In an instant, the community room tightly packed with chairs was overcome with noise. A vocal symphony composed of laughter, reminiscent thoughts and positive intonations. I stepped backwards to take in the collective sound of 47 voices simultaneously sharing what they are grateful for. Standing at the front of the room, I momentarily closed my eyes and silently noted my own gratitude, not only to bear witness to this moment but to have created it.
My morning started so typical hours earlier. The usual sound of grinding coffee beans, the smell of my favorite shampoo, the standard sight of my business attire and laptop bag. It wasn’t until I got into the car and noted my destination that I realized the juxtaposition of the same girl amid a whole new world. For the preceding 13 years I had worked for a software company, most of the time in a traveling sales role. Starting the car in work attire always meant I was heading to the airport and flying to a distant city to meet with customers.
I buckled my seatbelt and noticed the surge of anxiety that would traditionally accompany a commute to the airport. Did I pack everything I needed? Are the kids upset I’m leaving again? Didn’t I just get home from my last trip? But as the unease started to set in, I looked around and realized I didn’t have a suitcase. Instead a box sat shotgun, and it was filled with materials for a workshop I was about to conduct about the benefits of positive emotion.
I was about to conduct a workshop – on happiness! I own a company! Anxiety was immediately soothed with the most wonderful blend of excitement and calm.
Driving to exactly where I wanted to go, to do precisely what I wanted to do reminded me of a sign that hangs above my desk: “She designed a life she loved.” I found myself holding said sign two years prior, in a store in Waco, TX. Motivational home décor doesn’t usually speak to me so strongly. There was something about that sign (or maybe it was something about the version of myself holding it), but in that moment, I resolved to do exactly as the sign said.
The thing about callings is that they do just that – they keep calling. Mine called me every day for over two decades, a constant itch just out of arm’s reach. I didn’t always understand exactly who was on the other side of the line, which is possibly why I took so long to answer. That day in Waco I had full awareness of my calling and knew I would never feel at peace until I made work of it. I had been taking small steps in that direction, but let fear hold me back from taking leaps. From that day forward I leapt, sometimes straight into the eye of fear, but with the firm belief that a life loved lay on the other side.
There are many scenes from that morning that I will never forget. The first time I watched someone taking a note on my original thought. Teaching about building a positive culture and watching it unfold in real time as the custodial staff delighted in all the chairs being respectfully put away for them (an instruction from the director to “pay forward the morning’s lesson in positivity”). And when I stepped outside at the workshop’s completion, carboard box of hope in hand, I smiled all the way to my car as oversized snowflakes fell in slow motion through rays of sun.
These will be forever etched in my mind. But standing out from the rest was a moment during a gratitude exercise I facilitated. The directions were to pass any found object back and forth with a partner and to state something you are grateful for while holding the object. As the exercise commenced, I was not prepared for the conversations that filled the room: everyone recalling all that is right about themselves and the world that they live in. The joy, the laughter and the energy immediately took my breath away. I stood there motionless, trying to record what I recognized as the soundtrack to my dreams.
It’s funny how reframing a few simple words in my narrative changed everything. Countless times I had felt stuck, especially when it came to my career and the comfortable salary I had accrued over the years. But as the designer of my life, I got to make the rules. I was never captive to my circumstances, I just had to rewrite them. So, I did repeatedly, until I found myself driving to conduct work I wholeheartedly adored.
My destination that morning was my first big job. Forty-seven members of a community-wide organization had gathered at one of their branches to learn about the scientific study of human thriving. I had designed a life I loved, and, in this moment, they were beginning to do the same.