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.

My Transcontinental Quarter-Life Challenge and Whatnot

Roz Savage wrote a recent article, “My Transoceanic Midlife Crisis.” It’s an interesting and somewhat inspiring article in which the author explores her transformative midlife crisis, which led her to row solo across both the Atlantic and Pacific. She’ll tackle the Indian Ocean next month, and if successful, she’ll be “the first woman to conquer the Big Three.”

Now that’s stuntin’.

But after reading the article, I thought to myself, “Thank goodness I had my breakdown and my ‘ah-ha!’ moments so much earlier.” Savage worked for about a decade in a job that was stable and predictable; basically, she took the safe way out to figure out what she wanted to do and didn’t get out of that phase.

When I realized what I was doing was not what I wanted to be doing–months after graduation–I took immediate action. Yes, it was a difficult year and then some that followed, but I had no husband, no mortgage, no set, established life to upset. I had a turbulent life that I proceeded to make even more turbulent.

And it made all the difference.

I’m studying a subject that prompts me to click on a flashlight and scribble down thoughts in a notebook at 1AM. I’m trying to secure an internship for the summer, and it’s stressing me out because there are so many options and approaches to get where I want to be–that’s better than feeling resigned. I’m attending conferences and connecting with people not to get ahead but to push myself to keep learning so I can be the best at what I do.

I said so long ago that I wanted to see the world, and through utilization of my networks (new and old), I am finding ways to make it happen. Someone said to me a few months ago, “I love traveling. It’s too bad I’m at that point where I’m just not going to have time to see much more.” He said that because he was resigning to the working world, making it a burden. I couldn’t have disagreed more, considering where I stand in life.

I’ve only explored the metaphorical tip of the iceberg when it comes to travel or my career or even life. I’m twenty-five years young, and the only things that can hold me back are finances and my own ambition.

“The ocean is scary and it’s daunting, and most of the time I wanted to give up” (p. 23, Savage, 2011). I’m sure we’ve all felt that way; just replace “ocean” with another word like “the job search” or “traveling by myself” or whatever scares you. I’m just thankful I didn’t give up when I wanted to because here I am, two terms into my grad career, with a whole slew of new cities and adventures I’ve conquered, and a whole bunch of possibilities in front of me.

That’s not daunting–it’s beautiful.

Creating a Theme

2011: “Create Beauty through Strength”

There it is– my theme for the new year. One year ago, my life started to change at an incredibly fast pace. I was a bridesmaid, my dad had a stroke, I got dumped, grad school acceptances started coming in, and I started planning to go abroad.

Now, at the beginning of my first term of grad school, many things are still incredibly uncertain. However, I believe in myself. And now, it’s time to take myself to a new level, to live and love without restrictions.

Create beauty through strength applies to different aspects of my life, which is why I ultimately settled on it. I can apply it towards my physical fitness– the stronger and fitter I become, the better I’ll feel (and look). I can apply it towards my work in grad school– if I put forth my best effort, I can create programs or ideas that may be life-changing for myself or others. That’s beauty. Beauty can even be seen in cultivating relationships, new and old. New relationships can be intimidating to navigate; staying strong is a way to confront that intimidation. And with old friendships, especially ones where we’re hundreds of miles apart, take work to maintain. That can be exhausting, but it’s worth it not to let those ties fail. Additionally, my theme may also be applied toward my family life.

It’s an overarching theme that I hope will directly affect my life and the choices I make.

So… here I go. New year, new theme, new goals.

Heal Me

Dec. 19th

Prompt: Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?

This entire blog is like a record of my quarter-life crisis; everyone should be aware of that by now. 2010 brought about transformation, as well as healing. Nearly a year ago, my already-kind-of-screwy-but-not-that-screwy life took some sharp turns. I needed to deal with the end of a significant relationship, a downward turn in my father’s health, my friends taking new steps in their relationships, grad school admissions, and making the decision to actually go abroad.

What healed me in the midst of all the confusion was the process of making meaning out of all that was happening. I like to find story lines in my life, and I like trying to understand the reasons things happen. Sure, it doesn’t always make perfect sense, and sometimes, even if it does, I don’t want it to. The fact of the matter is, though, that by thinking about these things helps me accept and appreciate the challenges in my life. Coming to terms with knowing that life will never be perfect and that I will always be learning has really helped me be stronger. It’s definitely been an evolution, one that has been on-going since I started college, I’m sure, with an acceleration in the past few years.

What do I hope for 2011? I’m not sure, really. I’m not going to abandon what’s been working these past few years, so I suppose all I can hope for is to keep bettering myself, keep making meaning, and keep on living my life in the best possible way. And maybe taking more time to adventure and explore, since that’s when I feel my best.

Community (not the TV show)

Dec. 7th

Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

I cannot begin to count how many times I said “I’m passionate about building community,” during my grad school interviews this past spring. Finding or building community is important to me, partially because I was deprived of community for a good chunk of my post-college “real world” experience.

So given that I did not have community during most of 2008 and 2009, where did I find it in 2010?

