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Triggers into Treasure

28 September 2023:

I have been in my new job in a new country now for about two months. Each day I encounter new challenges, new experiences, and uncover new feelings about my "new" self. This "new" me is the me who seeks living a life alligned with my personal values, after attempting to end it a little over a year ago. Some days I come home unfulfilled. Some days I feel tired or overwhelmed with attempting to learn and perform in my new job. There are other days where I feel excited and thankful for the new opportunities I am presented with. I feel thankful for the community I am building with my new coworkers. On these days I say to myself, "I really do like leading others, or "I am so thankful for the experiences that led me to this moment." Those days feel good. This career in the Air Force continues to turn me up, down, around, and inside out to where the growth in myself is so constant that my feelings about what I want in this career change or evolve frequently while I still keep striving to unlock a sense of purpose. I want to make the desires of my heart known to me.

But today was not that day. Today I was definitely triggered.

To quickly get to the point, I encountered an experience today that mentally brought me back to what I experienced in one of my past jobs, where I had requested a job that I believed would develop me in my career and I was told no by my leadership. Despite me not being in a key leadership or a critically manned position, the reasons provided were manning concerns, needing me to be the continuity for the Squadron as people left and new people arrived, as well as a list of all the things wrong with me as a leader (I wrote about this in a past blog entry titled "Toxic AND a leader". Today, I was presented with a situation where I was on the other side of things, and while I am content with my decision, it did bring up feelings that revealed I am still hurt from this past incident.

Today, when my deputy, who has served as a linchpin in continuity for our team and helping me get spun up in the job, informed me that he is interested in a position that will develop and help him advance in his career, I told him he had my support to leave our team and take the position. When I talked to my supervisor about it, my supervisor also shared how the new position is very good for my deputy's career growth and how he has been doing an outstanding job where he is at and there is interest in developing him further. I expressed my support for the move and emphasized that I do not believe that the success of an organization should reside on one person. And if/when that is the case, there is a foundational issue with that organization and it is not the responsibility of one talented person to fix or be held back in their own career development. I worked with my deputy and supervisor to come up with a gameplan for how our team would move forward and when my deputy would transition into his new job.

During the conversation with my supervisor I felt comforted that there was such interest and attention to take care of the career of my deputy. In my very short time of working with my deputy, it was immediately clear of the potential they possess and the impact they've had. It felt good to see that despite the inundation of work we receive on a daily basis, hard workers are not getting lost. At the same time, I felt my mind flashback to the past. Did my past leadership not see me as someone worth developing beyond covering down for various jobs and multiple projects under them? Was I not performing good enough to peek their interest in mentoring, developing or guiding me? Why was I shamed for seeking career mentorship from someone I trusted when I wasn't getting it (despite my attempts) within my own organization? How did I go from having such a bright abundant future to feeling lost and limited? Maybe I'm not that good in my profession and need to be knocked down. These were my thoughts.

My questions made me feel sad. I brought myself back to the present and realized that everything I felt had absolutely nothing to do with the situation I was in now or the leadership in front of me. It had everything to do with what happened in the past; 18 months ago to be exact.

Right at the end of the duty day I went home, talked to my husband about the day and my feelings and went to sleep. I had more dreams about work and when I woke up, I decided to write. Months ago, my therapist told me that because of the things that happened to me, I will likely always have the triggers. But the important thing is to be able to recognize the source in where they come from so that I can choose how to move forward; choose to bring myself back to the present. While it doesn't change the amount of hurt I still feel, I am thankful for recognizing that the emotions I experienced from today are triggers from the past. And like all emotions, these too shall pass and do not define who I am. They just reveal that I still have a place in this area where I have more healing work to do.

In my quest to feel better, I re-opened Paulo Coehlo's book, "The Alchemist", and read in his foreword message about his journey in writing the globally famous novel. He described how initially the book was "not noticed" and so few copies were sold that after 6 months after its release, he was dropped from his publisher. He chose to not give up on the book because he said it was him; his story, his soul. And just like his main character Santiago in the book, he was on his own quest for treasure and the treasure being his capacity for writing and sharing his story, his soul, with the world. Today, "The Alchemist" has been translated into 80 different languages from its original Brazilian Portuguese; its the most translated book from any living author. It also remained on the New York times best-sellers list for more than 300 weeks, and is widely considered to be one of the 10 best books of the twentieth century.

I finished reading the Alchemist about two weeks ago and am still receiving its powerful and relatable messages. The message of having a dream, choosing to go out on a journey in search of an unknown treasure inspired by that dream, then realizing that the treasure was with you the entire time is how I feel. I want to embrace my own journey and I want to discover what my treasure, my own personal legend as Coelho would say, is within me.

Today I responded to my trigger by turning it into treasure. The treasure being giving to my Deputy what I would have wanted to have been given to me. This transformation, in confronting my past but choosing different is what I believe to be a form of Alchemy. I desire to be the Alchemist of my own life.


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