After an unplanned two month absence, finally I’m back to writing!

I always feel like I owe you an explanation for my periods of silence but all my explanations are usually inadequate. This time, mostly, I just needed some space. I’ve hardly spent a minute longer on my computer than I’ve absolutely needed to. I’ve been terrible at responding to facebook messages (though I’ve continued to drop by fb semi-regularly on my phone to browse images and statuses). I’ve gotten behind on all my favorite blogs. The project I alluded to in my last post has been collecting virtual dust. While I feel a little guilty about all of this, it’s been a refreshing vacation. Now, it’s over.

A lot’s been brewing during this time. I’m going to launch right in.

*  *  *

At the end of the film “Eat Pray Love”, Julia Roberts’ character, Elizabeth Gilbert, talks about how she now believes in “the physics of the quest.” If you leave behind what is familiar to you and set out on a journey, in which you are seeking a clue (to who you are, to happiness) and accept those you meet along the way as your teachers, and if you are willing to wrestle with your personal demons, then you will find truth. This has been on my mind since re-watching the movie the other day.

The idea that you have to leave home to find yourself, to find peace or purpose or God, is ingrained in our culture. It’s at the heart of Western fantasy. It’s the theme of Jack Kerouc’s novel On the Road and Donald Miller’s Through Painted Deserts. It’s something I’ve bought into myself. Over the last few months, I’ve been overwhelmed by how coming home, returning to what was familiar, has been as enlightening for me as any quest away from home.

I told you two years ago that I felt like the character Larry in the TV show “Numb3rs” after he returned from space and found himself floundering in his old environment. I resonated with his words when he said, “In the past one doors closes and another door opens. Now it’s like I’m caught in some vestibule of indecision.”

He thought that running away would help him to find clarity. On the way to the airport, his tickets flew out of the car. When he stopped by the road to gather them up, in the middle of the desert beside a large plot of land for sale, his attention was caught by the stars. He wandered onto the vacant 15 acres. For months, he lived out there rediscovering his wonder for the heavens that initially inspired him to become an astrophysicist. He returned reinvigorated.

When I first told you about Larry, I was longing for the serendipitous moment that would bring me to my 15 acre lot where I’d rediscover a sense of purpose and direction. Instead of setting out on a purposeful journey, I put my faith in the fickleness of the wind to guide me. I had a lot of experiences that year. I found a lot of healing, but few answers.

This January, I still felt stuck in a vestibule of indecision: torn between a nagging belief that I should work in academia and a strong desire to make a meaningful life outside the confines of higher education. I purposefully set out on a quest to find my career (and make up my mind about whether or not I wanted to return to higher education). Instead of leaving home, I stayed here. I allowed my friends, both old friends from high school and college as well as new friends, to be my teachers as I hunted for opportunities around me. Everywhere I went, I was looking for signs.

A wanted a job title that I could say proudly and feel encapsulates me. I was anxious to find a profession that would make sense of my job experiences and education. I hoped to settle into a vocation that I could commit myself to wholeheartedly like Nichelle’s committed to teaching and Christa’s committed to nursing instead of feeling splintered by two professions: freelance writing and promotional marketing.

I was much like Gilbert when her friends in Italy ask her what her word is. Searching for something adequate, she lists off the typical American words: “daughter,” “wife,” “girlfriend,” “writer.” Her friend points out that she doesn’t understand the question. She needs to strip away those easy descriptions to find a word that encapsulated who she is, not what she means to other people or does. I came to realize that I was searching for the wrong thing.

In early February, when I was debating the pros and cons of returning to higher education with my friend Emily, she said, “Lindsey, you’re such a free spirit. I can’t see you being able to be tied down to an institution. I know you think that working in academia will give you a sense of meaning. You bring so much to anything that you do; you’ll always be able to make your job what you need it to be.”

I knew deep down that she was right about academia. All professions come with different politics, if you can’t cope with the politics of your profession then it isn’t a good fit for you.  I’ve never been able to buy into the politics of academia. Wrestling with those politics from within is what left me feeling drained and discouraged when I left grad school. I could feel that it was time to give up on the idea of returning, but I still didn’t totally buy that last bit she said. It was a little too flattering. Then I was offered the supervisor position at my demo job.

Since mid-February, I’ve continued to gain more responsibilities, more opportunities and more job titles within this company (I am now a Regional Trainer & Event Coordinator — for those of you who like specifics). Ironically, this job that I was so willing to step away from, back in January, has accomplished what I was hoping: it has brought together and built upon my experiences, throughout college and grad school, working in student affairs from leadership development/training to event planning. It has given me something I didn’t even realize I needed: renewed confidence in my leadership ability.

Stepping back into a leadership role has allowed me shape the nature of my work more. While adhering to our company’s standards, I have been able to make this job what I need it to be. My focus has been on developing relationships as much as on driving sales. That makes my work meaningful to me. Through this, my friend’s words have been coming true.

Conversations with other friends and experiences at my job (from running successful Tastes of Meijer to training new staff) have helped me to realize just how much this industry, promotional marketing, suits me. I enjoy learning about new products and companies. I love the opportunity it gives me to meet tons of different people. I’m invigorated by the opportunity to coordinate events and create an organized work space. I thrive on the amount of autonomy it affords me and the relative control I have over my schedule. Most of all, I am passionate about working with people. Training, mentoring and assisting my team as well as developing relationships with departments and vendors in Meijer are the highlights of my job.

Over the course of the last six months, the truth I’ve found is that what I needed was not a career change but peace with the path I’m on. What I am doing, from working in promotional marketing to writing in my spare time, is what I want to be doing. I don’t have a job title that encapsulates me, my job description will most likely continue to evolve and shift, and that’s okay. I’m doing work that suits both my passions and my strengths. That’s what matters.

What has surprised me is that returning home has been the quest I needed. Surrounded by the familiar, I’ve found the confidence to continue on this route that I hadn’t anticipated. 

Feature image by Simon Rae

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