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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I Will Hold on Hope – Local Journeys and the Job Search September 10, 2013

Coming into these past few weeks, I felt a gray cloud of apathy starting to creep in. I am so anxious for my next step that I have been afraid to take any while I am still at home. I keep willing the phone to ring, praying for my email inbox to show a sign that I would be moving on soon. It hasn’t yet, and I am left sitting, alone, waiting, stagnant and holding my breath. The minutes pass with so much effort that by 8pm each night, I am ready to let the rest of my waking hours escape me as hope for new things fade with the sunlight.

Last week would have been the first day of school for my graduate program in Boston. I know it wasn’t a mistake that I didn’t go, but even so, the sting of what could have been a new adventure is still fresh. Even though I could see my mind slipping into feeling sorry for myself, I didn’t quite know what to do. Luckily, I had several trips scheduled for Labor Day weekend that made me feel like my world was still moving. They made me acknowledge something past this computer screen and my constant refreshing of Idealist. 2013-08-31_11-35-47_364

My first stop was to Troy, Ohio, a small town on the Southwest side of the state, famous for corn fields and aviation. The town was part of the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover Tour – a weekend music festival that included bands like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Old Crow Medicine Show, and the headliner, Mumford & Sons.

Camp city at the Gentlemen of the Road festival in Troy, Ohio.

Camp city at the Gentlemen of the Road festival in Troy, Ohio.

To say songs like Home, The Cave, and Wagon Wheel got me through marathons, long nights of studying, and roads that stretched the California coast, would be an understatement. Countless hours were spent with friends humming the lyrics, or on runs pushing myself to the rhythm of folksy banjo playing. Not only was I excited to see some of my favorite bands perform, but I was also able to meet up with friends I had not seen since last December. Celebrating the music with them, and finally forgetting my shortcomings of not finding a job was all I could have asked for.

As Mumford closed, I couldn’t help but believe in what the band was crooning to me – I will hold on hope. Thousands of people were raising their hands in belief, knowing something they must hold on for or to or with. We were all holding on for something, and knowing that our humanity held us so close cradled my thoughts as I traveled away from Troy the next day.

2013-08-31_19-27-08_893After an exhausting 2 days filled with music, humidity and plenty of hippies, I drove to the other corner of Ohio to Cleveland where I met up with former AmeriCorps NCCC teammate and irreplaceable friend, Rachel. She and her mother had driven in from Baltimore for the long weekend to see the Orioles take on the Indians.

The last time I had seen Rachel, we were embracing after graduation from NCCC in Sacramento, California. It was one of those formidable moments of friendship, knowing that past that moment, nothing would be the same. She had been with me for 10 months as my roommate, confidant, and super hug giver, and I had missed her dearly over the past month we had been away.

Like the cliché, it was as if no time or distance had passed at all. We talked about our team boys, reminisced about the best and worst AmeriCorps had brought out of us, and what life had been giving us lately.

Our team carried lumber to build a bridge along a Washington trail. 12 miles in the rain!

Our team carried lumber to build a bridge along a Washington trail. 12 miles in the rain!

For the first time in a month, I felt normal again. I felt at home. Here was someone who knew what I meant when I spoke about carrying lumber 12 miles in the rain, who knew what it felt like to live with 7 other people and love it and hate at the same time, who could describe the bitter cold of a New Jersey winter and the extreme heat of a Sacramento summer in the same breath, and who had gone through something that others simply wouldn’t understand. It shaped us. Applying for jobs had felt so hopeless because it was impossible to convey what I had learned through volunteer work and travel in 3 lines of my resume, but being around Rachel, words could finally form about the experience. For the first time since coming back from California, standing still felt ok because I finally was no longer alone.

Maybe my experiences over Labor Day are to say, I need my people, or new people, or more people. I need others there to make this feel worth it, to make it feel like I can hold on hope because they’re holding on just as hard and as long. I suppose it’s something I can take with me on my job search as well – I need people. Whether it’s making them feel loved, or strong, or they’re reminding me over the distance of cornfields and storm clouds that I’m home just hearing them –  I need them.

Rachel and I at the Indian's game.

Rachel and I at the Indian’s game.

Throughout the time I spent with Rachel in Cleveland, Edward Sharpe was echoing through my head, “Home is whenever I’m with you.” I have written before of the homes I have built in people, remodeling my homes when I start something new, but always keeping treasured pieces of my past displayed on the mantle of my heart.

Home is whenever I’m with you.

And even when I can’t see these people, when they’re not in close proximity, I know they are part of the foundation of who I am and who I once was. Even though they’re miles from me, and even now when I feel our lives diverging, their love surrounds me. Even in the people I have never met, I share a common humanity with that allows us to love one another, and feel empathy for their hard days too.

We will hold on hope because we can build homes in each other. My heart sometimes breaks for the unemployed of my generation because this job search feels like broken promises. I honestly hope young people don’t give up on pursuing what they love or feel they are called to do. It’d be a shame to stop believing we can reach our potential simply because no one is there to tell us that we still CAN, after every rejection letter.

So let’s join hands like those hippies I saw in Troy (maybe minus the tambourine and washboard). Let’s feel like it does to hug a friend you simply can’t live without. Let’s believe in what we’re doing and who we’re becoming, even if it feels improbable that we’ll ever make it out of here sometimes. Let’s know there is a world out there waiting to embrace us, even when all we want to do is scream at the skies we’re under.

My last words to you come from Rachel, and I hope you believe them too. “Don’t you know? You’re going to be ok.”

Hold on hope!

Billy Joel speaking truth at the Roack and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Billy Joel speaking truth at the Roack and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

 

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