Wander Into –

A Collection of Journeys

A letter to those afraid of getting stuck January 9, 2017

Filed under: Volunteering — Wanderhere @ 9:45 am
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I never thought I would end up here. I’m sure I never expected to end up anywhere, but in the rare moments that I would try to plan my future, here was never part of the package.

Let me explain.

For the past 3 and a half years, I have been living in the small town I grew up in. Even admitting that now brings me a wave of shame and guilt as I have been taught to feel by almost every peer that I grew up with. I am marrying a man who has never lived outside of Northeast Ohio, and loves his family more than anything else in his life. I assure you, many people never would have guessed that I would have ended up here.

They’re wrong.

The words ‘ended up’ are fundamentally wrong for any statement about my life, and it is partially the fault of social media that had made me feel this is the end. But that is an argument for another life.

I’m not ending up anywhere. I’m not ending. This, all of this, is the beginning. I wouldn’t be marrying this wonderful man if I didn’t truly believe so. And that says a lot. Because it’s taken a whole hell of a lot to get me to stay.

 I’ve never known much about my life. I mean planning-wise. I’ve never been a planner. I always just thought things would work themselves out if I found things I enjoyed doing and people I enjoyed being around. That’s not to say that I haven’t worked hard. Many of my closest friends know the, “I’m too tired and stressed to function,” face which rears its ugly head far too often. I remember panicking in the fourth grade because we had to do a career project. I had no idea what I wanted to do. Even then, the decision for a career felt so concrete.

In college, I remember wandering around outside, talking to my dad, crying that I wouldn’t know what to do with a creative writing degree, that I didn’t want to teach, that I didn’t have any clear path.

The world likes clear paths. It likes logic and step by step analysis. It likes rushing who you are into a box so everyone else can compartmentalize you into a theory, an allegory. You’re easier to swallow that way. When I looked around at 21, I saw no one like me. The path to graduate school didn’t suit me. I had no clear understanding of what I could do with all of these new critical thinking skills.  

I traveled. I had 2 years of gritty, real experiences. I found faces that longed for the sun, and hearts that wandered. But during that time, I missed things. I wasn’t there for family, for illness, for near death. I was too far to hold them. Part of me felt that it was ok. They told me to live. They told me to go.

But I am missing the point.

This letter is for those souls who feel stuck. For those who feel like they ended up, instead of chose, and are bitter and shame-driven and guilty about it.

There is a whole world out there, and yes, I know that to you it is already painfully obvious because you feel like you are missing it. I know, I feel it too still. But to those who are still in their hometown or not where they want to be, please know –  this place that you are in is a place. It is somewhere. Maybe you are the change that it needs for now. I know you do not need these things to rest only on your shoulders when you already feel so heavy, but understand that when you shed the weight of guilt and shame, you can now carry this responsibility.

You’ve heard it before – you are not here forever unless you actively chose to be. The things that happen in your life take time. Think of what has really shaped you. The things that are worth it take time, and you’ve got plenty of it. No matter how young or old you are.

These reasons seem frivolous. Ultimately it’s your decision to make amends with this life. 


Unless. September 26, 2013

There was a glimmer of hope this week as I finally got my first interview since I started applying to jobs 2 months ago. I was excited that it was with a well-respected youth outdoor excursion organization, and was in Portland, Oregon to boot! The position was for an assistant instructor for their outdoor education program.

“How familiar are you with Portland?”

I should have known when that was the first interview question…

Still, this didn’t stop me from fantasizing about road bikes, flannel, and all around hipster atmosphere a job in the Pacific Northwest would allow. I dreamed of taking a chance and driving my car out, having to live out of a duffle bag, and be sustained on the passion of my dreams and the outdoors for the first few weeks. It was going to be something that scared me into being a better, more complete person. It was going to be one of those stories I told with pride as listeners said, “You really did that?” My next great adventure was within sight.

And then yesterday happened.

It was one of those days I just felt like I couldn’t get it right. After scouring the internet for non-profit jobs, and realizing my qualifications didn’t match, what felt like, anything, I gave up. I started questioning my experiences, feeling as though they were worthless in the eyes of any employer.

Earning the Presidential Service Award, Congressional Service Medal, Hurricane Sandy Disaster responder pin, and AmeriCorps VISTA completion pin mean something, right?

Earning the Presidential Service Award, Congressional Service Medal, Hurricane Sandy Disaster responder pin, and AmeriCorps VISTA completion pin all mean something, right?

I didn’t do anything on my to do list. I spent a majority of the day watching the second season of New Girl and relating to the character Jess’s unemployment woahs. When I wasn’t zombie-ing in front of the television, I was lying on the floor, contemplating how useless I was.

And then the email came. The, we appreciated you applying email, the you weren’t the right fit email, the better luck somewhere else email.

No Portland. No west coast. No usefulness or worth.

And then my car broke.

I was waiting in line for to go food as my brother parked the car, and, after a few minutes, he came inside, fiddling with the keys in his right hand. “Your power steering went out.” I just kept staring straight ahead. It took most of my concentration not to let my tears break the surface.

Unemployed, no car, broke.

I felt completely defined by these things last night.

But then this morning happened.

As I walked back downtown from the mechanic’s, I glanced at my phone to see what time it was. For some reason, the background stuck out. It was nothing new – a collage of postcards and remnants from my 2 years of volunteer work that I had taken a picture of back in July. There is a white bumper sticker in the picture with the phrase, “Your world. Your chance to make it better.”



Plain and simple, the message was clear.

There are moments that are meant to act as clear indicators in your life. A Wednesday evening dinner at a camp in Southern California was one of them. At that point in time, I was seriously considering quitting AmeriCorps NCCC. Team dynamics seemed to be all sorts of complicated, and I felt as though I could be doing volunteer work much more happily somewhere else. I was on track to make a decision by the end of the week about whether or not to stay.

Before each meal at the camp, we said a prayer or were read a quote. That evening, the camp director picked a quote at random. It was the ‘Unless’ quote from Dr. Suess’s, The Lorax

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”

If I was looking for a sign, that was it. Obviously, I decided to stick with NCCC, and completed one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life.

Finding a job in something I’m passionate about is my chance to make “it” better, whether that be someone else’s life, or an organization, or the world with a capital w. If I don’t commit myself to doing this, who will?

I’ve thought about giving up on this whole job thing recently. It would be so much easier to find something I could stand day to day instead of a job I am seriously passionate about. In the long term though, how easy would it be to live with myself?

I am thankful for the small things - a beautiful fall day.

I am thankful for the small things – a beautiful fall day in Cleveland.

I am going to keep caring about this job search. I am going to keep looking for something that has me helping people in a way that is meaningful to me, whether it’s in Portland, Oregon or Bow, New Hampshire or any town, city or wilderness in between. I could make ends meet working at a Subway or substitute teaching or staying as a cook at the camp I’m currently making money with. But I can’t. I won’t. I’m going to keep at it.

Unless. Unless. Unless.

I had my self pity day, and even though I have felt like I have been on the verge of tears for most of the past 36 hours, I find myself trying as hard as I can to not define myself by my unemployment or monetary worth.

For now, it’s all I can keep believing in.

Special note: Thank you, thank you, thank you to all my friends and family over the past few months. I could not do this without your encouragement and love via phone calls, texts, letters, posts, and hugs. You are the reason I bounce back. You are the reason I believe I can take on the world. I can only hope to repay you somehow in the future. Sending you all much love.

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