My mom says it’s a break. A good break. A well-deserved break. I call it unemployment. I call it having no plan.
Welcome back. Those two words have been haunting my steps ever since I moved back after AmeriCorps. This seemingly inviting phrase has carried more weight than anything else I’ve heard from my friends, family, and relations while I’ve been back in Ohio. Each time I hear it, I cringe.
There was always a plan in the works. In November of last year, I submitted my application for graduate school programs in exercise science and public health. With a personal statement ripe with passion to change the world through healthy living and community based programming, I sent my hopes to further my education to schools that matched my unique desire.
My team was just arriving back to Sacramento in March from our project in Southern California when I got the news about graduate school. I hesitantly opened the sealed envelope and immediately broke down as I read, “Congratulations!” as the first line. I embraced my team, ignoring the Manzanita brush cuts and rampant poison oak on my arms, tears streaming down my face knowing that somewhere wanted me. I had a plan.
A lot can happen in 10 months. Passions shift, and you can figure out what’s more important through unexpected experiences. Maybe life just comes into focus a little better as you get further and further into your twenties, or maybe you just turn towards something that used to be your peripheral. Whatever happened, graduate school became this fading desire – a back-up plan to something else in life. When one of my friend’s asked me in May how I was feeling about going back to school after AmeriCorps, I responded honestly. I wasn’t thrilled, and openly conveyed the sentiment that school had just become something to do. It was not until receiving the final financial aid package, and realizing that I could be in debt almost $35,000 after getting my Masters that I decided it was time to change plans.
The problem was that it took me a long time to admit to myself that grad school wasn’t right for me. I didn’t end up unofficially deferring until one week before the end of my AmeriCorps term, leaving me with no plan, and the all too common sinking reality of unemployment.
I know there is no malicious intent when people tell me, “welcome back”, but all I seem to hear is, “I guess you didn’t get much farther than your front door these past 2 years after college graduation. How’s your mom’s couch?”
So what did I do to alleviate these welcome back feelings? I left. Fast-forward to last week and my solo roadtrip to Alabama.
Besides giving me a great chance to practice my singing (more like shouting) voice, the trip away, only 2 weeks after I had arrived home, felt more like home. When I look back on the past 6 years of my life, I have not lived in the same place for more than 12 months. Packing up and going has become a lifestyle, and maybe the welcome backs and the antsy-ness that comes with it has become part of it too.
I blew into Alabama on a whim and the hope that a road trip would help me better focus on what life had in store for me rather than what I was still missing. I was positive the 10 hour drive and seeing one of my closest friends from college would settle me down, and help me cope with having no job and no plan.
I was embracing being in the moment. I was living without a plan and going wherever the southern winds would take me. I was…sick on my friend’s couch for the entirety of the week. My biggest adventure was choosing which tissue box I wanted to grab from, with the excitement of racing to see if I would make it there before the next sneeze. I was pretty well confined to bed rest and Netflix episodes of Say Yes to the Dress.
I think this was my body’s was of telling me, yes, take a break. A well-deserved break. I have been in ‘go’ mode for the past 2 years of volunteering, with the last 10 months being one of the most stressful in recent years. I suppose my mom was right.
But I am scared of this break. What if I become complacent? What if I settle? Even though I know what I’ve done has fulfilled me and hopefully helped others along the way, I don’t know how to convey that to the welcome backers. I find myself thinking in circles, about my graduate school what-ifs – that I could have had it all figured out for another 2 years with a Masters degree in hand. Why didn’t I suck it up and go for it? Instead of moving to Boston next week, I’ll still be staying in my childhood bedroom.
After going to Alabama, I remembered how good it was to bask in the warmth of friendship. This opportunity for a break will give me time to reach out to all of those wonderful people I’ve met in the past few years, whereas On-the-Go-Christine didn’t really have the time.
So, instead of starting something new right away, I’ll be surrounded by the love of my family, and embraced, not by change, but by years of friendship, knowing that I have more than a just a short second of hello and good-byes. This is a well-deserved break, and an opportunity to be a part of the lives and community I so treasured years ago.
I know it’s going to be a long and frustrating road to employment. I need to catch myself when I start thinking little of my worth and experiences. I can only hope I’ll keep my heart open enough during this time at home to not become bitter about not being able to improve communities hundreds or thousands of miles away, and maybe find the worth in improving the community around me instead.