I've Lived In Chico, CA 9 Years Now. Incredible.
Assessing my Own BHAC Yard: Or, Honing Skills and Growing Hope through Life Experience
BHAC is a variation of BHAG, with is business speak for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. In my case, I created a Big Hairy Audacious Change for myself when I changed my literal landscape from there to here. Hard to believe it’s been about three years since my arrival from Chicago to Chico. As Marc likes to say, they are only two letters away from one another, yet a world apart.
I began this blog as a way to work through all my transitions. My family and friends well know what they were – or at least most of them. Friends I don’t know personally don’t know the excruciating details. Suffice it to say, in a very personal manner, I confirmed my own take on a theme I took on in a most esoteric manner as my master’s project at the University of Chicago eons (?) ago: Suffering, grief, and the meaning we make of things.
As I lightly review the book that resulted from my research, “Not the Person I Was,” I can’t believe how much I covered generally back then came to apply to my personal life so specifically. It’s as if I predicted the emotional abyss into which I temporarily slid as I faced the fear of changing my life dramatically. Technically, I was free to do so; I wasn’t running from anything but a stultifying sameness. But that didn’t make anything easier. I was leaving people and things I loved to find something that was hard to name. It's a journey others take all the time at all stages of life, but when it comes to yourself, it can be very, very, difficult to begin. To say that I wasn’t running from terror, I was running toward hope sounds selfish and lame, but there it is.
Of hundreds of large and little lessons that have been presented to me in almost 36 months, one that socked me over the head was how much inside I always knew about coping and even getting the better of situations that appear on the surface to be overwhelmingly...inadequate. As I concluded in the book, I believe we- any of us - can surmount anything, and that what others may see as our fortunate success is actually a series of our own deliberate choices. Many lessons we already know, though, need to be relearned so we can be reminded of who we are and what we can yet be.
There’s often great difficulty to be overcome because even as choices present themselves, it’s first, hard to make them when we are less than absolutely certain; second, it's hard to maintain our own sense of resoluteness in a psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually weakened state. Paralysis often appears as a safe alternative. I have always been good at change and movement, but when it came to this latest particular BHAC, well – I had to face difficulties I hadn’t realized I had it in me to experience, much less accept and deal with. I had to make myself move toward possibility which meant away from the stillness of my comfort zone. There were days I couldn't eat as I struggled to come to terms with the aftermath of losing parts of my life to focus on getting my energy back and feeling whole again. It was a decidedly post-surgical type of experience.
Our tendency to keep away from the pain of exploring our lives at a most fundamental level when we aren’t forced to may wound us even more deeply than the “little death experience” we have when we leave an area or relationship to move into a vast unknown landscape…be it literal or not. Yet the latter can help us lead our lives better once we orient ourselves, and perhaps even enable us to help lead others in the same direction as we slowly teach our own selves the nuance of the Great Paradox - what BHAC takes from us, and ultimately everything it affords to those who are willing to enter into it and learn from it.
Thank God the old saw is true: with unfailing kindness, life always teaches us what we need to learn.
But, and it’s a big but, we need to be willing and able to receive the lesson. If we can’t or feel we shouldn’t rush toward it with arms outstretched and believing in ourselves, when transition comes, we at least might meet the new opportunity-- or the prospect of the new uncertain life-- in the middle. We may need to tread cautiously and work our way through clean-ups and burials, but we need to stay open to what’s new that’s being offered, what we might accept if not embrace.
I was reminded of BHACs and BHAGs reading a fine local writer on the topic of Chico life. Sara Calvosa is the editor of a much-cooler-than-I-am weekly newspaper I enjoy reading called Synthesis. With apologies to Sara, I will mash up her sentences a little to get to the core of what drew me into this piece and made me think about the whole process of transition:
Chico might not be the melting pot of diversity, but we’re definitely full of characters and opinionated pontificators. I include myself in the latter category…(i)t seems like we’re all kind of falling into the categorical rhetoric trap, constantly talking in circles around each other, over each other, agendizing every issue, and hyperbolizing. We’re losing the middle ground. You feel one way, I feel another, why are you so intolerant, why am I tolerating things? It makes for a pretty frustrating experience, and it fills me with fear for the future of Chico…
Sara then discusses rays of hope she’s uncovered in the form of folks who are “working diligently to effect change and make Chico a great place to live. Those people that dissolve the fear, that give me hope…innovation and teamwork will save the day….”
Sara has described my own confusing feelings about my transition into this place. Three years ago I drove from Chicago smack-dab into a sunny and gorgeous environment filled with people and situations I didn’t understand. Mind you, there is a lot to love about Chico—the verdant Tuscan landscape, the rich enclaves of creative and good people. But there is a profound inner discord between factions, between individuals and their work environments, between individuals and others. Its great institutions, by this I mean its economic drivers, are very political - picture brutal Chicago politics under a bell jar. Intra-organizational terrorism-through-poor-or-nonexistent-decision-making that never results in a completed…anything, result in a breathtaking landscape that manages to feel like a war zone all too often. God, we need to find within ourselves the will to lead. Not coerce, demand, humiliate, or cry over personal notions of how things used to be - we need civic leaders that are civil. We actually need more, but that alone would be a start.
Chico can be more. In fact often it is, and experienced by people who are creating hopeful environments around them and finding each other.
I agree with Sara about the middle ground and how important it is to try to keep one’s feet planted in that vicinity. She’s right—innovation and teamwork literally saves us all. Chico’s been good to me, ever since the day I arrived here with hope and a willingness to work hard. I found work right away, and am managing three jobs or facsimiles thereof: I run a non-profit serving the developmentally disabled in Butte and Mendocino Counties, I teach management at Chico State, and I help co-host an audio “arts magazine” at our local public radio station. I’ve gotten to meet lots and lots of extremely interesting people with much to show and tell. Yes, one or two can be frustrating. I have made plenty of judgments in the past about Chico and Chicoans, but time and the effort to work through my feelings have moderated my perspectives – most days anyway. Despite the myriad ridiculous political fracases here, I keep frustration at bay by stopping to think about what I would want for myself and others, and how I personally might help create it.
This is getting too long, and I will take it up again in other blogs which will focus on the theme that Sara has introduced for us - hope. I have been so caught up in the theme of creating hope that I am putting my more hope-oriented blog posts on a new website, hopeinthehouse.com, mostly as a reminder to myself and as a resource to my employees - to have hope, and keep it in our personal life-house and our environments.
How am I doing after three years? At my life stage, I still have BHAGs, and am not afraid of BHAC at all. I am still learning. What more could I ask?