Wander Into –

A Collection of Journeys

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.”

YOUR CHANCE TO MAKE IT BETTER.

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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Dishes for Dreams: The Search for Employment August 28, 2013

11. 11 is the number of salt shakers one can carry without dropping them. I warn you, it is most definitely not 12.

This is only one of the lessons I am learning as a cook/dishwasher at a camp and retreat center in northeast Ohio. So making minimum wage doing dishes is not exactly where I thought I would be at the cusp of 25, but I am trying to regard it as a learning experience. Who knew 2 hands had such a definitive limit on salt shakers?

Must, admit, I make this look good.

Must admit, I make this look good.

My generation has been nicknamed the Boomerang Generation –and knowing that a vast majority of my friends have spent at least some time living at home after graduation from college to reside at parents’ houses in their twenties makes me believe it is somewhat true. I suppose I fit in well to the nickname, however degrading the connotation. I am settled at home until I find employment.

Finding said employment comes with a host of ego-encompassing emotions though. It’s so easy to be bitter. It’s easy to pick up cynicism and a ‘why me’ attitude, questioning past decisions and wondering if there is anything to show for it. As for me, I think I am most scared of wasting my potential. 

After AmeriCorps ended, I made a list of many of the things that I learned to try to remind myself of the interesting and random assortment of lessons I’ve retained through my experiences. It’s so easy to doubt yourself when all that bounces back in the email is a rejection letter, or when silence from an organization speaks loud and clear. I’ve only been going through this for a month, and already I am struggling some days to find my worth. This list is a reminder of the unique individual I have become. It’s a great motivation-booster on those down days.

 

Things I know because of the past 2 years:

*What a sunset looks like in Sacramento, CA; Manchester, NH; North Bend, WA; Moonachie, NJ; Julian, CA; and Wooster, OH

The view from Half Dome

The view from Half Dome

*How to drive a 15 passenger van

*What a Manzanita plant looks like

*The view from the top of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley

*How long it takes to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge

*What living at the poverty line feels like

*How much light a full moon in the desert gives off

*How to properly insulate a mobile home

*How to sharpen a Pulaski, shovel, McLeod, loppers, and grub hoe

 

Oh, I’m sorry. You wanted marketable skills on the application?

I am trying to find this as an exciting time – I have the freedom to decide whatever future I can imagine. Instead of being stuck behind my degrees or boxed in by work experiences, I get to chose what I want to be when I grow up. I have no permanent roots, instead just branches all over the country in the forms of friends, professional networks and miscellaneous wanderings. What an incredible opportunity I have been handed.

But is it too much freedom? I have looked at jobs in just about everything from wilderness trip facilitator to substitute teaching. There’s a part of me that wants 3 different Masters degrees. I have no clue which coast I would be happier with, or if the Mid-West will always be my home. I have found my passions, places and work cultures I enjoy working in through the variety of experiences I’ve had, but it’s meshing them together into one cohesive job search that seems to be my problem.

I guess what I’m left with is the, “It can’t hurt to try,” mentality, and when I eventually get an interview (cross your fingers for the eventually), all I can do is convince my employer how hard I will work, and with what great passion and excitement. I’m not going to settle for a career that just pays the bills. Until then, it’s a trade off: dishes for dreams.

When I find myself getting down about the prospect of jobs, I often read a letter I wrote to myself in the middle of AmeriCorps when things were at a low point. It helps me re-focus on what’s important, and reminds me that optimism and an open heart can go far. I leave it as a note for all of you out there also looking for motivation in your job searches – find those lessons in the day to day…even if you have to spill 12 salt shakers on the ground to learn them.

My love,

There are so many things you have already written, spoken, and felt about this experience. Coming into it never really seemed like a challenge, and that was possibly the worst part. As the months went on, it seemed as though apathy toward the work you were doing and the people you were around was an ever growing shadow. The expectations became fairytales – to find family, love, adventure, meaning. Things changed. Your heart dropped out. People quit. Who you were was more dependent on the weather than from all of those life lessons you worked so hard for.

Can I really convince myself to go back to who I was, or rather become who I want to be – melded by this experience as much as the previous or the next? I am so hopeful.

Keep exploring even when the walls feel like they're closing in. (Anza-Borrego Desert, CA)

Keep exploring even when the walls feel like they’re closing in. (Anza-Borrego Desert, CA)

As I move on in these next few months, there are so many questions that will hang heavy – graduate school, travel, relationships, and work ethic. I am scared of how time will answer them, scared of my heart breaking for lesser causes, worried that I’ll worry too much. What will come, will come. When have I ever been ready for it? When has it ever been what I expected?

I suppose my goals are shaped by who I was the first half of this program. I never thought I would be in and out of crisis. I did expect to be crying on someone’s shoulder. I hope to understand and fully grasp my every day, to overcome this cloudy spirit that seems to be hanging on through the mountains and over gravel roads. I don’t want frustration to feel better than happy. At the end of the day, I want to be able to firmly proclaim that I worked as hard as I could, that I kept my integrity.

My dear Christine, there will be things that break you in the upcoming months, but you already know that. You will be stronger because of it, even though this fact never seems to matter at the moment. Find the good around you – the rivers and immeasurably tall trees, the people who have hearts for others, who help you grow, not sink. Find those with wide eyes and glowing hearts. Pour into those who are dried up. Love everyone. One big love. You won’t find any other here. Remember that you are loved far and away. You’re going to do so much.

Sending much love,

-clm