wasn’t about doing good work anymore. It was about politics and power. I am a bit of a Pollyanna so I thought I could ignore all of that B.S. and just keep doing the good science I was trained to do. I was wrong. The impact on my mental and physical health was clear to everyone who loved me.
That’s when the thoughts of how crazy leaving would be turned into how crazy I would be not to leave.
Sometimes the road leads through dark places. Sometimes darkness is your friend. (Truths provided by Jimmy Buffet, Pacin’ the Cage.)
My Roadtrip to Sucksville, U.S.A.
2012-2013 was like a personal road trip through self-exploration for me. It was during this time that I experienced one of the longest and darkest tunnels I have ever been through. I didn’t think I’d ever see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
But what I learned is when you have concluded that you are irrefutably lost with no GPS in site, you still do have a choice. Either you give up or you take a deep breath and decide to keep moving forward even if it takes you through rough, scary and dark terrain. (Remember, sometimes darkness is your friend.) More often than not, if you don’t give up, you will find yourself in a better place.
Sometimes we need a trip through Sucksville to unveil something for us. And that’s just what it did for me.
Getting Outside the Cage – The Road to Positive Change
Creativity paved the way for my own journey to positive change. I have been quilting since I was 15 years old. Whenever I needed to get away from the day-to-day stressors, I would head in to my quilting room and immerse myself into color and design. Ahhh.
But in a million years, I would never have guessed that my love for quilting would lead me to where I am today – starting Mountain Bird Designs, a social entrepreneurial small business.
The truth is that being willing to go through dark places is what put me on the road to positive change. I still work as hard as ever. But now my work is more colorful and palpable.
I get to spend my time doing what I love while still contributing to the greater good by creating a for-purpose small textile business that balances profit with mission to create positive change.
P.S. – I’d love to hear from you below about your own personal journey through Sucksville, U.S.A and how you navigated your way out.