Days after I lost my job, I went to hear Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients founder Horst Rechelbacher speak in Boulder. I went because Rechelbacher is one of a kind, I like the people who organized the event and everyone was telling me I needed to shower, dress and get out of the house. I was a little raw to be out among the green elite, but I figured I could slip in, listen to Rechelbacher and get out without too much interaction. I arrived exactly on time and found exactly what I didn't want to see: nametags, all lined up on the entrance table in alphabetical order.
Whole Foods caterers were putting finishing touches on a long table full of cheeses and hummuses. A handful of people were sipping wine from compostable cups and conversing about GMO crops on Boulder public lands and other topics that I was too conscious of my personal crisis to care about that night. A pre-presentation reception was just starting. How did I not know about this?
My gut instinct said to go home. I headed through the long hallway toward the patio, where I could pretend to check my iPhone. On the way I ran into a designer I've known and admired for years, a subscriber to one of the magazines I had run. She looked at my Freelance Journalist nametag and introduced me to her friend. "This is Robyn. Our kids went to school together years ago," she said. We stood there awkwardly, and she added, "Yeah."
I fled to the bathroom and texted a friend about how much I hate events with nametags. I thought about how I'd sounded like a chirping bird when the designer asked me what I was doing next and I kept saying I had no idea but something good was coming, something great was on the way. I probably imagined that her smile was pitying and even that she'd said "yeah" that way -- like our conversation was complete.
In his talk, Rechelbacher told of growing up in Austria surrounded by fear during World War II, and starting a new business at age 70. He didn't launch Intelligent Nutrients after he sold Aveda because he needed the money, he said. If he hadn't started the line of personal care products made from organic food-grade ingredients, he would be sitting at home and blaming himself for not doing it. "The most important thing is taking charge," Rechelbacher told the crowd. "We are afraid of taking charge."
I've been thinking about that ever since. For decades I thought I was in charge because I had dominion over editors and magazine content and kept myself very, very busy. Sitting at home was for sissies. I made things happen, and I exerted control, but my choices and directions always bent to the whim of the people who paid me. All those years in middle management, despite the word "chief" in my title, gave me a comfortable illusion to nest in. I was never in charge.
I don't have Horst's wisdom or millions, but I do have things I will blame myself for not doing. The fragile shells around these things are cracking open, and I have a responsibility to nurture the tiny bald hatchlings as they stumble out. Some will die of exposure or get picked off by predators, but a few will turn up their wide chirping beaks looking for food. I don't need wisdom or millions to provide nutrients. The earth is full of worms.
I'm in charge. The first thing I will do is come up with anything better than "Freelance Journalist" for my next nametag event. "Free Bird," bitches. (Awkward silence.) Yeah.