Ten Years Wandering

High school ended exactly ten years ago, as of June 4th, 2014. I can’t recall what I imagined for myself ten years ahead as I sported my red graduation gown back in 2004. All I knew was that I was leaving for college that following September with the intention to major in music, and that anything could happen.

I decided to change my major early on. To what, I wasn’t sure, although I eventually arrived at Communication paired with a Business Administration minor. I remember the indecisiveness, flipping through the course catalog numerous times, bookmarking several majors that caught my attention. I also remember considering transferring, but that passed after several weeks (and how different things would be if I had).

The last ten years have been full of crossroads. I’ve made choices and decisions, turns on this journey that keeps unfolding. Some have been impulsive and sharp; others were carefully analyzed, processed, and then finally acted upon.

Here I am, 28-years-old, employed full-time at a research university, living in a city I grew fond of, lifting weights, writing things, being single and happy but also harboring a mad crush at the same time, trying to figure it all out. I certainly have more debt than I expected; that part is stupid. But that debt defines me no more than my status as a single woman. It is a current part of my situation, and I am working on it. Most of it is student debt, and really–it’s manageable. It is in-line with the field I’ve gone into, for the degrees I obtained. It could have been less, but there were two defining quarters and several big events that changed things.

I only worry because I’m impatient, I want to travel, and I also want to be able to pursue doctoral work while being able to continue training in an athletic capacity that has captured my attention like very little else ever has before. I want to see my dollar sign net worth in the positives.

But that net worth isn’t the essence of Ardith, I remind myself. I’m a young woman who is constantly becoming.

I have had my heart broken what seems like a hundred times, but I have come out of it stronger, wiser, and ultimately learned to love who I am (debt and bad skin and crappy double-unders and all).

I traveled abroad and would never trade those times for anything. (And if I could travel more often, I would be the happiest girl alive, I think.)

I kept writing through it all, refining a skill I seemingly always had, turning it into a form of release, sharing it with the world and baring my turmoils and triumphs to an audience I often forget includes my friends, my family, and also complete strangers. (Hello to all of you.)

I have made poor decisions in other avenues, and I learned from those mistakes. I moved forward anyway, equipped with new perspective.

This is all priceless.

Graduation from high school was the catalyst for so much good. Even though nothing is perfect in my life, it is a life I wouldn’t trade. Yes, it can be stressful and sad at times, but I have seen some of the best slowly come out of those seemingly hopeless times. The valleys and peaks are endless, and I always keep trekking through, ready to see where the path takes me next.

Where am I going in the next ten years? Who knows. I’ve never really known. It will, at least, be somewhere that is the result of opportunities taken and decisions made.

Besides, when asked that question at college graduation in 2008, I replied, “I’m not sure, but wherever I am, I hope I own a hot tub.”

Let’s go see how this all unfolds.

This Grand Adventure

Hiking at Coldwater Lake near Mt. St. Helens

Sometimes, the journey is difficult, with uphill climbs that test your endurance and patience.

Sometimes, the weather doesn’t cooperate, and you have to be confident that blue skies are always overhead.

Sometimes, you don’t know what to expect, and you can either fear that or embrace it.

Sometimes, when you reach the peak, you are greeted with laughter and relief and an understanding that you made it through all the challenges just to reach something amazing, even if it was unknown or seemingly impossible.

Even when the going gets tough, I just need to keep on pushing onward.

Unstoppable.

Here’s Lookin at You, Kid

image

I have one month left inamy temporary role as a part-time commuter grad student. I’m getting into the swing of a job in which my actions matter and the knowledge I bring to the table is valued.

The road here was full of some crazy twists and turns (to paraphrase tonight’s HIMYM). In a way, it all makes sense. (Again, HIMYM.)

(Oh, and… don’t worry–I was off the clock when I snapped this self-portrait.)

Adjusting My Sails

A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner. – English proverb

I asked, in a rhetorical Tweet the other week, “Are the winds changing yet?”

