What a lucky leaf you are to be caught in mid-air and cradled by autumn’s fading flowers. I know what it’s like to brace for a crash landing; how crippling the fear can be when you’re in a free-fall. But I also know what it’s like in those manic moments to be swooped up by the hands of grace, seemingly saved in mid-air.

I recently found an old journal from my early 20s, written after I’d been laid off from a job I loved. After high school, I had “delayed” going to college (a.k.a. never went) to take a job as a news writer at a kids’ radio network called Radio Aahs. I was craving some real-world experience in journalism and it was a terrific opportunity.

I remember my first day on the job, I walked into the breakroom because someone had brought doughnuts. I chatted with the one woman standing in there, figuring she was an employee. I didn’t realize until later that day that I’d been eating doughnuts with Judy Blume (which is really weird, because in another job later in life I spent three days in Miami with Judy…but that’s a story for another time). I quickly went from news writer to news reporter to co-host of the national morning show before I was even 20. I worked my butt off, 12 hours a day, and loved almost every minute. And then Radio Disney launched…Radio Aahs folded…and I lost my job (that pic is of me on my very last day). Sniff sniff.

With bills to pay, a small severance and no college degree, I felt hopeless and lost. A former colleague and I started a web site for kids called CoolBeanz (back when there were barely any web sites for kids), but we couldn’t figure out how to make any money at it. My journal entries from that time are totally depressing to read; weak pep talks on paper, littered with self-loathing comments. The only job offers I received were far from home (far from my family, my boyfriend, life as I knew it). My unemployment checks couldn’t cover my rent, food and insurance, so I made plans to move back in with my parents. Yet another blow to the ego.

I was in a free-fall, for sure. I decided, begrudgingly, to enroll  at the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education. I remember sitting in the office, meeting with one of their counselors about what my path would look like as an adult student, and feeling so sad. I got back to my apartment (I hadn’t moved out yet) and saw the light blinking on my answering machine. I sat on the edge of my bed and clicked “play.” It was a message from someone I’d once met who worked at global (but locally-based) company General Mills (the home of Cheerios, Betty Crocker, Fruit Roll-Ups, etc.). Their PR department needed someone who had experience in kids’ media and wondered if I was available. I can still feel myself, alone in my bedroom, screaming in disbelief and literally jumping for joy. I spent the next decade working there.
So, little leaf, I know how it feels to be spiraling down, speeding toward the cold, hard ground – only to miraculously land in a benevolent web of hope and good fortune. That experience taught me to trust in fate, intuition, and my own self-worth. And I am so glad to have those old journals to remind me that every great fall is not meant as a purposeless, exasperating detour, but a necessary and well-planned part of the journey.