My Enneagram number has changed so many times they’ve asked me to refrain from claiming a personality type

The Enneagram is an ancient tool for self-discovery, they claim there are nine ways of being in the world, and if you know your dominant personality you can confront challenges from a place of strength. At one time or another, I’ve been an enthusiast, loyalist, and reformer, but these are always dominated by the peacemaker in me. I just want everyone to be happy or at least be willing to fake it.

Brene Brown speaks about the power of vulnerability as a tool for change but I prefer the art of reinvention.

Don’t ever feel like your best days are behind you. Reinvention is the purest form of hope. Make today your best yet.

—Phil Wohl

If you make the leap from adolescence to adulthood (which I claim to have done), settling on your first job is often based on monetary compensation, as opposed to skill and interest. I moved to Oregon after college with my new husband and had absolutely no contacts.  This was the pre-cell phone, Facebook, and Twitter era. I circled three jobs I found in The Oregonian and hit the road with my experience shallow resume. It may have been a self-negating choice but I took the first position I was offered. Ends up I am quite skilled at talking people into renting more furniture than they need. Who knew?

Working for Grantree was lucrative (as opposed to unemployment) and I had the added bonus of managing my own store. It took me two weeks to piss off corporate. Shocking as this may seem I took a bedroom lamp and positioned it with the office grouping. In my opinion, it was magic, in corporate’s opinion it was sabotage, and would not be tolerated. When my store consistently topped sales each month they invited me to consult on displays. My vindication was short-lived, because Larry walked into our apartment one afternoon and said, “We’re moving back to San Jose.” And that was the end of my Grantree career (a loss for Portland I’m sure).

This has become an established pattern for me, a legacy if you will, the art of reinvention. I keep getting thrown off my horse, but in the face of overwhelming odds, my motto has always been “never ever give up.” I’ll use everything in my arsenal to avoid failure, including the Holy Spirit, it’s my cross to bear, and I drag it with me wherever I go.

Prior to our move to San Jose, I hailed all my Bay Area contacts and scored a job with Signetics before we secured housing. This was not a carefully thought out decision but it did align better with my interests (bigger paycheck and business cards). It was a good gig until I got knocked up. As soon as Julie came into the world I became a mother and I chose the “stay-at-home” method, not so aligned with my skill set, but I refused to cry “uncle,” and only threw in the towel once a week. Thank god for girlfriends and kleenex.

With a creative use of paint, mud, and tapas I brought my personal brand of “magic” into the home. I’m sure my kids will concur but they are shy so please refrain from asking them. When their knowledge of geography surpassed my own I bought a map and learned along side them. I made cooked Cheerios, introduced them to The Hobbit, created one of a kind lampshades for their rooms, and preferred distraction to discipline in almost every situation. For example, my girls learned the exact length of the phone cord, and they used to bicker just outside my reach. Out of desparation I threw a handful of chocolate chips across the kitchen floor one day and gained a full fifteen minutes of uninterrupted phone time. It was a sweet diversion.

After keeping a home, a Girl Scout troop, Bagby fundraisers, and the parish Religious Studies department ticking for well over a decade the neurons in my brain completely stopped firing. It happens, so I applied to grad school. One of my first assignments was to write an academic paper on Mary, as in mother of God, born without sin, beloved disciple. My professor walked me through the process of using a search engine instead of index cards. It was overwhelming. I cried on my way home.

There were 72 books that fit the parameters of my first search engine. I checked out eight and read each one cover to cover. I hadn’t developed the skill of skimming for critical information. In fact I had no critical thinking skills at all. I wrote a sappy, highly metaphoric, eighteen page paper redefining the Virgin Mary as a PTA mom. One of my classmates offered to edit, she said two paragraphs qualified as academic, and suggested I pull the story of Mary enjoying a girls night out with Elizabeth. I wrote the entire paper over and she approved two more pages but slashed my editorial on the economy of divine fertilization. After my third attempt I turned in a disastrous exegesis and earned a B from my professor. I considered it a gift.

Two-and a half years later I was honored with a master’s hood. Now what? I spent the next six months writing for a catechetical magazine, they published a book I wrote on pedagogical practices for parishes. I earned approximately .25 an hour and no royalties (in fact they spelled my name wrong on the first printing). It didn’t exactly make me famous or rich.

Desperate for a reliable paycheck I applied for a teaching position at Notre Dame High School. Within the span of twenty-four hours I received a “thank you for applying, we’ll keep your resume on file” letter, which I threw in the garbage can. I did a follow up call one week later and I admit I acted like I never received the rejection letter. As luck would have it they had an “unexpected” opening in the religious studies department. I was to start on Monday (keep in mind I had absolutely no teaching experience). Talk about the art of reinvention!

I had to resurrect skills from my early days of furniture rental and parenting to deal with thirty teenagers at once. I employed enormous amounts of patience, creativity, stand-up comedy, music, arbitration, the gifts of the spirit, bull-shit detector, delineator, magician, and tons of grace. On occasion I threw in chocolate. That was ten long years ago and I still love working with teenagers. But best of all it brought me back to my earliest passion. Writing.

Publishing my first blog took an enormous amount of courage, synergy, and grace. Brene Brown would say I reinvented “vulnerability” for my own purposes. I just wish I came to it earlier. Recently I discovered a poem I wrote when I was ten years old tucked away in the bowels of an old filing cabinet. Thank god for organized mothers.

I love my life
I love to live
I’m grateful (spelt greatful) for what I have
And what I have to give
I still feel the same today. After listening to a Ted Talk on finding our creativity by Amy Tan I realized I’ve come full circle. I guess I should be celebrating my journey instead of rueing the way Grantree looked on my resume. With three precious granddaughters to celebrate I assume my next reinvention with include paint, mud, and tapas!

Maybe deep down inside we were all still in our formative years. Maybe it was never too late for any of us to change.

Claire Cook


This post was previously published on Living in the Gap and is republished here with permission from the author.

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