Free Falling – Again

I’ve had a lot of things banging around in my head, some for quite awhile now, so time to get some of them out of there and into a post or three or five.  Otherwise they will just keep banging around and clogging up the system.  Need a good brain flush!

First up – Free Falling!

I wrote about this a long time ago, in CTB 1.0.  But unfortunately, it’s a post that I lost.

Something tells me that I started the original post by saying I think the universe has a sense of humor, even if sometimes it may seem like a perverse sense of humor. But upon further reflection (I do that a lot), I’m not sure I would open this post the same way.  But I’m getting ahead of myself – I’ll come back to that thought later.

So here’s how it goes:

In 2002, I left the NFL after having worked there for 10 years.  This was not too long after my Buddha climbing incident – the inspiration for the name of this blog and something I explained in another one of those lost posts (maybe another one I’ll need to recreate – add it to the list!!).

Long story short (if there is ever such a thing with me!), I was not in a very good place in my life at that point.  I had put 10 years (at the time more than half of my adult life) into that career path and it was, to a large extent, my identity.  I was watching my career go down the toilet and on top of that, I was feeling guilty about feeling so sorry for myself. It was less than six months after September 11 and more than 3,000 people had lost their lives (several that I knew personally).  Many, many thousands more had had their lives terribly damaged.   I told myself it was the worst kind of selfishness to feel sorry for myself over something so trivial as a career that didn’t go the way I wanted it to when so many people were dealing with something so much worse.

At the time, I commuted by train into Manhattan and parked my car at the train station in Rye, NY.  Sometimes I would listen to the news as I drove to the station in the morning; sometimes I would listen to the Classic Rock radio station. In either case, whenever I got back to my car at the end of the day, whatever channel I was listening to in the morning would kick on when I turned the ignition key, because, like probably everyone else, I never turned off the radio when I turned off the car.

My last day at the NFL, when I sat down in my car at the end of the day, feeling devastated and feeling guilty for feeling devastated, I turned the ignition key, and the first couple bars of Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty started playing. (Note: I know the song is called Free Fallin’.  I use Falling instead, hope no one, especially not TP, takes offense)

What’s the significance of that song?  Well, besides the title ;-), there was added meaning to the song for me because in the movie Jerry Maguire, when the title character’s career is going to hell and he thinks his life is over, there is a scene where he gets in his car, Free Falling comes on, and he starts singing it at the top of his lungs.  And then he gets on with picking up the pieces of his life, concluding with “You had me at hello.”

So for that one particular song to come on, right when I started the car, right at the very beginning of the song, didn’t seem to be just chance.  It seemed to me like the universe was having a little laugh at me.  Or maybe it was with me.  So I laughed right back.  And sang it loud and proud while sitting in the parking lot.

Because I wasn’t following a Hollywood script, I didn’t get right on to picking up the pieces of my life.  I had to travel a bit deeper into that hole I was busy digging before building a ladder and coming back up.  But I would always remember that moment, and it gave me a reason to smile when I wasn’t finding too many reasons to smile.

Fast forward 10 years.  My family and I had moved to Utah in 2009 and after 3 years, the job that I had moved here for had come to an abrupt end.  Another speed bump on the twisting, turning road that has been my career.

By then, I had mostly stopped listening to the radio and usually listened to Pandora when I was in the car.  So at the end of my last day at the job, with a great deal of uncertainty about what would come next, and with a lot of anxiety about how I would support those who depend on me, I got in the car and put on the Classic Rock channel on Pandora.  And the VERY FIRST song that started to play was, you guessed it, Free Falling.

I stared at my iPhone in disbelief. Really?  REALLY??  I laughed, and could not believe that the universe would share this same inside joke with me again. And so I dutifully sang it LOUD.  AGAIN!

Unlike the first time though, I was in a much better place mentally/emotionally this time around.  And I did get right back out there and started figuring out what to do next.  And a few months later, I started working with a nearby technology company.

Are you still with me?  Because as Paul Harvey used to say, there’s more to this story – although this is about where the first version of this post ended.

This past summer, after a little more than a year in the role, we entered into negotiations that ultimately ended up with a sale of the company.  I’m a finance guy, and the buyer had enough finance guys of their own, they wouldn’t need any more hanging around once the transaction closed.

This was a bittersweet situation for me.  Financially I was going to be okay, more secure than I had ever been in my lifetime (alas, not enough to just retire and spend the rest of my days skiing!).  But I REALLY enjoyed the job and the people I was working with.  It was, without a doubt, the most fun I had ever had in my professional life. It was energizing, and I got up every morning excited to be going to the office.  So I was saddened that it would be ending after such a short run.

