How it feels to lose $25,000

Yup, that’s what happened to me:  This past Friday, I lost $25,000.  Just like that.

It happened as I was parking the car. Pulling into our carport, I heard the all-familiar ping of a new email. I glanced down. It was from a prospective client. He was emailing with an answer to my proposal to consult for his Boston-based non-profit. $25,000 of consulting work.

Of course, I knew his answer.  He and I had connected immediately. He liked the way I thought and liked what I proposed. Mine was the only proposal he requested.  And, to top it all off, one of his board members had texted me to say, “Don’t worry.  This will happen.  You are exactly what he needs.”

Except I wasn’t.  Except the anticipated “yes” was a shock-to-the-system “no.” Well, eventually it was a “no.”  This poor guy took so long, gave so many excuses, offered so many platitudes before he got to “no” that my fingers got tired from swiping through his email. My first thought was, “He must be lousy at break-ups.”

My second, third, fourth and fifth thoughts, however, were panic, fear, shame…and more panic. I had wanted this gig. It would allow me to spend more time in Boston, a city I know and love, doing work I know and do well. More important, my partner, Bryon, and I really needed that $25,000. We had counted on it. Hell, we’d already spent some of it.

By this time, I was out of my car and standing, frozen (emotionally, not literally) in the middle of our parking area. Staring at my phone, reading and re-reading the words “Unfortunately, I can’t commit to this…” That lasted for about 20 seconds and then I did what my grandmother taught me to do: I bucked up, elbowing aside all the panic, guilt and shame, so that I could make plans for what to do next.

A plan of who to call to put pressure on my prospective client to change his mind. A plan to email him back and say, “Hey, $25,000 was just an initial proposal. I’m sure we can do this for much less.” A plan where to find the money, if Plans A and B didn’t work out. By the time I opened our front door, I was primed to make a beeline for my desk and start sending emails, making calls and prioritizing lists.

Then I walked inside.

As I did, all thoughts of lists and plans fell away. Gone. Just like that. So gone, in fact, that the very thought of spending time creating either seemed not only unnecessary, but also downright foreign.  Kinda like the thought of me learning to rap or play Candy Crush Saga.

“What the hell?” I said out loud. 30 seconds ago, I had been all about recovering what I had lost 90 seconds prior. Now, I felt.  What? Empty? Light? Peaceful?  Free?

Yes, that was it: I felt free.

I went and sat down in my studio.

“This is what it must feel like to be mid-air in your own life,” I thought to myself.

I had started the day expecting a new opportunity to do more of what I know how to do. Then the unexpected occurred and I found myself, suddenly, mid-air, cast off from the shores of well-laid plans into the dark skies of WTF-just-happened.

I could pretend this was an enlightened choice. That I had secretly hoped I wouldn’t get the gig because I’d much rather chase an unknown, unformed, uncertain $25,000 than a sure thing.  But that would be a lie. The truth is my fingers had to be pried off from what I considered safe.

But now that they had, now that that first choice had been made for me, well, now what?

Ah now.  That particular choice was all mine.

I could choose to do what society teaches and rush from the unknown back to some semblance of the known.  Be it the one we knew in the past or the one we frantically conjure for the future.

Or.

Or I could choose to simply ride this mid-air thing out until I reach whatever my next destination may be.

To not even “love the questions” as Rilke says, but rather to just observe. Just listen. Just receive.

That is the choice I have chosen. To simply watch how the other side of this $25,000 “no” unfolds with not one single horse in the race.

I’m not saying this choice is an easy one. After making the choice on Friday, I spent all day Sunday in a total de-cline as my grandmother would say.  All day, panic, shame, guilt…and, again, more panic…crawled all over me, clamoring for my attention like a bunch of attention-starved kittens. And they did get my attention. Multiple times. Until I reminded myself that I’m allergic to cats and they scurried away. Leaving me, once again, alone with my choice.

I also can’t say my choice isn’t without temptation. It’s taken me a few days to write this particular post because part of me so wants to say why I think this $25,000 “no” was good for me, why I’ll be ok and what I think my next destination might be. To give answers, to wrap the sparkly bow of happy endings on this particular story.

But, I don’t know any of those things. I can’t give any of those answers. And I’ve never been good with bows.

I’m still in mid-air, gliding “quiet enough to hear” as Rumi said. Carried by the winds of the Great Mystery. Into the wilds of the Great Unknown.

Just like you.