JoEva Flettrich turned off the fluorescent lights in her office after 23 years on the job. The lights are an external manifestation of the change she wants to see in her personal life—like a haircut or sitting in a different seat at the dinner table.
She sits surrounded by six soft-bulb desk lamps. It's dark and warm in her office. "Like home," she says.
Flettrich has short, white hair that rises straight up and out from her olive skin. She wears bright, comfortable clothesand the Tibetan symbol for awareness in her ears. Her face crinkles from eyebrows to nostrils when she laughs.
I work with Flettrich at Loyola University in New Orleans. Today, she is teaching me how to cultivate a batch of purchase orders. She may not jump out of planes or unearth sunken ships from the bottom of the ocean for a living, but she has the courage of a thousand divers.
Pearl S. Buck said you can judge a person's age by the amount of pain he or she feels when encountering a new idea. Flettrich, 72, contradicts this saying. Or maybe she just defies it. She received her bachelor's degree last year after working toward it for a decade—one class at a time.
"It was closure for something I had left undone," she says. "It (school) focused me through a lot of things. It focused me through my husband who had a stroke in 1995 and sort of deteriorated over the next seven years. And after I got a handle on that, Katrina hit. And then I thought I better get rolling on my degree and get it out of the way so I can let other things in."
You grow a lot through change, she says. "Losing your parents makes you grow. Losing your husband makes you grow."
"I work at it. The thing about change is that you have to change your attitude. If you don't change your attitude, you're not going to make any headway," she says.
"Do you make the change mentally?" I ask her, lapping up her wisdom like wine.
"No, it's in your heart really, baby. It's in your heart," she says. "OK, it was there, we enjoyed it and now it's gone. Deal with it. And it comes back to haunt you every now and then. You can't dwell on it."
CHANGE: What Works & What Doesn't
• Visualize success. This doesn't mean go out and buy a new wardrobe before you've lost weight. Looking at those size 8 clothes every morning will just make you feel bad. Flettrich saw herself as a college graduate. My goal is to successfully touch my toes. I fell all the way over last week in yoga. I felt like a fool, and no one noticed but me. Strike a child's pose! Then, after you've rested a while, try again.
• Explore your discomfort. Why is getting better just as scary as staying stuck? Explore your own fears and emotions. Spend time alone. Be quiet. Don't try to enact change before you understand your feelings about that change.
• Take one step at a time. If you want a certain job, don't say, "Oh, I'd be great for this but I'm lacking this one quality or credit." Apply for it, meet the deadlines, make time for the interviews and then worry about the logistics. Just get started. We cheat success by trying to make too much happen too fast. Like Flettrich says, you have to work at it.
• Make symbolic changes. You don't have to tattoo your forehead to prove you aren't stuffy. Just turn off your own fluorescent lights.
• Celebrate your progress. Notice how far you've come at the moment of each small success. Flettrich wrote an essay about her experiences coping with Katrina. Now, she has that document to review and study when it is time to make new changes.
• Focus on the end result. This is the hard part—actually sticking with it. Keep your mind positive and focused on what you want and why. Don't get so excited by your progress that you leave the course before your reach your goal.
• Join a formal support system. Flettrich's formal support team is the Gulf Coast Council of Grandmothers. They meet once a year to meditate and reflect, share food and crafts and talk about individual spirituality. For you, it may be the Capital City Rollergirls, a book club or a weekly dinner with friends.
• Nurture your mind, body and soul. When you are trying to make significant life changes, eat well and get a regular amount of rest at night. Don't expect the change to work in one area of your life if you keep other unhealthy habits in place.
"The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle
"Anam Cara" by John O'Donohue
"Here If You Need Me: A True Story" by Kate Braestrup
"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver
"Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life" by Steve Martin
Places in Jackson that Can Help You Make Personal Changes:
• Millsaps Adult Education classes
Learn something new! Visit http://www.millsaps.edu/conted/enrichment.
• Rainbow Whole Foods Co-op
It is a community of people who believe in healthier and local living. Join in as much or as little as you like.
• Butterfly Yoga
Put your tongue to the bottom of your mouth, fall into a child's pose and throw your self-consciousness out the window. It's new, it's hard and it's a physical change with direct results—you get better the more you do it.
• Choctaw Books
Go in and spend an afternoon. If you are open to it, search for cheap books on change. Also, if you dig, you can find books on indoor gardening, urban equestrianism, bookmaking, printmaking, even candle-making. Purchase one or two, and start something new.
• Lefleur's Bluff State Park
Go. Walk. Be quiet. Focus on nature and your internal goals.