Why We Should Stay: Work and Commitments

When you’re a young twenty-something, there are few things you have had the choice to commit yourself to outside of school.  Formal education was kind of a forced thing, and though you might have loved school, it wasn’t necessarily a decision made entirely on your own.

But, there comes a time when you get to decide things for yourself–how you spend your time and who you decide to spend your time with.

We’re not like our parents’ generation.  We move in and out of jobs, switch career paths, decide on a different course.  It’s not necessarily negative or positive, in my opinion.  And even in my case, I didn’t stick with my first job out of college for too long.  Though I interned previously at Tiyya, I just wanted professional work experience in a non-profit organization, working on direct services.  And I moved on after my contracted year as I thought I should.

I left that job last October.  But, I stayed on as an advisory committee member, then a fundraising committee member, and event planner to help out where & when I can.

For a while, I felt weird about staying–volunteering my time because I thought I should be focusing on getting ready for graduate school or whatever else.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay, but my peers were moving a mile a minute, and I felt stuck.  The nasty vein of comparison crept in.  People were getting degrees, new jobs, new homes, new partners. It just felt like too much.

But, every time I volunteered for a Tiyya event or saw those I worked with previously, it just made me so happy.  I forgot that by typical Millenial standards, I wasn’t necessarily supposed to still be there.

The idea that we need to climb invisible ladders and move up and out…it’s complete shit.

Honestly, we should all be so lucky to find an environment that makes us feel happy and needed.  Upon reflection, I think I was exceptionally naïve in thinking that I could dig deep into an organization with so much heart and love, and not get attached.  It still baffles me how I thought I should just leave.

I’m not saying that every person who works briefly somewhere should remain working for that organization or company for the sake of being committed.  But, what I am saying, is that when you do that, it’s not a bad thing.  You aren’t being tied down or sucked in.  Sometimes maintaining a commitment you enjoy, even when your peers are doing other things, can be rewarding and enriching.

By remaining involved in Tiyya, I think about every volunteer, intern, and staff member I interacted with, and I am just so grateful.  And every refugee, immigrant, and asylum seeker who I laughed and cried with taught me so much beyond what a typical year of experiences could give.  It is only fair and right that I continue that commitment and embrace the joy it brings me.

If my two years of interning, working, and volunteering at Tiyya has taught me anything, it’s that the best things happen when the people involved truly believe in what they’re doing.  And if you believe in what you’re doing, you’ll stay in some way.  I’m here to say to anyone who thinks they need to play into the rat race, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with staying.  You are not stuck.  Because who is to say that we are stuck when we are fulfilled, when we are happy?

With Tiyya, I got “stuck”. And it was the best damn thing that could have ever happened to me.

On Reinventing and Finding Self

I am doing my utmost to remain positive, or neutral. I’m not sure which.

It has only been a day in Canada, traveling for the first time really on my own, and I am faced with an overwhelming sense of everything and nothing at all.  Everything in the sense that the world is big and people are many and they all have ideas, some good and some bad.  Nothing in the sense that I feel as though despite my best efforts, I may not contribute anything worthwhile.

I thought that coming to a new environment, away from the normalcy of my everyday life, would provide clarity–that I would, in essence, become a different person, wracked with new ideas and newfound confidence.

Much to my chagrin, and I will reemphasize that yes, it has in fact only been a day, I am not a different person from when I was on US soil to when I stepped into the friendly land that is Canada.

I think I romanticized the notion of the intellectual and that by surrounding myself with esteemed academics, I too would be able to bounce off my ideas and criticisms of the injustices of the world.  Throughout the day, however, I found myself second-guessing everything I thought and everything I wanted to say.  I desperately wanted to contribute to the dialogue, ask a question, or provoke further conversations.  And in my desperation, I think I holed into a shell of my normally vocal and vivacious self.  (I have never described myself as vivacious…I probably won’t do that again.)