By the end of the day the next day, coincidentally, I had scheduled two job interviews. Both were for jobs that I, for lack of better words, really would like to land. Two very different institutions, one very wonderful metro area, and so far, two workplaces staffed with great people.

Now that I have broken through my first set of student affairs job interviews, I am even more anxious to see what lies ahead. I have talked at length with some of my students about both the positions I’ve interviewed for, and they are excited for me–although in some cases, they are still trying to convince me to stay at OSU so I can help them through their entire college career!

If I paid no attention to what I have learned over the past couple of years, I would be fighting the wind, trying to–by any means possible–land my boat on a preconceived point, a place where I’ve told myself is paradise, absolutely perfect, and exactly what I need and want. But I know now that this journey isn’t that simple. A change in the breeze can lift the fog in the distance, and if I let the wind suggest a new destination, maybe I will find something beyond my wildest dreams.

Rushing Like the Sea

“My job is to believe in other people’s children.” – Dr. Larry Roper, during a recent visit to my AHE 548 class

I’m a purpose-driven individual; that should already be clear. I think a lot about what I’m doing, trying to make sense of the why factor mostly. Why does education draw me in, specifically colleges? Why, in the face of mounting budget cuts, do I envision myself a fixture in our public institutions? Why do I care when so many people complain that college isn’t worth it anymore?

Because I’m supposed to be larger than life**. Because I’m supposed to be a rare beacon of hope. Because I am capable of leaving behind a legacy.

My job is not only to believe in your children; it is to believe in those children whose parents don’t believe, to believe in those children who have lost the ability to believe in themselves. My maternal instincts haven’t fully kicked in because it’s more important for me to believe in your children first. Maybe after I see if I can truly make a difference, then I’ll give myself the chance to bring someone new into the world–and hope that the world believes in him or her.

My lessons this year have centered around belief in myself. Believing I can get through my graduate program. Believing I can find meaning in my work. Believing that someday, I will have a love story that ends (and begins a new story) with “happily ever after.”

Look, this blog reflects a side of me you won’t necessarily see in face-to-face interaction. It’s here to give me a place to exercise the full depth of my personality. I’m not just the pretty, funny girl that is easily “one of the guys.” It’s here so people aren’t surprised to see tears in my eyes or hear my voice quake over the phone. It’s here so you know I’m not strong all the time, that I have–and always will be–a complex person. And knowing that and understanding that makes me more effective–and more real–than pretending to be a one-dimensional laugh factory.

On a related note, something I’ve been thinking about a lot… well, one thing I’ve learned recently is to abandon the concept of “all or nothing.” I’ve had this idea that boys that are my friends, stay as my friends; boys that are supposed to be “more than friends,” can be like that for awhile and then that stops, and we lose touch. Those boys in my life that mean nothing once our “relationships” are through were not meant to stay; I can think of several off the top of my head.

Then there are those that I confide in, who have been there through the roller coaster that has been my life (and the ones who seem to be joining the ride over the years)–those are the ones that matter. They are the ones that will stay. They are the ones in whom I find comfort and I find safety, even if I don’t find romance with them (and one can add, “At this point in time.” That uncertainty bit is so tricky.).

But then there’s a few who do so much and do it well. We care about each other as more than friends but we’re not together as a couple. We’re in this gray space that scares folks. Like, “How can you be so close to an ex?” or “But you have feelings for each other,” or this or that. I used to ask myself those same questions.

The thing is, just like student affairs theory teaches us, it’s dangerous to use blanket theories to understand people. We have to learn to relate to people on a one-on-one basis, and that’s tricky, but it’s worth it. We’re all here for one reason or another, I believe. We can’t know the full extent of anything unless we give up some control and let the river take us for awhile.

Those guy friends I’ve mentioned, the ones who have shared ups and downs and conflicts and the deepest secrets? Here’s the thing: they believe in me, and I believe in them. We’re not quite adults,* and that’s okay. We don’t have it all figured out, but we know we’re supposed to be around in one way or another.

