Author Archives: Kelly J. McCleary

About Kelly J. McCleary

Mother of three, author, financial professional

Purpose

A friend told me this week that she’s been working to define her purpose. She has the seeds of it in her head and is now in the middle of a challenging process to concisely articulate it. I was impressed. I’d never thought about defining mine.

Like I suppose every adult, I’ve struggled to find meaning in life. I know I want to leave my tiny corner of the world better for my having been here. I know I want to have a positive impact on the people I encounter. I want to fight for those who have no voice. Yet, I’ve never considered what my driving purpose is, that drives everything I do in both my personal and work life. It suddenly feels urgent to clearly define that.

Like my friend, I have loose thoughts bouncing around in my head, but also like my friend, I can’t yet define it well enough to provide a singular guide for my life. It will include love and dignity and compassion and acceptance. It will be a complete integration of my faith and values into my life and will seamlessly unify my actions in every aspect. Most importantly, it will not be about my wants or desires: Thy will be done.

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Visible

I attended my first rally this past Sunday. I didn’t intend to. I drove to the Washington County Courthouse for the Transgender Day of Visibility, to attend what was billed as a parade and show my support as an ally. It wasn’t a parade.

Instead, it was a group of about twenty people gathered in front of the courthouse, holding signs for the cars passing by on College Avenue. I didn’t know a soul, but Brody and Anh greeted me and gave me a sign to hold. My sign promoted LGBT equality. I stood on the sidewalk for a few minutes, holding my sign and watching the cars go by, but it didn’t feel right. It wasn’t enough. So I started waving at the people in the cars going by, making eye contact the best I could. That changed everything. You see, people are naturally friendly. When you smile at them and wave, their instinct is to smile and wave back. Half of the riders in the hundreds of cars that passed by that hour smiled and waved, and half of the other half instinctively smiled, if only a slightly embarrassed smile that showed they weren’t sure how to respond. The remaining quarter seemed to be avoiding eye contact. I got only two middle fingers.

But the positive responses outnumbered the negatives 100:1. In addition to the waves, there were horns and thumbs up and vigorous head shakes. It was uplifting to see our community’s support for this vulnerable group.

  •  41% of transgender persons have attempted suicide at least once.
  •  19% of transgender persons have experienced violence or abuse by a family member.
  •  Transgender persons can still be fired or denied employment for their identity in 32 states; 26% of transgender persons have lost their job due to their identity.

Everyone deserves dignity and respect and safety. No one deserves to be bullied or rejected or abused. Not for any reason. It is never ok.

Eventually, I got my parade. After an hour in front of the courthouse, we walked as a group to the Fayetteville square. I held the hands of two strangers as we stood in a circle in the spring sun among the tulips. The person on my right was there as part of a couple, neither of whose birth genders was obvious. The person on my left was tall with the frame of a man, but with long hair, makeup, and perfectly-manicured, pale pink fingernails. As we stood there in a moment of silence, reflecting on the statistics and challenges of simple, day-to-day living that this group faces every single day, I cried. I cried because it is still too hard. I cried because there still isn’t complete acceptance. I cried for those who died too young, either as a result of the hate and fear of others, or as a result of a lack of love. Then I opened my eyes and saw…I saw a group of people who need to self-declare a day to be visible. And they were grand.

“Fear of something is at the root of hate of others, and hate within will eventually destroy the hater.”  –George Washington Carver


One More Time

I gave away my bed this week; as I write this, I have just one more night to sleep in it. I’ve loved this bed, but it was time. The mattress sags from use, and the king size is too big now that it’s just me. It’s also somehow become the most tangible symbol of the extreme change I’m going through.

It has been, by far, the most comfortable bed I’ve ever had: it still feels like I’m sleeping on a cloud, in spite of its age. But it’s also the last bed I shared with my ex-husband, after many years of marriage. I sold it just as I sold the house, knowing I’ll be downsizing, though not yet knowing where I’ll be going. It’s a bit scary, but it’s also surprisingly liberating. I’m not only shedding a lot of my material possessions, I’m also literally walking into an unknown future, where nothing will be familiar. I keep thinking I should be worried or afraid, but instead I’m eagerly anticipating my new, if not-yet-known adventure. It’s like looking into a sunshine so bright that I can’t see what’s ahead. I am unafraid.

So I’ll sleep for a couple of nights on the spring-y futon that will be going to Megan’s new apartment, and then on an unfamiliar bed in temporary housing through the school year. If our new home is still not clear after that, then I’m blessed to have family with spare bedrooms until the new path comes into view. Then I will unpack a new bed in a new home in my new life. I can’t wait to see where that will be!

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” -Matsuo Basho


Giving

 

One of the things I’ve learned in a big way is how many good people there are in the world. I’ve had much opportunity to need support in the last few years, and I’ve been beyond blessed by how those around me have reacted. I can’t agree with the skeptic’s view of humanity given what I’ve experienced.