Even though I was sent here through a career grant given to me by Keds, appropriately titled the Brave Life Grant, I don’t feel so brave.  I don’t know what it will take for me to stop feeling self-conscious and really believe that I too have something worthwhile to give to the room, regardless of where that room may be and whoever may be in my company.

I guess only time, and a lot of self reflection, can move me forward.

Because There Can Never Be Too Many Self-Reflections

It’s been a while, my friends.  I have neglected this blog, much as I have neglected caring for myself.

Maybe it’s a reflection of my priorities–myself always falling last on the laundry list of things I need to get done.  Because somehow, “self-care” is not something that appealing when I’m writing my to-do list.  It’s not enough syllables to sound important to me.

And now, 2015 is essentially half over.  Already.  And as astonishing as that is to me, it also isn’t surprising at all.  What is surprising is how much I have accomplished, and yet how little I feel like I have progressed (and how much I still make excuses for my lack of perseverance and direction in both my research interests & my “personal projects”).

When I graduated almost exactly one year ago, I was sure that I would make the most of my “last summer of freedom”.  I thought I’d find myself.  I thought something would find me.  I really don’t know what I talked myself into believing, but I really and truly thought that my life would somehow dramatically shift into adulthood and that things would just happen for me.  I also thought I’d stop making run-on sentences a regular occurrence in my writing.

As it turns out, none of that happened.

What I learned instead is that adulthood and post-graduate life is hard.  I even wrote a blog post about it. You’d think that would be enough to teach me.  But alas, dear friends.  I inherited my father’s wit, but not his foresight. (Shout out to my pops if you’re reading this.  Love you, babs…and as a sidenote, I have never called my father “babs” before, but I think he’d find it endearing.)

When people tell you that working life is hard, they are not joking.  It is equal parts exhausting and liberating and confusing.  Colleges should make How To Survive Being In A Full-Time or More-Than-Full-Time-If-You’re-In-Non-Profits Job 101 course a pre-requisite for graduation.  But that would be a whole lot of paperwork to enforce, so instead, we’re stuck learning life the hard way–by actually living it.

And it is not that I thought working full-time would be easy or smooth-sailing 100% of the time.  But I did not know how tired you can get.  And how easy it is to get derailed and not put the effort into caring about yourself and your aspirations because you’re just too tired all the damn time.  Because working an 8-5 job is not like the three different clubs and organizations you used to juggle like a pro.  You can’t do a job and fifty million side projects without getting burnt out.  You just can’t. And I think that when I realized that (and am still realizing that), it hurts for someone like me.  Because I am a somebody who gets excitement and a unique sense of euphoria and doing multiple things at once successfully.  Having to put projects that I am passionate about to the wayside gives me a really visceral reaction.  It is a very real, raw kind of hurt that I can’t really explain except that it feels like you’re breaking up with the person you thought you loved, but didn’t really because you’re thirteen years old and not Justin Bieber, so you don’t actually know what love is.  And again, there’s that run-on sentence.

Really though.  I think that when I realized how exhausting it is to try and accomplish everything all at once and be everything to everyone, you’re kind of left with nothing for yourself.

I’m slowly figuring out what really matters to me and how I can use my skills and interests to provide real, impactful change.  It’s hard, but so worth it.  I know that I would rather spend five years building something I’ve done the research on and I know won’t be detrimental to target communities than get my hands on everything I have a remote interest in.  I’ve done that and seen others do it before and I know how bad it can be for those you’re trying to help–including yourself.

And I know that one day, I will be a professor that cares and be so many things for so many people. (I’ll also get the damn chile pepper on RateMyProfessor… y’all know what I’m talking about.)  But until then, I am understanding that I can’t beat myself up over not being at a certain place or having accolades that I know others my age may have.

And maybe this summer I’ll finally experience the magical summer that Disney Channel always produces movies about, minus the musical numbers.  Maybe I will finish writing my book(s) or explore a new place by myself.  And I’ll surround myself with people who care and do good things and make me laugh.   I’ll stop striving for perfection and start embracing uncertainty.  And I will finally know what it means to care about yourself–that being selfish in this context is one of the most selfless things you can do.