If I had a partner at this point in time, trust me–the projects on which I’m embarking would not have surfaced. I am pushing myself to become something I am still frightened of. I’ll reveal more when the time comes, but I can say I need all the good thoughts sent up to God and the Universe or whatever Supreme Being you may (or may not?) believe in.

As 2012 rolls around, perhaps my theme will be, simply, “Believe…” Open-ended. It was “Believe in the impossible” the other year, and that’s fine. This isn’t a paring down, but a broadening. One word to give myself the chance to dream and to ground myself, all at once. I am still in a stage where I need that. I need something to wake up to, to remind myself why I do what I do.

To remind myself that when I was younger, I said, “When I grow up, I want to be something great.”

I believe you will, Ardith. I believe.

———
*Not Quite Adults by Richard Settersten, Ph.D. and Barbara E. Ray. Dr. Settersten teaches and works at OSU, and he was recently a featured speaker at the NASPA Western Regional Conference. Although what he shared was probably intended to inform older generations about today’s young adults, what he actually did was talk about people like me. I might be 26-years-old, but I’ve been slowly floating down the river of life. The only milestones I’ve probably hit are graduating from college, getting a job, and living on my own–only to return back to the academic world.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, check the book out.

**Feelin’ LOL-worthy? Here! Larger Than Life

The River of Life

The Roommate and I always have great conversations. We both tend to spend time having side conversations via G-Chat, and it’s been a welcome release from some of the pressures I’ve found here in Corvallis.

As one can easily see, I’m very stressed out about my future job and about relationships. Even though I’ve told myself I’m taking time to focus on myself (and school and the job search), even though I’ve proclaimed a sabbatical from dating, even though I have had some hard yet rewarding conversations–I’m still frustrated by my apparent inability to maintain a healthy relationship. Granted, I am not in a place to be in a serious relationship. Something light and casual is better suited for me as I work through these next few months, but again, even though I’ve been saying that for awhile, it’s been problematic navigating several issues and aligning them with rational thought.

Roommate and I were chatting about this very problem, how what I know is right for me right now and what I want aren’t really lining up. She reiterated another friend’s philosophy on life.

Essentially, life is a river. Sometimes it moves quickly; other times, it moves slower. Right now is one of those slow times. Maybe I’m swirling around in an eddy of sorts, just upstream from what looks like an impressive set of rapids. In that river, there are folks that drift on by; sometimes I take note of their presence. Other times I don’t. Sometimes, someone ends up on the shore of my river of life; they stick around for however long they like. Or until I decide that they should continue on without me. Some of these are like rivers themselves–tributaries, perhaps–coming into my life in a harmonious way, never to leave.

Some say fate and destiny can only take you so far. What you decide to put effort and energy into, those friendships you choose to cultivate, the opportunities you choose to pursue–those are the things that will matter most. Our actions have value, and the passion and love I share for life will triumph. It may not feel like it now, but maybe it’s just time to appreciate the slow passing of this time. There is beauty in it, after all. Or… there is at least loads of potential.

As one of my mentors would say, “Water it, and something will grow.”

Let it Be

I went camping this weekend in Ocean Shores with a big group of people. Some of them were old friends; some of them became new friends. We spent two days outdoors, laughing pretty much the entire time. I’ll admit that we all seem to have an absurd sense of humor–and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

We had our moments, however, when it became clear that we are all people with drive and purpose. For the most part, the people I was with were in helping professions–education, nursing, psychology/counseling, and so forth. And lately, I’ve been thinking about what my purpose really is. I know in general terms, I’m driven to make others smile and to provide a shoulder to lean on. How do I articulate that?

I know in terms of the profession I’ve chosen, it means I want to be that advisor that students feel comfortable turning to. It means that even when I have to go over “boring” details about contracts or policies or program requirements, I do it without reservation and with genuine care. I want the people I work with to know that I care about the work I do, and I want to also be appreciated. I don’t want to feel replaceable or disposable.

I’m a unique little soul, and I don’t like feeling ordinary.

