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Nevertheless, she disappeared.

I learned a big lesson recently: I am utterly and completely replaceable.

No, not at home! I am talking about in the workplace.

You would think this revelation would be depressing: I am not as important as I fooled myself into thinking I was! But it wasn’t depressing. It isn’t depressing. It is instead an ego-confronting moment that has the power to transform. It is liberating.

I recently exited a place where I had been working for a very long time. A very very long time. I was single and childless when I started working there. People typed memos and placed them in mail slots when I started working there. Over the course of multiple decades and more than a dozen book projects, I worked at this place, became part of its fabric, became a weaver of its fabric.

And then, suddenly, it became harder and harder to be a weaver. But that’s what I am. I need to weave. And so I needed to go.

I left, by design, without a public announcement, without the standard good-bye party. I wanted it that way for a number of reasons, including this one. I wanted to know: Would anyone realize I was gone? Would I leave behind a hole where I used to be? Was I, you know, irreplaceable?

The answers? No. No. Yes.

I am so very thankful to have learned this. The exit experience shows me how essential it is to do things, to create, innovate, weave, whatever, to contribute, for the good of the order, for the joy of it, for the fun of it – and not for the ego, for the (oh please) enduring legacy. I love that whatever tiny hole I might have left behind so quickly closed that no one was aware that it had existed at all. I love that I was the only one who honored my exit.

I wrote about just this kind of moment at the end of my last book, Raising the Barre, when, after my final performance dancing with the Eugene Ballet Company – an accomplishment I doubted even as I was doing it — I didn’t arrange to meet up with anyone to note the occasion. I hurried out of my costume, jumped in my car and started to drive home. Then, suddenly, I wasn’t in a hurry. I wanted to sit in the moment for a while. So I stopped at a neighborhood watering hole. Here’s what I wrote. It’s the last scene in the book:

Me and my baggy sweats and my over-the-top eye make-up walk into the bar and sit between an old guy eating a burger and a young hipster nursing an IPA. And they don’t know who I am or where I’ve been or what I’ve done. And that’s just as it should be. Because the only person who knows what this means to me, the only person who can truly celebrate this moment with me, is me.

15 comments

1 Mical Lewis { 02.15.17 at 7:59 pm }

This is so inspiring! I’m at the beginning of my latest journey and I’ve been struggling with notions of “having an impact” and whether or not the work/time/effort I’m putting in is ultimately worth it. This blog post is timely and serendipitous reminder that it *is* worth it because I am having an impact on myself and I’m making myself better at the very least. I need to do this for me, not for anyone else. Thank you for sharing your experience!

2 Lauren { 02.16.17 at 12:06 am }

Oh yes, Mical, oh yes. To have that bit of wisdom now in your life — as opposed to when I “got it” — is a blessing.

3 kim { 02.15.17 at 11:49 pm }

You are an irreplaceable friend, mentor, inspiration and goddess. Fuck the rest of it.

4 Lauren { 02.16.17 at 12:04 am }

I think friends ARE irreplaceable. And I feel the same about you. In the workplace, however,especially when one achieves some “status,” it is too easy to start believing in your own importance.

5 Shannon { 02.16.17 at 8:02 am }

No hole but a vacuum, a certain refraction of light, as it passes through the space you once inhabited. There are pillars built on the foundation you laid, there is a safety pin on the lapel of my favorite vest that reminds me although you may be absent, you are not forgotten.

6 Lauren { 02.16.17 at 7:27 pm }

What a lovely sentiment, Shan, and so poetically expressed. I appreciate (and am happy) that you see it this way. I don’t…for reasons way beyond the scope of this little essay. But I am not just okay with this, I am ecstatically okay with it. I know what I did.

7 Richard Greene { 02.16.17 at 8:45 am }

Lauren I am closing out a life as a small business owner I feel a sense of lost. The end of a battle with the “wisdom of the marketplace” and the “wheels of commerce”. Until recently the mastering of a craft and passing it on as a legacy was the foundation of families. Respecting the craft and the training passed down was living in the generations. My business will disappear like a snowflake in a lake. Thats the world we live in now. And to quote a poet “like a bird on a wire or a drunk in choir I have tried in my way to be free”. It has been a losing battle a paintbrush against the American economy’s dehumanising power.

8 Lauren { 02.16.17 at 7:22 pm }

But, Richard, it was not a losing battle. You created a business from the ground up. You made a good, liveable life for yourself and your family. And I am betting you would rather see your son in the position he’s in than taking over the family business. Am I right?

9 Greg { 02.16.17 at 10:55 pm }

” I love that whatever tiny hole I might have left behind so quickly closed that no one was aware that it had existed at all.”

Sorry—I’m aware of that tiny hole whenever I pass a room that was once full of typewriters (and not only then…).

10 Lauren { 02.17.17 at 4:59 pm }

Alas, the “new” building relieved me of any nostalgia…not that I could EVER be nostalgic for typewriters days. If i am nostalgic at all, it is for my first boss (and yours) an anti-bureaucrat, anti-turf-builder whose idea of leading was to empower others.

11 John Mitchell { 02.17.17 at 6:24 pm }

Wondered the same things myself when I retired from EWEB, when I recalled a cartoon that featured a number of tombstones in a graveyard. The caption read something like: “there are a lot of indispensable people in the cemetery.” The good news is we have a lot more living to do, and with endless possibilities, the best is yet to come.

12 Lauren { 02.17.17 at 6:45 pm }

Love that caption, John.

13 Colleen { 02.20.17 at 12:55 am }

Like you, Lauren, I spent many years at the institution (my entire adult life if you must know), although in a number of different roles in different units. In the beginning I thought I would never reach retirement; in the end I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted at all. I truly do miss the people (I am so glad I can keep up with your adventures on this blog), and sometimes even miss the actual work I did, but I never miss the feeling of helplessness or inadequacy that came from bureaucracy, the ill-will from those who had a “different vision” than I, or the sense of a ship that is not entirely on the right course. But the people I’ve known over the past decades are in my heart forever and my memories of the time spent with them in our common cause are cherished.

Big hugs and gratitude to you for all you mean to me and the countless others who shared your orbit.

14 Brett { 02.20.17 at 10:00 pm }

You made a difference, and a positive one, for so many of us. How cool that you get to keep doing that in a different, more creative way — and without committee meetings!

15 Lauren { 02.22.17 at 6:24 pm }

Thanks, Brett. Working with talented writers (like you!) has been and continues to be the JOY of it. The work I’m doing with prison writers and the opportunities I have at UW are feeding my soul in a way I almost had forgotten my soul could be fed.

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