Personal Writing

Taking off…but to where?

Taking Off Part I

In August 2014, I faced something I had been dreading for years. I drove with my son Quinn for about seven hours and dropped him off at college.

I had always assumed I would basically shrivel up and die when I left him at school, so it was somewhat surprising when I realized that when it came time to tearfully say goodbye, I simply turned around and kept walking.

Some of what made the day substantially better was that I met another set of parents from our home community who were also dropping off their first child at college. The mom and I both had that anxious, too-bright look on our faces—the one that tries to show the world that “everything’s great. I LOVE this moment!” But everyone sees immediately beyond that facade to the sadness and panic that is right beneath the surface.

I have no idea how the dad was feeling, but after I ran into them a time or two throughout the day, they invited me to fly home with them versus getting on my commercial flight.

I didn’t exactly understand what they meant.

Then it dawned on me. When he told me he had flown there, I thought he meant he went to the regular airport, boarded a regular plane, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Nope. He meant he had flown there. As in, he had piloted their private airplane. And did I want to ride home with them?

I sure did.

Long story short: Instead of sitting at a gate at the municipal airport for hours, wallowing in my sadness at Quinn having grown up in about 12 1/2 seconds, when it was time to leave, I hugged Quinn tight and only had time to shed three little tears.

And the next thing I knew, I was sitting on a private plane, waiting to take off.

The metaphor wasn’t lost on me in the moment. I laughed out loud as I snapped this photo: my first act as an empty nester was to literally take off into the next phase of my life.

My first (and only, to date) time on a private plane. I could get used to that! August 2014.

But I was going home to such a mess.

By 2014, Mazz was in real trouble with his drinking, and our marriage was in absolute decline. In so many ways, I was alone and afraid as I wrapped up one significant period of my life and took off on the next.

With the exception of the private plane, it was hard to find much of anything to be excited about with that shift in my life.

Taking Off Part II

Today, I’m in another massive transitional moment, but in every way that matters, it’s nothing like that day.

Today, Friday, April 28, 2023, is my final day as President & CEO of The Arts Partnership. After nearly 13 years, it’s finally time to move on, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Mazz has been in recovery for more than six years, and I love my marriage and our partnership. In every way that matters, I’m no longer alone in any decisions I’m making about my life, and that is extraordinary.

Quinn is long since done with college and no longer a car ride away; today he very successfully lives a plane ride away in Los Angeles, CA.

There have been these (and other) joys and hardships, too, in these years since that first private plane ride away from one period of my life and into the next.

So it’s fitting that my first act (again!) is to jet off to an in-person gathering in Ocean Grove, NJ, of a dozen remarkable women I’ve gotten to know through an online group I joined during COVID. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to travel in a private plane today, but the metaphor was as powerful in a commercial airplane as it was in 2014.

Up, up and away! Friday, April 28, 2023. Leaving The Arts Partnership and heading off to…who knows what?

I was devastated in so many ways to leave Quinn at college, but I couldn’t ignore his excitement, my pride in him getting into such a good University and my joy at the young man he was becoming.

And I couldn’t pretend that my marriage wasn’t moving quickly to a place of no return either.

All I could do on that hard day in 2014 was take a deep breath, hug my boy goodbye and walk toward that private plane. I understood that my life was changing, but beyond that, I didn’t have any other answers.

Today, I don’t exactly know where my life is going either, but the uncertainty isn’t sad. Instead, I’m excited for what’s next and hopeful that this movement from one phase to the next will take me places I haven’t even imagined yet.

All I can do today is take a deep breath, have gratitude for where I’ve been and look ahead to the uncertainties and opportunities I finally have to pursue and grow my Discover Your Spark empire full time.

Over to You

We’re basically “taking off” throughout our entire lives. We’re getting ready for something, we’re waiting for the beginning or the end of a period of time in our lives; we’re anticipating or fearful of the next move.

Lots of these moments are out of our control: a diagnosis, an accident, getting fired, learning your partner wants out, saying goodbye at the edge of the campus.

How you deal with these take off moments, these beginnings and endings, however, is often entirely up to you.

The end of one thing is always the beginning of something else. And there’s almost always good and less-than-good with each transition.

Many of our “taking off” experiences are “both and” moments. I’m happy AND sad. I’m terrified AND excited.

The next time you’re about to board a plane, literal or metaphorical, stop and think about what this particular “taking off” experiences means to you. What lessons do you have to learn? What perspective do you get to adopt? And what opportunity for growth is waiting in the wings for you?

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.

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