Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Mind Far Away

Once upon a time, it was summer in Chicago, and I was 25 going on 26. I had graduated with my master’s degree about six months earlier, and moved to the big city to begin a life as a minion in a PR agency and not much else. Sounds fantastic, right?

If we’re going to be completely honest with one another, you should know this: graduate school was not the most super fabulous, awesome-est time in my life. It was a huge adjustment for me, possibly due to leaving my home state for the first time and moving 500 miles away to the suburbs of Chicago where I knew all of nobody and/or choosing a program that ended up not being the right fit for me, curriculum-wise, professor-wise, people-wise, opportunity-wise, etc. Any way you slice it, graduate school did little else besides help me realize that marketing is not the be all end all of careers for me.

Needless to say, the first few months after graduate school living on my own in Chicago were also not the greatest. While I had a few friends from my program, it became clear that these people were in my life to help me make the transition and not the people who would end up part of the fabric of my little Chicago community.

That summer, one of the women I hung with back then ended up dating an Irish guy for about a minute that summer. He was an athlete. He was doing the Chicago Accenture Triathlon that summer. He was an ex-smoker. He was kind of hard to understand sometimes with that cute, but very heavy Irish accent.

One day, this woman, this dude, his friend, and I ended up sitting on the patio at a bar in Lincoln Park, drinking in the sun, and me, smoking cigarettes because… uh duh… you could still do that then and I was having a beverage, so... uh duh...

So this guy, with his Irish accent says to me (get the accent ready in your head…):

Irish guy: Why do you smoke?

Me: Um, whatever. Because what else am I going to do with my other hand while I’m drinking?

(OK. I don’t actually know what I said.)

Irish guy: I quit smoking.

Me: Oh yeah. Do you want a cookie?

(I didn’t say that.)

Irish guy: You should read, “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.” That’s how I quit.

Me: Really? Huh… maybe I’ll check it out… when hell freezes over and pigs fly.”

(I didn’t say that either.)

I didn’t do it. Not then. But a few months later, long, long after his brief romantic encounter with my friend had ended, I remembered what he said, bought the book, and quit smoking.

It doesn’t seem a big thing, especially -- I imagine -- to you I've-never-had-a-cigarette-in-my-life types, or even those of you who at one time or another considered yourself “social smokers.” But, there must be people out there who understand that when you identify yourself as being a smoker for a decade (or more, maybe less), smoking becomes a part of your identity. It’s partially due to the fact that I, as a smoker, planned my days around smoking, but also because the thoughts and feelings that stemmed from smoking took up much of the space between my ears: wanting to quit (“in theory”), feeling guilty because I didn’t really want to quit, feeling accepted in certain social situations, but rejected in others, being stressed because I was harming my body and knew it… the list goes on…

Anyway, that guy... whose name I can't remember... I have never doubted that, in the briefest of moments, he said something that eventually lead to me being on a new path that’s changed not only the course of my life, but also the way I see myself and my future… without him there might have never been this blog, and if this blog didn’t exist, what would you be reading right now?

Think about it… Without being ridiculous and sarcastic, it's kind of profound when you realize that we can effect other people's lives in a conversation, a blog, a lifetime friendship, a moment in passing.

That’s only part of my story I suppose -- which I fully recognize isn’t nearly as inspiring as some of the stories from others who suffer from adult onset athleticism. I never hit a rock bottom. But lost is lost I suppose. I don’t want to diminish it. All I know is that after I met him, and heard his message, the dominoes started to fall. Life isn’t perfect -- not by a long shot, my people… but I learned that I have the potential to live a life that I am excited about and be a person who, I think, does some pretty awesome things, instead wishing for something else, like the big, important, well-paid marketing career, that would never fulfill me.

And FYI, this post was inspired by Heidi. A case in point that maybe we're all here to inspire each other. Just saying.


Roisin said...

Whoa. That's pretty awesome, Lou.

heidikins said...

I love this, I love hearing about such simple, small events that can bring about so much change.


RBR said...

As a former smoker myself I certainly won't let you diminish it.

It is fucking hard to quit smoking.

I have have quit a few things in my life, so I should know. Ha! Only in this instance can being a former loser at life make me an authority on something!

Thank you for... you know. Thank you.

L Sass said...

What a great story and a great accomplishment!

Also, I LOVE the term "adult onset athleticism." Yeah, that sounds about right to me.

Gretta said...

I am proud of you! I never would have guessed you were a smoker - what with all that crazy running and Vegan-experimenting and whatnot.