The first thing I did was to connect with the young professional community in Seattle. That’s fancy speak for saying I hung out with my roommate, her boyfriend, and our friends A LOT because: (a) I was making up for lost time (curses, Everrot); (b) I lived in Seattle!; and (c) they are all awesome people, and many of them shared the same QLC-symptoms of being caught somewhere between adulthood and a prolonged adolescence. I needed to be around people who were not planning weddings or talking about babies, though– as much as I love all my friends who are in those places of life, it is not something with which I can connect. I’ve been through TWO awful break-ups now this year, and it gets annoying feeling like Ted Mosby. I’m going to be the weird middle-aged girl that everyone calls “Auntie Ardith.”

The other communities that I connected with– and thank goodness for them– are the young student affairs emerging-professionals and the 20sb.net community. Being around other people my age who are pursuing student affairs gave me an extra push, in terms of realizing that the SA field is right for me. And if it weren’t for 20SB, I probably would have been miserable in Madrid– I met two amazing bloggers that made my stay in Spain a thousand times more fun.

In 2011, I would really like to network even more with the SA community. I’m satisfied with my involvement so far, but I know I can get more in-depth. If I can do the same type of networking that I pulled off during the application process, I foresee a lot of good things in the future. If I sit back and keep wasting time on Hype Machine and Facebook, though, I’m not sure I’ll do much more than do well in school, pull off some good events, and make some immediate friends. While that’s all good and well, it’s not enough.

What does “enough” even look like? Good question… I don’t know. I suppose it would be able to participate more actively in online communities, and the ability to travel to national conferences and have people with which to spend time. It would be the ability to know when a sweet, sweet job is coming up for availability. It would be people all over the country (and world) being able to articulate what it is about me that is so darn unique. It would be the certainty of knowing I will never have to pigeonhole myself again.

That’s only one community, of course. However, at this point in time, it’s the most important for growth.

Let’s get this going.

Tick, tick, tick…

No, that is not the sound of my biological clock. It’s the countdown of my last few weeks in Seattle.

My room is still largely unpacked. I have a U-Haul reservation. I do not know how I’m getting my car down to OR, nor do I know how I am getting back to Seattle for clean-up (and a new phone??) on the 30th and 31st. Nor do I know where I’m staying since I won’t have a bed.

But those are just details. I would rather spend these next sunny days relaxing, reading, having fun, and then cram the stress and panic into one weekend. I would also rather continue to live life day by day, rather than try and fit everything into a neat, tidy plan.

One of my former co-workers composed a very nice blog entry about a similar topic– change. He really hit the nail on the head, and I am now definitely sure I’m not alone in my restlessness. It is such a generational thing, which also explains why so many of us Gen Y’ers go through a Quarter-Life Crisis– our ways of thinking and our dreams don’t quite line up with “traditional” ways of doing things.

For example, after the most recent wedding I attended, I realized that what I want out of marriage is different than other couple’s hopes and dreams. While they may want stable, long-term careers, a house and mortgage, and children, I want someone who is okay with jobs that take us to all corners of the earth while building an impressive resume, renting cute apartments or houses in new cities every few years, and growing through discovery and adventure. Unconvention is the new convention.

I may not fully embrace the unknown yet, but I am getting better at it. I am still learning to let go of the “life plan” notion because that strict rigidity caused my spiral into unhappiness several years ago. I need change. I need uncertainty. I need adventure. And laughter. And companionship.

Life’s a journey, and I fully expect to have the best stories in the very end.

Now Playing: Siddhartha, the QLC, and Student Affairs

I crossed another book of the Super Ninja’s reading list on Monday. This time, I finished up Siddhartha by Hermann Hess. The story was all the book’s introduction hyped it up to be– a compelling introduction to Eastern philosophy for Western minds. Although the work is a translation*, I found the style to be easy to follow, yet simultaneously moving.

Siddhartha was a great follow-up to both Tao Teh Ching and Chuang Tze. More and more, Eastern thought is weaving itself into my way of thinking. Perhaps it is because my Catholic faith is less spiritual than I desire. Could it be because it is difficult to reconcile traditional Catholic beliefs with progression and my personal beliefs, which tend to be more liberal and therefore “against” Catholic teaching? I may just be one of those hippie tree-huggers who finds more religion in a forest than on a Sunday morning in church.

Eastern thought, at least in my view, seems to understand that good and evil simply exist. Too much of the other actually throws off balance, and that’s a bit hard to wrap my head around. How could too much good be a bad thing? Reminds me of a small discussion I participated in while Super Ninja was still thousands of miles away, in which he first proposed the idea that balance is more important than eliminating evil.

Moving on, those who constantly seek something out of life may warp their perspective– they only see what they want to see. It’s tunnel vision, if you will. But if you are finding, you are open, receptive, and the unexpected will find its way into your life. Finding and discovering, opposed to seeking.

On a similar note, @NASPAtweets pointed me in the direction of “The Summoned Life”. Trying hard to find a “purpose” for one’s life is a fairly common American theme; heck, that’s what I have been hoping to do with my life. But then again, it’s perhaps this yearning to find a purpose that’s destructive to my well-being– it’s why the QLC affects me so deeply.

And why I’m trying to live life simply day by day now, being ready and flexible and willing to face new challenges.

*Translation goodness: the introduction noted that James Wright translated some of Hess’s work. Do you know how exciting that is for me?