About 20 years ago I got my first retail sales job in downtown Los Angeles. It was at a lingerie store -- which was not yet quite the household name it is today -- where the store manager was referred to as the "proprietress" of the "shop" and customers were referred to as "clients." Everything was geared toward creating a very genteel English ambiance: lush floral carpets atop dark hardwood, giant armoires, sparkling chandeliers, vintage-y floral wallpaper, plush loveseats, dressmaker forms outfitted in silk teddies and sheer peignoirs, and soft, classical music streaming gently nonstop.
I'm back where I started -- although not quite so. Everything's changed so much since I left the company as a store manager in 1995 (they dropped the "proprietress" title along with the decor and furnishings even back then). It's one of the biggest, most well-known brands in the world today and the culture is much more professional, definitely all-business, where managers use terms like "leveraging" daily and the tools are much more sophisticated.
I decided to come back because I needed a part-time job while I focus on trying to get more work as a writer and editor and taking classes to update my skills. It doesn't bother me at all that I'm not running the show at the store this time around; I rather enjoy seeing things from this perspective again, like I just gained fresh eyes but get to keep the old ones, too. I suppose my entire life has come completely full circle; I started out living in an apartment, working and studying, writing and editing, falling in love and battling all my fears, and struggling to pay the bills through it all. And here I am again.
In-between the two far points of my life thus far I (in no particular order) got married, owned a home with a garden I built from scratch, had a cat, managed more stores before I switched careers, stopped writing completely and then started a blog, ended the marriage, lost my 18-year-old cat and the home, and moved from LA to Manila to Seattle. The two points may appear similar, but the person I am at this end has been profoundly changed and is almost wholly different from the one at the beginning.
When you're starting over, especially at my age, it helps when you surround yourself with those that remind you of what you've loved most in life, especially when you've been through quite a bit of sadness. So I went home to Manila for a few months to reconnect with my family and closest friends, came back and dusted off this blog, started writing freelance, and got a job at the same company where I once excelled. Now, because I'm grateful for everything I do have (instead of bitter for what I no longer possess) I also found joy, at least wherever and whenever I can find it.
If there's anything I learned through the years, it's that even when you think you're starting over you haven't lost anything you'd once gained. What you have is an opportunity to get it right this time, to do things better, to see old things in a new light. You're not going backward if you're growing, ever. It's been said that people don't really change. What I've discovered is that we don't only if we don't want to or if we don't have to.
But we grow during periods of adversity, or at least we have to if we're to persevere. We have to do what we can, find all that's within us to survive and get past the tough times. There's just no room to be comfortable or to remain static. We have to keep moving forward -- hence the growth -- even when we don't know where to go or how to get there when we do. The alternative is too frightening to think about, and much too sad.
I have no idea where I'll be six months from now -- heck, not even in three. What I DO know, however, is that a year ago I didn't know I'd be here in Seattle and loving the Pacific Northwest. See, if you open yourself up to possibilities then the unknown is not quite as scary even when you're in precarious territory. I may never have pitched a tent or roasted marshmallows around a campfire in my life, but I sure know an adventure when I see it.
Twenty years ago, if I were told that I'd be here again, elbows deep in silky undergarments at work and cutting coupons at home, I would have considered my life a failure. Now I know better, and the main difference is really a matter of perspective. What I have before me now is a question, the topic of countless books and movies: what would you do if you could do it all over again?
I'm about to find out.