Big Flippin’ Change

Watching everyone deal with the $1.5 billion Powerball phenomenon is the best kind of people watching. Listening to the ‘what I would do’ stories, imagining the outcomes — good and bad — of finding yourself catapulted overnight from normal to extraordinary. Thinking, in your own head, about whether or not you would be the person who survived with your personality intact. Swearing that you would definitely be willing to roll the dice and give it a try.

It’s fun because for all but the handful of people who ended up holding the three winning tickets you are speculating about a big flippin’ change without actually having to experience it.

We all have to deal with change every day. We absorb little changes like the grocery store moving the peanut butter or your kid moving from third grade to fourth. Maybe something a bit bigger, like switching up normal by going on vacation, buying a new car, working on a new project or renovating a room. Even a new job or a new house — none of those are big flippin’ changes.

Winning $300 million dollars or $10 million per year? Yeah, that’s a big flippin’ change.

When you experience a little change over time, it’s like a series of promotions over a career. Each time, you get to grow a little, adapt and understand what it means. It’s like a series of rainstorms where between each one the ground is able to absorb the moisture, soaking into the earth and filling the aquafir. But what if you went from the mailroom to the CEO in one day? What if one day you were just the best-looking person in your hometown and the next you were on the cover of Cosmo?

It would be crazy, right?

Life is designed to give you a glide path, one step at a time, from a start point to an end point. That’s why the big flippin’ change plot line is so popular in movies, it generates a ton of conflict for the writer. A big flippin’ change almost always results in someone struggling mightily — either as a hilarious comedy or a heartbreaking drama. The lotto isn’t the only common construct that results in a big flippin’ change plot. Mr. Mom is one of my favorite movies, centered around an unemployed Michael Keaton who has to completely rethink his role in his family and War of the Roses tries to envision a couple (Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner) whose relationship falls apart but they try to ignore the big flippin’ change. We love to watch the pratfalls and carnage of a big flippin’ change.

The problem is, very few of us like to live it.

Good or bad, comedy or drama, living a big flippin’ change is hard. The world swings so significantly that nearly every decision requires effort, and not a little effort but a lot of effort. Because everything is unfamiliar it is chock full of the downside of ignorance: self-doubt, external criticism, bad decisions and worry. I have seen even people that I consider to be incredibly resilient buckle under the pressure of a big flippin’ change, because they can’t handle it or the people in their circle can’t support them through it.

I get that there is something romantic about the notion of the big lotto win. I bought a ticket, too and lived in a dream world for a minute. But when the numbers were drawn and I didn’t win my immediate reaction was relief. I want to believe that I have built a strong foundation that could handle the wind and waves of a big flippin’ change hurricane, but I’m glad I don’t have to tempt it.

I think that it’s probably for the best that I keep absorbing my changes — one thunderstorm at a time.

Someone Is Living My Life

When I was old enough to understand life — but not really old enough to live it — I painted a picture of the future me. I saw myself single, working in a busy fulfilling career, hanging with an active group of friends, going on adventures and being the ‘crazy aunt’ that always had time for shenanigans.

Not naughtiness, mind you, just shenanigans.

Of course, that isn’t the me that I am now. Although my career is rewarding and I work hard, my circle of friends is mostly remote, I rarely adventure and my nieces and nephews would not consider me a shenanigan-worthy person. And as a married mother of two, I can tell you that my kids are positively certain that I don’t know what shenanigans are.

And over the weekend I realized something odd: I’m not living my life, but one of my friends is.

It struck me like a lightening bolt while I was scrolling through Facebook. Every picture lined up to create a collage. A picture of a sleepover, cute little kids enjoying a night away from home with their aunt. A picture of lifelong friends around the Thanksgiving table. Pictures of trips to Greece and Florida. Status updates from adult retreats, girls weekends and crafting projects. I’ve know this woman for eight years and I just put together the pieces. I just realized that so many of the elements that I expected to be part of my adult experience weren’t mine, they were hers.

I’ve known for a long time that my life plan took a left turn at Albuquerque when I met my husband, so that isn’t the thing that knocks my socks off. It’s the idea that if someone is living the life I thought was mine to live, what if I’m living the life that someone else thought was theirs?

What if some young woman, somewhere in the mid-1990’s, envisioned herself getting married young to the boy next door. What if she planned to work her way up through a series of professional jobs while raising two kids in suburbia, trying to have it all while struggling with work-life balance? What if she planned to have great in-laws and family vacations and a sailboat? 

Heck, what if she always planned to have a cat, but learned as an adult that she was allergic? What if I got her cat?

Of course, I have no idea whether there is anyone anywhere who is looking at my life from the outside and thinking back to their own visions of the future. But it’s possible, isn’t it? And if it’s possible don’t I owe it to her to live this life — her life — as well and as enthusiastically as I can?

