Wednesday, December 5: I have been trying to figure out what to do with my life for as long as I remember. Being a generalist, someone who is pretty good at just about everything but not GREAT at anything, I have never been able to figure out a clear direction for myself. I have always envied people who have a great talent or ability in one area, or a great passion for something, and then have followed a clear path to their destiny.
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was inspired to write about this, an issue that continuously plagues me, by fellow blogger Heather at artist. hippie. cali chic. She just got laid off and is now searching for the life she desires. I, for one, am on the sidelines cheering her on. She wrote a post last Sunday about her experience of getting laid off and her feelings about it (FUNemployment).
In my life, I have tried out the following careers: public high school English teacher in Virginia, newspaper reporter for a fly-by-night weekly paper, banker for 12 years (from bank teller to customer service associate to management trainee to loan officer to loan review analyst to credit analyst) and stockbroker for nearly two years. One of the reasons I was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years was, one, of course, to be a mom to my kids, but also, two, because I wanted time to figure out what to do with my life.
While I was a stay-at-home mom, I tried artistic things: quilting, jewelry-making, interior design, reading 50+ books a year (to enlighten myself?), and creative writing. Finally, following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, after I spent 1 1/2 years writing a novel and then taking numerous creative writing classes, I decided to take some classes in Foreign Affairs. AT LAST, I made a decision. I would complete my Master’s degree in International Commerce and Policy at George Mason University, which I did. Then I would get a job in economic development, preferably in the Middle East.
After I finished my Master’s in May, 2008, I began the diligent process of applying for jobs. I have always been lucky in my life; I was always able to get whatever job I wanted. But this time was different. Maybe because of my age, maybe because I had no experience in this field, maybe because I was an unemployed mom for 15 years, I could NOT get a job. I applied for 250 jobs and landed only 5 interviews. I ended up with a low-paying internship at Management Systems International, where I worked for 9 months without ever getting a job offer. (Maybe the picture below is why I never got a job!) 🙂
I decided then to go to Korea, back to teaching. Back full circle to the beginning. It was not my dream to teach. It never has been, although many people have told me I’m a natural at it. I saw it purely as a means to an end: to experience living and working abroad and to travel the world.
Since I spend a lot of solitary time in Oman, as I did in Korea, I continue to ponder this question. What do I desire?
To think about this in a logical manner, I figure I should go back to my beginnings. When I was a child, I spent my time riding the neighborhood pony named Maybe, playing equestrian in the backyard, having a daily Kentucky Derby on a marble racetrack. I used to read every book about horses I could put my hands on: Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, The Island Stallion, Misty of Chincoteague, Stormy, Misty’s Foal, Black Gold, Five O’Clock Charlie. Basically every book by Marguerite Henry. I wrote numerous short stories about horses. I kept a book where I wrote down horse names. In short, I was obsessed. I asked my parents every Christmas and birthday for a horse. But, it never happened. I never got a horse, and eventually I gave up wishing for one.
In the midst of all my horse frenzy, my family took a road trip from Virginia to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, to meet my mother’s extended family. I remember driving the interminable flat Kansas and eastern Colorado flatlands and seeing the Rocky Mountains rise before us. Our family occupied several cabins in these gorgeous mountains for a couple of weeks. We rode horses and hiked in the forests. My maternal grandfather cooked scrambled eggs with chili pepper in a cast iron skillet over a hot fire. We sat around campfires. I thought I had arrived in paradise.
Later, as a new college graduate, my husband Bill and I took a three-month trip across the United States, sleeping in our van with our two pugs, Ulysses and Max. I fell in love with road trips, although I knew my marriage was doomed from the beginning. More trips followed with my second husband Mike: the Bahamas, the Adirondacks, Canada, England, France, and Germany. Later, more journeys beckoned: Mexico, Singapore, Thailand, Korea…. and so it goes.
The more I travel, the more I yearn to take more journeys. The more I write my blog, the more obsessed I become by writing. The more photos I take, the more I want to learn about photography and take better pictures. But you can see the pattern. I have been obsessed before. When can I finally settle on something that makes my heart soar?
It’s strange. I used to be afraid of everything. I couldn’t bear the thought of travel because it meant I had to fly. I have worried so much about dying in my past that I believed that when Skylab fell from the sky on July 11, 1979, it was going to fall on ME. Of over 4 billion people in the world at that time, it was going to target and annihilate only ME!
“Though my friends envied me because I always seemed so cheerful and confident, I was secretly terrified of practically everything.” ~ Erica Jong, Fear of Flying
For some bizarre and unknown reason, after I turned 50, I suddenly stopped being afraid. I don’t know what happened. Now I rarely think about plane crashes when I fly, except now and then if I encounter great turbulence. I go out and about in Oman and I am generally not afraid to travel alone. This confidence has come to me in small increments, but I’ve glad for every ounce I have gained.
Another thing I have learned is that I can fashion my life by taking small steps. I used to say to myself: “Someday I will write a book. Someday I will travel to Angkor Wat. Someday I will see the Taj Mahal. Someday I will get a Master’s degree.” Then instead of thinking in terms of “someday,” I started thinking “today.” What can I do today to reach a goal? Today, I can write 3 pages of my novel. Today, I can get online and find a class in foreign affairs. Today I can apply for my 169th job. Today I can read 10 pages. Today I can take a walk and take some pictures. Today, I can drive over the Hajar Mountains and through Balad Sayt in Oman. Today, I can write a blog post. Today, I can buy a Lonely Planet guidebook about someplace and start planning. Today. Today. Today.
“Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams you never even knew you had.” ~ Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones
I still don’t know my true desire. But I feel I am closer now than I have ever been. These things I know I love: travel, writing, photography. I love the idea of spiritual journeys, meditation, pilgrimage. I love walking outdoors. I love adventure. I love reading. I like inspiring people. I enjoy working with numbers on Excel spreadsheets (!). I like teaching, but only if my students are motivated young adults. If I had a class every day like the class I had at Northern Virginia Community College, I would LOVE teaching (my first and most amazing college-level ESL class).
And I still would love to have a horse.
“I have accepted fear as part of life — specifically the fear of change… I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back…” ~ Erica Jong