The most awkward transition in my life was moving from the nurtured and relatively carefree life of a student to contributing as an independent and productive adult. Looking back, I fondly refer to that period as my “Mr. Magoo years.”
If you don’t remember Mr. Magoo, he was a hopelessly nearsighted character who cluelessly marched through life narrowly avoiding disaster with every step. Like Mr. Magoo, I was naïve and nearsighted enough to trust that each step I took would lead me on firm footing to my new life. They did, but not without some cringe-worthy events.
The Mr. Magoo years began immediately after college graduation. My parents had moved from Illinois to Boston a few years earlier, but since all my relationships were in the Chicago area, I didn’t relish the idea of moving to the East coast. A friend of mine had just bought a house in my hometown and was looking for roommates, so when she called to see if I was interested, I said, “Sure, but I don’t have a job.” She said, “We’ll work something out.” So, I moved to Chicago and my parents loaned me $1000 and then went back to Boston. If I couldn’t support myself by the time the money ran out, I would be on an Amtrak train to Boston, with my suitcase or two of belongings, being woken up throughout the night by stops in Buffalo and Schenectady. I was familiar with the route.
I had been thrust into a world of possibilities, like soaring in a balloon with potential jobs, careers, relationships, and travel floating by me, but I didn’t have the wisdom to steer the balloon. Down on the earth, I spent every morning circling jobs in newspaper want ads, talking to friends about opportunities (my attempt at what is now known as networking), and sending resumés
A Career Start
Within a few months, I landed a job as a computer programmer for a small software company even though I had zero knowledge of how to write a computer program. (My resumé did not include the calculus class I had taken in college in which I got 8 out of a possible 100 points for programming.) The company used a proprietary software language, and since they had to train all new programmers, they offered a business major with no computer skills like me far less than they would have had to pay skilled computer science majors. It was a professional job and the start of a career, and it was fine with me.
A three-week training session in Boston would prepare me for this role, and since my parents lived in Boston and I was not exactly flush with cash, my dad had planned to pick me up at the airport and would rent a car for me. (I didn’t yet have a credit card.) The Sunday afternoon flight was delayed, then delayed some more—a lot more. At midnight, the flight was canceled.
I spent the night in an O’Hare cafeteria having a surprisingly deep conversation with a Jewish man, a young Mormon on his way to an obligatory year of evangelism, and someone else whose details escape me. The plane took off at 5 AM, and I arrived for my first day of training having had no sleep and sheepishly asking the receptionist if she would pay the cab driver. Amazingly, they didn’t send me back to Chicago on the spot.
After that uncomfortable start, I became a decent programmer, was recruited by another software firm and, when that business closed their Chicago office, got a job with a Fortune 500 company in their international information services division. I had arrived.
During those years I also fell in love with my softball coach. The night we celebrated a championship win, he asked for my phone number, and I happily gave it to him. Our first date was to a Chicago Cubs game, even though he is more of a White Sox fan. Our second date was to see A Chorus Line. The range of his interests impressed me, and the more I got to know him, the more impressed I became. We got married, bought a home, found a good church, and started a family.
In twelve years, my life went from naïve and nearsighted Mr. Magoo-like-bumbling to a content, productive, and happy life.
Tips for Surviving Transitions
Looking back over my Mr. Magoo years, I don’t remember being terrified, although I shudder to think about them now. I was a very immature Christian, but I believe God directed my balloon. My life could have gone any number of directions, but I’m living the life to which he led me. Clearly, I wasn’t directing myself.
There have been several other transitions in my life: career changes, adjusting to a busy family, slowly re-adjusting to a quiet house, and major health challenges are just a few. I’ve learned that there are at least three factors that help when facing a transition.
- The prayer and support of others. My parents and grandparents were praying people, and I knew it. My mom commonly said, “Hands on your shoulders, Judy,” which was her way of saying that she prayed for the Lord to direct me. I was too immature to realize the importance of her prayers then, but I do now. When I see someone who is in the middle of a transition, like my children who are making their way through their own Mr. Magoo years (thankfully, much better equipped), I pray for the Lord’s hands on their shoulders.
- Viewing transitions as opportunities instead of problems. During my Mr. Magoo years, I was in situations that needed quick resolution, and I could have stressed over the problems or enjoyed the opportunities they presented. I had anxiety about finding a job before my money ran out, for sure, but it wasn’t crippling. After all, Mr. Magoo showed no sign of stress. Transitions are opportunities for God to reveal what’s next for us and my Mr. Magoo years informed me that God knows what he’s doing. When I rest in that fact, I can enjoy the adventure instead of dreading the next twist.
- The most important factor: faith. I’ve never been a serious long-term planner and tend toward the Mr. Magoo-like seeing where the road takes me. Frankly, it’s worked out pretty well. I know that God is responsible, and I’m happy to let him continue to steer my balloon. Through the transitions, some more stressful than others, God has always brought me to a new place and my trust in him has grown considerably.
We are all a bit nearsighted when we’re planning our lives. We are on earth, searching for identity, family, meaningful careers, and influence, and building a life while God is in heaven with the master plan. Only he knows what part we will play. That he took interest in my naïve decisions and steered me to work, family, home, and a productive life, astonishes me. Through it all, I’ve sought him more diligently.
Transitions are a necessary and healthy part of life, and my experience has taught me how to trust God through them. That doesn’t mean I won’t freak out when the next one comes, but after momentary anxiety, I’ll remember: those who love me are still praying for me, every transition is an opportunity, and God will teach me to trust him more completely.
Have faith in God who loves you, is for you, will lead you, and knows how to steer your balloon far better than you do.