What I’ve learned is, simply, to ask. That was initially hard for me to do when I first started that unfamiliar task, but it’s gotten so much easier that it’s actually become a new habit. People generally say yes:  those who care about you want to help, but often don’t know how, and even most strangers have an innate instinct to help those in need. I’ve written before about the friend who, years ago, taught me to view asking for help as a gift I can give to others. It’s like a hug:  both the receiver and the giver receive. As I asked for support from others during Megan’s illness, and then the breakup of my marriage, and then the layoff, and now on the book, I’m constantly awestruck by the kindness of my fellow human beings. People I don’t know well or haven’t talked to in years step forward in a big way. It’s hugely comforting as a contradiction to today’s headlines.

For those of you out there suffering from one of life’s many difficulties, I hope you’re asking for support from those around you. If you don’t know where to turn, ask a minister or a caring friend. Or ask me…I have a substantial debt that I’m eager to pay forward. You’re not alone.

“Always give without remembering and always receive without forgetting.”  ― Brian Tracy


Life’s Not Fair

When I was twelve years old, I came home from school and told my mother that some girls at school were mean to me, as only girls that age can be. I expected sympathy from her. Instead, I received one of the most profound lessons of my life when she responded “Life’s not fair.” Though I was mad at the time, I have been grateful to her ever since for her perspective-shifting gift. In that moment, she taught me resilience to life’s inevitable injustices.

I needed that lesson, as I especially struggle with injustice. It makes me angry to see others mistreated or oppressed. There is so much of that in the world that without an early realization of this reality, I’m not sure how I’d have coped as an adult with an unrealistic expectation. It’s still a trigger for me, though my maturing faith has also helped me accept that justice won’t come in this life.

As I’ve approached mid-life, my mother’s lesson has taken on an additional meaning. As I’ve reflected on my life thus far, I know that I have been very blessed. Sure I’ve faced challenges and loss, but I’ve also known love and friendship and made a difference. I have a warm roof over my head and don’t worry about where my next meal is coming from. And in spite of its flaws, I was born in the best country the world has ever known. You never have to look far to find someone worse off than you.

Mom was right: life isn’t fair. I will keep fighting and advocating for the victims of that unfairness. And I will be forever, profoundly grateful for what I have.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. –Martin Luther King Jr.


Mirror Mirror

I found this saying years ago, and it stuck with me because, for me, it’s true. In my case, this is an enormous blessing.

Photos of me as a little girl are nearly indistinguishable from those of my mother at the same age, other than my pictures are in color. I was in junior high when I first realized this, looking at photos of my mom at my grandparents’ house and telling her, “Wow mom, you sure look like me!”. She and my grandparents chuckled as she gently corrected my perspective. When I started working in the same company as my mom, people would stop me in the hallway and say “You must be Kathy’s daughter!”. I couldn’t deny her even if I wanted to.

But I’d like to believe there’s more than a physical resemblance. You see, my mom’s a pioneer. She worked her way into management in the 70’s when there weren’t women in management. The personality test her company gave her to move into management included a question asking if she’d rather spend an evening with a beautiful woman or reading a good book. In the 80’s, she took her career a step further, becoming president (!) of an industry group, the International Customer Service Association (ICSA), and played an important role in building this new organization.

My mom did all of this while also raising the four of us kids, providing a loving, stable home for us. It wasn’t easy, something I appreciate more now as a working mom myself. But my mom wasn’t just there for me and my siblings, she was also blazing a visible trail for thousands of women to follow. Successful career women today have my mother and countless others like her to thank for paving our path. She is my hero. She is my mom.

“I got to grow up with a mother who taught me to believe in me.” — Antonio Villaraigosa


Doorknob

I knew this time was coming. I’m a recovering control freak, and I’ve known there would come a time after the layoff that I’d struggle with letting go of the process. I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. Last year, I ran across a saying that if we want God to open a door, we need to let go of the doorknob. I’ve been working on dropping my hand ever since.

Now that transition activities are in full swing, my fervent daily prayer has become for the strength to listen and trust. It’s hard for me to shut off the loop of noise in my head asking all the ‘W’ questions (why, what, when, where) over and over. I know the loop is an attempt to gain control over the situation, to analyze and game my way through it, as I would a puzzle at work. But this is so much bigger, and the variables too unpredictable, for my normal go-to approach. Some of this habit is useful: breaking the search down into manageable steps and methodically checking them off, but that only gets me so far. I quickly find myself at the edge of what I can control, waiting.

So I wait and build out my faith muscles. It’s agonizing at times, but it’s also surprisingly peaceful. I’ve experienced an unexpected serenity through this whole process that’s come from knowing that this isn’t all up to me. Though I have my part to play, I don’t have to figure it all out. There’s already a perfect plan laid out; I just have to let it unfold in front of me. It will be just as it should be. God is good.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” –Martin Luther King Jr.