I had a few other thoughts going on in my head as well – thoughts that in some form or another are, as I understand it, somewhat common for entrepreneurs when they sell companies that they have founded (and even though I wasn’t the founder and wasn’t there at the start, it was the closest I’d ever been to being in a similar position).  I wouldn’t describe the thoughts I was having as suicidal per se. But I questioned my reason for being and whether it would matter if I died once the transaction closed.  (Steve D. – if you are reading this, I am sorry to write this next part, so please skip ahead to the next paragraph).  I’d be on a mountain biking ride, and I would think to myself – if I go over the edge and die right now, my family will be okay. They’ll have enough to go on without me.  They won’t NEED me anymore.

This was a VERY scary thought to me.  For the last 18 years since my first son was born, I had thought of my role, my reason for being, first and foremost as being the provider.  Through all the tribulations, through all the bumps and bruises along the way, I had to go out and figure out a way to bring home a piece of meat to put on the table. And now, at least for the near term, I had a fully stocked meat locker sitting in the basement. (My wife is not a carnivore, so she won’t like this analogy.  But as of today, I am trying to get back to my caveman diet – so it works for me!)

On the day we closed on the transaction this summer, I got in my car at the end of the day.  It had been a long couple months grinding through the transaction process and I was spent.  Without thinking about it, I put on Pandora.  Free Falling was not the first song that came on.  It was the second.

The song is, of course, one that I have designated with a “thumbs up” on Pandora. So after my customary laugh and duet with Tom Petty, I immediately began to think, what are the odds of that song coming up, in general, forget about the timing.  Was it merely a coincidence that Free Falling would come on at that moment?  Did it come on so often at other times that I hadn’t noticed (because I didn’t happen to be going through a life changing event that day) that there was a reasonable chance I would have heard it that day in any case?

So, being a geek, I decided to keep track of the songs that Pandora played, to see how long it would be before I heard Free Falling the next time.  I listened to Pandora nearly every day, driving to the office (even though the transaction closed, I still had to stay around for awhile to transition all my responsibilities), driving home from the office, driving the kids to soccer, etc. etc. etc.

And it took 52 days of regular listening to Pandora before Free Falling came up again on the playlist. FIFTY-TWO DAYS.

I’ve taken statistics more than once in my life.  But I don’t really feel like doing the math.  I’m sure someone could figure out what the odds are of Free Falling coming up on the playlist on any random day.  Not sure how you factor in the statistical likelihood of it being the first song I hear at those specific junctures in my life (I know, it was the second song the last time, but cut me some slack!).

I started this post (can you remember that far back in time) by saying that I’m not sure I would still describe this as the universe having a sense of humor and having a laugh at/with me.  Maybe the thoughts I was having on that mountain bike trail forced me to reflect a little deeper on the subject.

Skeptics, atheists, etc. will probably just try to explain this whole thing away as just dumb luck. As a foolish, superstitious caveman trying to explain a natural disaster by saying the gods are angry and looking for meaning where none exists.

Take a hike atheists.  I believe there is more to this. Once may be a coincidence, twice pretty crazy, but three times is not explainable as just simple chance.

I consider myself to be a pretty spiritual guy.  I am Catholic and go to Mass pretty regularly (not that that in and of itself is a sign of spirituality, since I’m sure we all know people who are in the pew EVERY Sunday that we wouldn’t necessarily consider “spiritual”).  I don’t like to talk openly about my religious or spiritual views  – maybe that’s not in line with Christian doctrine to proselytize, but I kind of feel like it’s more of a personal thing, and to each their own.

I’m pretty sure that God (however you want to think about him/her/it) has more important things to do and worry about than to be waiting around to send me a pep talk via Tom Petty at certain times when I have most needed it.  At the same time, I don’t think the human mind can fully comprehend the power or capability  or workings of, there’s probably a better word for this but I’m not intelligent enough to know it, what I’ll call the “God-force.”

I’m not sure my Free Falling experience qualifies as a miracle – I just picked up a Life Magazine special edition on miracles, so I’ll let you know if that view changes after I’ve read through the magazine.  But I do feel, if nothing else, as if I’ve been given a message and while the message may have been for me and based on my situation, I am happy to share it here. None of it is profound or very original.  But for me, it is just a reminder of a few simple things that I am confident to be true:

– Don’t worry so much about things that are beyond your control. Instead, try to live “in the moment”

– You (and those you love) will be okay

– There is a plan for you and you have a purpose

– And today is just the beginning

I’ve always been a big planner, figuring out what I want to do and making a plan to get to the next goal, whatever that may be.  Plan the work and work the plan.  But though we may all have our own plans of what we think we’re going to do today, tomorrow, next month, next year, etc, we don’t REALLY know what THE plan is, do we?  My Free Falling experience has taught me to accept this fact, rather than to fight it.  So now, I wake up each day and I count my blessings – thankful for the day and thankful for my family, friends, and all the people that I have been fortunate to have crossed paths with in my lifetime.  And excited to see what the day brings and what comes next as THE PLAN unfolds before me.

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