The Jewish High Holidays took place during the transition period between when I was leaving Global Kids and starting my new position at the AMNH. While in temple, I read the prayer on the left and thought, “Hey, are they talking about me?”
It goes like this:
Once or twice in a lifetime
A man or woman may choose
A radical leaving, having heard
Lech lecha — Go forth.
God disturbs us toward our destiny
By hard events
And by freedom’s now urgent voice
Which explode and confirm who we are.
We don’t like leaving,
But God loves becoming.
It turns out this is a poem, called “Becoming,” by Rabbi Norman Hirsh and was recently added to the prayer book. This spoke to me for so many reasons.
“A radical leaving” – Many people were shocked when I told them I was leaving Global Kids. When I first began at GK, Bill Clinton was president. Since then, three presidential elections had come and gone, a fourth was nearly complete, and I, to paraphrase Sondheim, was still there. I loved my job at GK, I adored and admired people I worked with, and for, I took inspiration from the projects I participated in developing, and it was all just SO comfortable. Before exploring the position at AMNH, I had not gone on one job interview in all my time there. I could hardly imagine anything competing. So when I did leave, it felt like what the poem said: a radical leaving.
“God disturbs us toward our destiny” – I’m not a strong proponent of celestial hands nor fate, but I’m all for being disturbed, and that’s what certainly happened when I first learned of this new position. Just as when I first heard about the opening at Global Kids a dozen years earlier, I was not looking for anything new. But once I heard about it, it got under my skin and wouldn’t go away. It disturbed my equilibrium, forced me to re-evaluate everything about my professional life, and was an itch that wouldn’t leave until I scratched. It ultimately turned my life upside down (for the better).
“Which explode and confirm who we are” – I consider myself to be a very lucky person. I have had a blessed professional career, jumping from one crazy position to another, making an impact, and having a blast along the way. And I knew a lot of what made me effective in my job, or at least I thought I did, but until coming to the AMNH I didn’t realize how much I took for granted, how much things that were par for the course at GK are part of what made it so exceptional and, now, what makes me much more than I had previously imagined. It is still shocking to me but in my new position I am forced to face that ever day. And to be fully effective I will need to recognize and claim all of what I bring to the table, not just my strengths but my profound ignorance as well (even though I’ve now learned to weave “morphology” and “microscopy” into everyday sentences).
“We don’t like leaving, But God loves becoming” – That’s my favorite part. I hate change, odd as it might sound to those who know me. I thrive on innovation, but I also tend to be rather conservative – I tend to take calculated risks. So no, the idea of leaving a known job to work in a new place, with new people, in a new position still to be fully defined – well, that was exciting, yes, but far from, shall we say, comfortable. But God loves becoming. Leaving might not be pleasant but arriving, and being transformed in the process, that is something else. That is wondrous. And in the phrasing of the poem, becoming is not an end-state. It is an on-going process. As long as I can keep “disturbing” myself, working on my edge points, trying new things, working outside my comfort zone, maintaining a critical self-reflection, then my process of “becoming” an employee of the AMNH, and of defining and embodying my position, need never end.