The Sad Thing No One Tells You After You Stop Being Student

When you graduate college, after the “congratulations!” Facebook posts stop rolling in, after your relatives stop patting you on the back and stop asking what your future plans are, after all of the hip-hip-hoorays are done, there is a daunting stillness in your life that no one really tells you about.

It doesn’t matter if you’re coming out of college with a full-time job lined up or if you’re still in limbo, wandering from part-time job to part-time job.

I mean, people do talk about it being kind of strange not waking up for class or having to study for exams.  And people talk about how stressful it is to be in the workplace, dealing with taxes, having adult problems.

But those are all strangely little things compared to the big thing that no one talks about.

No one talks about how utterly lost you can feel after you leave school.

And no one says that it’s okay to feel like you don’t have a place anymore because for pretty much your entire life, you have classified yourself as a student, first and foremost.

It has been about four months since I had to stop calling myself a student.  I proudly graduated from an accredited research university amongst many wonderful friends.  I was hopeful, bright-eyed, and sure that things would be great.  But still, I am at a loss.

I don’t know if it is the romanticized notion of the adult world that so many young adults have or if maybe I just clung too tightly to the university. But, regardless of what it is, I feel unsatisfied, like when you are forced to close up a book you just started getting into. People say that chapters of your life have to end so you can start a new one, but what happens when you aren’t ready to start a new chapter?  What happens when you feel like all the characters are having a wonderful storyline except you? What happens when you feel lost?

I’ve always been one to want things to happen organically, but leaving the university felt so forced for me.  It wasn’t natural or normal or some organic progression that made sense.  I just wasn’t ready, or maybe I refused to be ready.

A college education is supposed to unlock so many wonderful doors.  It is supposed to be the track that leads you to some amazing destination.  But it feels like everyone is arriving to their destination a lot quicker than I am.

No one tells you that you might feel that way.  No one tells you that along with adult problems, like paying bills and working long hours, you sometimes feel desperately lonely.

I have a good number of friends that graduated at the same time I did.  I see a good handful of them on a regular basis.  That eases the loneliness.  But, I have a good number of friends still in college.  And though I know we all have our separate responsibilities and roles to take care of, it is hard to not be in the same place, physically or emotionally, as them.

It is difficult knowing that friends are too busy with school to talk to you or spend time with you.  It is difficult knowing that you are no longer an important part of their life because you are not a student like them.  It is difficult knowing that the foundation of many relationships in college is the simple fact that you were in college at the same time as they were.  And now that you are graduated and formally finished with school, that relationship no longer is as important as you may have perceived.

No one tells you that.

Graduating college, I have recently been joking about how old I am.

At twenty-one, I know that numerically, I am far from being what society classifies as “old”.  But, I think what I mean is that I feel “old”.  I feel cast aside by some of my peers, many of whom I considered friends.  I feel unenergized and unwilling to venture out of my comfort zone.  I feel like I don’t know how to move past this strange lull in my post-graduate life.  I feel like I am desperately clinging to the relationships I have because I am so scared of being unable to make new ones.

As a typically extroverted and charismatic person, I feel terrible being so afraid and uncertain of how life continues on when I am so unready and unwilling to move along with it.  I think when you stop being something you identify with for so long, like being a student, that tends to happen.

No one tells you that.

I don’t know if I’ll slowly overcome my obscure sense of abandonment or if I’ll just learn to tune it out.  I don’t know if I’ll get used to seeing only three or four people on a regular basis compared to my multitude of friendship circles I had whilst in college.  I don’t know if these feelings are normal or not.  I honestly don’t know anything.  College taught me a lot, but it didn’t teach me how to deal with not being in college anymore.

I hate to be melodramatic, but no one told me how to healthily grieve the loss of something so abstract as your own identity. Not being a student anymore has been an incredibly debilitating experience for me.  No one told me that could happen.  And even though I’m not technically a student, I’m still constantly learning.

And I guess, that’s going to have to be enough for me.