CHANGE means...turning "what if?" into "why not?"


Eric S. Wyatt - a writer, teacher, consultant at Words Matter - shares his story about change. Eric has a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing and he blogs at Stories I Read, Stories I Tell. Florida became a frequently visited destination after my wife’s parents became post-retirement residents--first seasonal, and later, permanent. Over the course of the eight years prior to our decision to move there ourselves, we visited the Sunshine State over the Christmas break and during spring break on more than a half-dozen occasions. Somewhere along the way, perhaps in the spring of 2007 or Christmas of 2008, as we neared the end of our trip, I said the words, “Wouldn’t it be nice to not go back?”

If we just lived here, I reasoned, we wouldn’t be taking this “last” drive out to the beach for one “last” sunset before we headed back to the Midwest. We wouldn’t “have” to leave. We wouldn’t be “visitors” but residents.  My wife agreed, and we spent some time pondering that distant “someday” when we could find a place near the water and leave the Midwestern winters behind. It gave us something to “dream of.”

I used a disproportionate number of quotation marks in that last paragraph on purpose; all of our talk at that point was the theoretical kind that deserves to be heavily air quoted. It was the amorphous talk of the shy and unconfident boy imagining how he would woo the love he admires from afar, or the uncommitted, big-future talk of the twenty-three year old considering investing for retirement. We used the words “what if” and “if only” and “some day.”

But I think this sort of thing was actually the first step of our eventual migration. Yes, we were talking without conviction, we were imagining without confidence, we were filled with doubt about the feasibility of anything we were saying, but we were putting the eventual desired outcome into words. The preliminary planning may have been couched in, “If we ever hit the lottery…” declarations, but it wasn’t without merit.

In October of 2009 we made a decision to put the house we had built just three years earlier on the market. A change in management left me eased out of one job and the attempts at making a reasonable wage--and continue to avoid being a writer, but that’s a post for another day--had fallen flat. The home we built with one set of parameters (the desire to have children, the steady flow of two incomes, the desire to settle into one location after twelve years of gypsy-like wandering) was now fraught with new realities: no children for us, one income, a change of perspective about the long-term desirability of that most recently adopted place. The house didn’t make sense, financially or logistically. What did two people need with 2,200 square feet of space? Why sacrifice, financially, in other areas in order to keep something we had come to understand as beyond our need?

As the house languished on the nearly dead, post-bubble real estate market, the financial realities became even bleaker. As 2009 turned to 2010, we knew it would only be a few months before we would move again--either the house would sell, or we would have to give in to the financial fact of foreclosure.

We began to prepare for the idea of downsizing. We began to sort and organize our stuff into categories. We gave things away. Sold some things. Trashed the things that were really trash. Somewhere along the line, I said, “If we are going to downsize and radically change our lives, why are we staying here? Why not just jump in and make the change we really want?” And, what we really wanted was to get away from the wind and ice of the Indiana winters, to live somewhere with a large body of water and lush beaches nearby, and to spend more time in the outdoors.

Those earlier “what if?” Florida conversations came back to us, but this time we used words like, “why not?” and “here’s how we can make it work.”

Once we shifted our thought process, things began to fall into place. Over the course of two months--May and June of 2010--here is what happened: The short-sale offer on our house was accepted by the bank; my wife began investigating teaching opportunities in Florida; the foreclosure procedure was suspended and reversed; the closing date was set; we decided on several key areas where we wanted to live and Cami began applying for open teaching positions; we sold, trashed, or gave away more than half of our “stuff”; Cami flew to Florida for an interview on less than 24 hour’s notice; we sold one of our two cars; Cami was offered a job in Palmetto, Florida and resigned her job in Indiana; we made arrangements for an apartment in Florida, sight-unseen; we closed the sale of our old house, packed what remained of our possessions into a U-Haul, loaded the dogs in the car, and caravanned south.

This summer marked the start of our third year in Florida. It isn’t always paradise. But we knew that, going in. Sometimes a place is calling to you, and you just don’t hear that voice. The Sarasota-Bradenton area was one of those places for us. When we visited here as tourists, we said, “what if…?” Now the “what if” has become “Why didn’t we do this sooner?”

No, this isn’t a perfect place to live. There is no such place, likely. But, when we are sitting on the beach, the orange sun ripe like citrus, the sky painted in brushstrokes of pinks and oranges and purples and blues, a pod of dolphins breeching and blowing as they slowly patrol the coast, our salt-tinged lips broadening into a smile appreciative of the daily nature show we have such easy access to, it’s hard to remember why we ever waited to make this life our reality.

As a writer and personal coach, I believe the dynamics of change affect characters in storytelling as much as they do individuals in real life. If you’d like to share a real story about change, or if you’d like to explore the potential for change in your own life or that of a story character, contact me to arrange a guest post on my blog.