It was nearly a year ago that I made the decision to put LivingVertical on the back burner in order to accept a position at the T1D Exchange in Boston as the Special Projects Manager of the Glu community. It was both exciting and emotional. I was pioneering into the exciting, new territory of the office-world, having proper health insurance and being part of a team. It felt great having the security of knowing that I’d be given direction, answers, support and a consistent means of income–something that I’d never truly had as an adult. It wasn’t without some sacrifice though–LivingVertical represented years of personal investment, struggle and triumph–and recognizing that it was necessary to turn the page and step away from so much of my identity was agonizing at the time.
I have always valued being understood more than being admired but the process of learning to understand myself has often been the greatest obstacle. That struggle has often required me to put my passion into the crucible of rebirth. I remember being a little boy and my mother explaining to me that the most powerful force in nature was the seed that fell down into a crack in the mountain and died–and only after completely surrendering to its own failure and insignificance could it sprout with the subtle insistence capable of cleaving the very stone that once entombed it.
Seasons change, and with them priorities and corresponding definitions of success. It was hard for me to let myself go through that change.
I learned so much from my colleagues at the T1D Exchange, not the least of which is that it’s ok for me to accept myself. A poorly reformed dirtbag climber in the financial district of Boston sticks out like a sore thumb. I’d answer the door at the office sometimes when we’d have guests arrive and I could see the questions flicker across the faces of the uninitiated: ‘Shouldn’t you be out on a rock somewhere?’ or ‘How did you get in here?’ I came into that space trying to live up to what I thought other people saw as my potential. I legitimately wanted to grow up and fit in. It was only after some time and a lot of patient listening on the part of my aforementioned colleagues that I realized that no one else was fooled by my attempt to fit in–and that no one but me was pressuring myself to keep up the effort.
When I was belaboring my struggle to fit in to a team environment the answer I got was both simple and profound; “Steve, not everyone is meant to work for someone else. Some people are ‘built’ to be their own boss and that’s not a bad thing.” It was as if I was drowning in knee deep water and he’d just come along and said “Hey, you know you can stand up, right?”
It seemed that my habitual self flagellation did not desert me even in a completely new context. Thank heavens for durable psychological landmarks. This “ruby slippers moment” highlighted the extent to which self sabotage is often the most difficult opponent to defeat. I had the freedom to make change, and the vision for what I could accomplish if I’d just “say uncle” but I felt like I had failed once with LivingVertical and I couldn’t go back into the vulnerable position of trying again to live life on the road, in search of adventure.
Or could I?
What about money? What about insurance? What about security? What would everyone say–and what if I get back in the drivers seat and LivingVertical fizzles? Stakes are invariably higher when a child is part of the equation. Those are hard questions to answer–and that’s partly what the next several months will be about from my perspective. I guess it means that I will once again put my passion on the chopping block by pursuing it fully. Realizing your dreams means relinquishing them to the harsh light of day–and in the daylight your dreams inevitably become a reality which is not entirely of your making. This is a process that will happen over and over again–but I have to say that I am excited to be taking the risk by running towards what I envision LivingVertical becoming rather than shelving it from a desire to play it safe.
Choosing to avoid risk completely is never an option. The pursuit of security is always just that; pursuit. Despite having insurance and predictable income I felt the weight of living further from the mountains and the canyons that inspire me. The non-medical component of my diabetes began to loom larger in my mind and body. For the first time in my life I really felt confined by my diabetes–I felt limited by it. It’s hard to explain if you don’t get it–but the choice to pursue adventure over security was a clear step towards being healthy for me.
I don’t think that living in a trailer is better or more noble than a conventional life. In many ways the desire for adventure is a co-pathology that has come hand in hand with type 1 diabetes. It’s a struggle, not a vacation–but it’s made for me–and I am made for it as well. The battle has been to find the courage to make a choice. I don’t want people to feel as though I look down on others who commute to a 9-5 job and find fulfillment in a mortgage and security. If anything I am amazed at how hard that is–and impressed at the commitment that it takes to live within those constraints. I believe that it’s no less an achievement to live deliberately in one place than another.
In many ways my decision return to LivingVertical is less an act of rebellion and more an act of surrender to what feels right to me. I know that many people in the diabetes community view anything that is not drugs, devices or research as the “kids’ table” at the party. I am happy to go against the grain because I am more convinced than ever that life with diabetes must be about LIFE first. To that end I am proud to continue living an empowered, adventure focused life with diabetes. The tools we use are no more valuable than the life we can create with them, and that includes health insurance. I am grateful to my colleagues at the T1D Exchange for their patient insight along the way and for taking a chance on me that has brought about these moments of clarity.