On or about December 1910 human character changed. I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered or a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that, but a change there was, nevertheless.
— Virginia Woolf
The first time I read this quote by Virginia Woolf, I thought (with an eye roll and much skepticism), “Oh really?!” It seems rather presumptuous to name a specific date on which all of human character changed.
Though I eventually became more accepting of Woolf’s claim when I learned that she was referring specifically to the arrival of modernism, I still resist the idea of making any sort of grand, sweeping declaration about all of humanity. There are too many cultures, ways of life, and circumstances for one thing to be true for all of human character.
I do not, however, resist the impulse to name a date or event that sparked the change of an individual’s character. It’s not something that I ordinarily do; I’m not marking the days in my calendar when I experience a change of heart or shift of behavior. But, with this being a reflective time of year for me, I’ve noticed that identifying key moments of transition is a helpful tool. It sparks gratitude and it encourages future growth.
For an example, I went through a significant personal change this past year when I transitioned from working full-time to half-time and began spending more waking hours with my young daughter and freelance writing than at my place of employment. That’s a shift in and of itself, but the real change that I notice in this movement was my approach and attitude towards decision-making.
I had fretted over my work situation in the months leading up to my daughter’s birth and at one point had told my boss that I planned to leave my job entirely. It seemed so much simpler to have a clean break than to explore part-time possibilities, for both the church where I work and for me. Mercifully, my boss told me to take some time and not rush into any decisions. He offered me space to explore possibilities and time to slowly and carefully discern my future.
Looking back, I see that the space and time he gifted me sparked a change in how I go about making decisions. Whereas I previously rushed to make choices and usually made them by myself, having ample time to consider various future scenarios inspired me to reach out to several trusted mentors and to seek their wisdom. It also moved me to have calmer, less emotionally fraught conversations with my partner about our hopes and dreams for the future.
I’m very lucky that things worked out the way that they did for me. I don’t take for granted that I have a boss and community that supports flexibility and the happiness of their staff. But even if things hadn’t worked out for me the way that they did — even if I left my job because the parish decided that they needed a full-time person in my previous role — I’m fortunate to have had that initial moment when my boss said “slow down,” and then the proceeding months of discernment. They taught me not to rush through the ambiguous unknown as quickly as possible and to seek the input of advisors, and they instilled in me a spirit of spaciousness and peace — valuable qualities in any decision-making process.
I think it’s safe to say that on or about September 2018 my character changed, during that important conversation with my boss.
Reflect: What moments or events changed you? Who do you have to thank for them? How do you see the fruits of these moments playing out in your life now?
Teresa Coda works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church, dabbles in interfaith hospital chaplaincy, and writes about life and spirituality. She has a Masters in Divinity from Harvard Divinity School where she studied theology and pastoral care and counseling. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband Caleb, her daughter Esther and her Boston terrier Bean.