Then again, what truly sets me apart? All my life, academics and my career have been #1–but am I missing out on something? And if so, what? I don’t feel the same pressure to tidy up and settle down that I may have felt a few years ago; maybe what I’m feeling is the nagging feeling that I haven’t laid down any foundations. And if that’s the case, well then… umm… can I simply count a Master’s degree and a general outline as a foundation? And if someone doesn’t think that’s the case, is it still early enough in the game for me not to hold that opinion in high regard?

I have a feeling this next academic year is going to bring a lot more soul-searching, a lot more meaning-making, and a lot more adventuring. I have a lot of things to figure out, like what my priorities are at the age of twenty-five. We’ll see what I conclude in the not-so-far-off future.

For now, maybe it’s best to keep myself happily entertained by creating an alias, or encouraging someone to make a “birthday cake” out of several matches, a marshmallow, and a stick, or sitting on the beach while pretending the incoming fog is really a robot apocalypse. Maybe it’s best just to let it be and also let myself be.

Expect the Unexpected

image

This blog is subtitled An Adult in Transition for a good reason. I’ve been mulling over my parallel life plans the past few days, and there is a wealth of possibility. I’m sure the next nine or ten months will be full of surprises.

On a different note, I was able to set foot on three southern Califoria schools this past week: California Lutheran University, UCLA, and USC. Each was quite different, with my favorite being UCLA. Hopefully my photos of my trip turn out; I had a 35mm camera with me that I barely know how to use!

I apologize for my small hiatuses this summer. As seems to be the norm, my personal life is rather demanding, requiring much processing and contemplation. I won’t disclose much more than that, but I’m learning to at least put my energy behind exploring these aforementioned parallel plans.

As always, stay tuned.

Unconditional

A few weeks ago, I came to the conclusion that I do not love unconditionally. I love, and I love fiercely. Although I may come across as aloof and detached, I care immensely for friends, family, and the elusive partner.

One thing that’s for sure, though? I’m too hard-headed to stay hopelessly in love with someone that disrespects me. I mourn the loss of comfort and familiarity and the fictional future I hoped for when these things happen, and I can stay in that phase for a long time. It happened when I was in high school that way, and no good came of it. In my “adult” life, I have had my share of heartbreak–as faithful readers probably know. I hate being hurt, and I tend to internalize the other person’s actions for awhile. At some point, however, something happens that flips a switch–whether it’s an internal realization or an external influence–and I find stability somehow.

When I found out a person I had fallen for was going behind my back, making me look like a fool, it shut off that romantic love. What had been, in my eyes, inimitable was that way because it was false. I wouldn’t trade in the time I spent with that person for anything, but I will always be disappointed in the reality of the situation. This was someone who had awoken a resonance I didn’t know existed. But, on the other hand, this person also disrespected me completely.

When that happened, I felt sorry for him. It pained me to know that he placed no value on himself or the relationship. And most of all, I felt sorry that he had utterly ruined all chances of romantic reconciliation with me. I’m too good to go back to something like that, even if I hoped with all my might that reality could somehow shift and change the course of events.

Maybe in another lifetime.

When a person devalues me that much, I cannot let myself be in love with him any longer. So yes, I loved him, but in his words: “it’s not enough.”  In hindsight, it never was and never will be enough. Not because of any shortcoming of my own–like he may have made me believe–but because of the lack of integrity and respect on his end. Upon further examination, I clued in on the mind games and realized I was very, very lucky to have had something so sudden and blatant tell me, “This is not the guy for you because he’s juggling other women and lying about it.”

Funny how that works.

There was no question of waiting anymore. There was no more wondering if he would change his mind and sweep me off my feet in a chivalrous show of romance and self-sacrifice. That book closed because I determined that I deserved a real love story, one that I am still waiting for.

In the meantime, I’m learning to be alone. For the first time, I am single and happy with who I am as a whole person. I believe strongly in my personality, my abilities, and my goals. Forgive me if it sounds like I’m bragging–because really, I am–but I finally believe with all my heart that I am great. I continue to learn and grow, even if the valleys are incredibly daunting, but I’m making it.

I’m doing it my way. And it will stay that way unconditionally.