And if that’s not the weirdest example of peer pressure ever, I don’t know what is.


Yesterday, I got a surprise. And not the “whoo-hoo there’s a $10 bill in my pocket I forgot about” surprise, but a disappointing surprise that had me stepping into my mental time machine wondering how I let that happen. Why didn’t I catch it? What was I thinking?

You know, the crappy kind of surprise.

Surprises are weird that way. I’ve been known to say, “I love surprises” and “I hate surprises” both with complete sincerity. And that makes a surprise such an interesting and unique part of life.

Christmas morning has long been one of my favorite moments. Not just because of the gifts, but because it was chock full of good surprises. I knew that people loved me and that they had surprises planned that would make me happy. My first Christmas as a young married woman, we spent the Christmas Eve at my parents’ house. At 5:00am I woke up and elbowed my husband, “It’s Christmas!” I said excitedly. He looked at me like I was insane and said, “It’s 5:00am, go back to sleep.”

I nudged him again — I just couldn’t wait for the surprise.

There have been other times when I would gladly have waited longer for the surprise. An exam with a question I had never seen before. A call from my husband that a child had been hurt. Being summoned into my boss’ office to hear that my position was being significantly changed.

The worst surprise I ever got was back in 2000. I was pregnant with my first child and at 20 weeks we were ecstatic to go to our ultrasound appointment. We jumped in the car,  drove to the unfamiliar hospital and found the office. Sitting there with a gown on, babbling away with the tech I was happy. Over the moon, first pregnancy happy. And then the tech said, “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.”

When she came back, she had a doctor with her. He looked somber. He started to explain to us that there was a cyst on our baby’s brain stem and that was often a sign of a fatal chromosomal abnormality called Trisomy 18. He preceded to rattle off the things that were caused by it and he told us that most babies with it didn’t survive birth. Other flags weren’t present but he recommended we see a genetics counselor.

To say we were surprised was an understatement.

The drive home was tense. We talked about the risks and benefits of genetic testing. We talked about what we thought we heard. When we got home I looked up what I could on the condition, even though medical information on the Internet was a bit less comprehensive and no less scary than it is now. We talked and talked and decided we would just wait.

Months later the surprise of meeting a perfectly healthy daughter wiped away that frightening moment. Ten fingers, ten toes and a very average 7 pounds and 12 ounces put all our fears of a rare chromosomal abnormality to rest. And, in its place came the everyday ordinary fears that every parent faces. And those fears haven’t gone away since then.

Because, unfortunately, not all surprises are good.

 Beyond the First Monday

The last Sunday of the end of year impacts me strongly. Some years it is with dread, because I am preparing myself for challenging times. Some years it is with anticipation, because I can hardly wait for momentus events. But every single year it feels like there is something extra about the night before the first Monday of the year. And, I’m not the only one who feels that way, as my social media feeds are blowing up with memes reflecting the fact that tomorrow is not just any given Monday.

But isn’t it?

Not that a new year isn’t special. I will be reminded of that specialness for weeks as I turn a 5 into a 6 and feel guilt over failing to magically develop better habits. But I just had a crazy feeling — maybe it’s not that we should look at the first Monday of the year as less special, maybe we should look at the other 51 Mondays as more special.

Over the years, I’ve been buoyed by the ‘fresh start’ endorphins that come with putting old patterns to bed and starting something new. New school years. New audits. New jobs. New homes. So why is it that I haven’t taken more advantage of every single new week and it’s new start — a chance to put aside whatever baggage I’ve created in seven days and focus on the new. A new Monday.

Probably because for me, like for most people, clinging to the baggage is easier. It sits there unless we actively force it away like a full email box or the piles of real baggage sitting in an airport after a hundred flights are cancelled. We have to pick it up and deal with it and it feels wrong to just throw it over a cliff and say, “Sorry, I thought you were a priority, but you just aren’t. I need to deal with this stuff because it matters more now.”

Wow, that sounds heartless.

But what if it’s right? What if the baggage that is piling up really is less important than the stuff ahead of you? What if it doesn’t matter that the old baggage came first? What if the only way that you can move the needle is to constantly reboot, forcing out the stuff that is stuck to make space for the stuff that is important? And what if you need to do that not just once a year but more. What if you could do that not just on the first Monday of the year but every Monday of the year?

I’m not saying anything revolutionary. I’m confident that any number of self-help books focus on using techniques to reprioritize the important and urgent items in your life. But, the idea of considering Monday not as something to be dreaded but as a trigger of a new opportunity has promise. A promise of how to think differently — and perhaps act differently — in the new year.

And every single Monday after that.