The second day of my transition conference in Morocco I called my mother in tears. That particular day, the chance for me to continue with Peace Corps seemed unlikely and I was overcome with fear for the future. I told her there was a strong possibility I was coming home.
Two days later, I found I would be back in South Dakota but only for a few weeks before I left on another assignment. The next day, the final ruling was that I would come home for an undetermined amount of time.
My mother, being the saint that she is, decided that I needed a soothing place to come to and she and her best friend Beth set out to redecorate my room. They hid the lime green walls — the color I chose for the room when we moved in just before my junior year of high school — with pale blue and soft brown paint, colors that matched the bedding my family bought me as a graduation gift. They cleaned the desk in my room to be a place for writing and added a vintage chair for reading. My mom also contacted several friends for photos of me that she famed on what she lovingly calls the “smile wall.” Because I know the best people in the world, she received more than enough for a wall and but the others in a photo album.
Historically, during parts of unrest in my life, Saturday mornings are often dotted with emotion and troublesome. I suppose it’s the time I designate each week for analyzing my life now and where it could be. Today, I woke up with an expectation hangover, a term I keep finding in a book about twentysomethings, and this continued self-disappointment that I am never going to climb out of this funk.
I sat down in the reading chair to write in my journal and listen to emotional indie music when my father called. My father, whose workaholism I inherited, was at the office and wanted check up, like he does every day. It’s obvious to my parents, and anyone who spends five minutes with me, that I am not well right now, so they want to help me fix it. They can’t, but it’s sweet they try.
On the phone this morning, my father reminded me that life could be a lot worse. I do have a roof over my head and, although a cracked rib prevents me from running and sleeping on my right side, I am healthy.
“There are many people in this world who would love to trade places with you,” he said.
Why, I said to myself. What do I have going for me right now?
As we were talking, I flipped through the album my mother made for me. There were pictures from SDSU sporting events and birthdays. Photos from music festivals and dance parties. Snapshots of vacations and random silly nights. Friends from all across the country, from various parts of my life. And the main thing these captured memories have in common is that everyone is smiling.
I guess I do have a lot going for me.
Work has always defined me. A successful career is a higher priority for me than a committed relationship or any hobbies. I’ve pulled all nighters, gave up my weekends and declined invitations from friends for work. I was Heather, the reporter. I was Heather, the girl that started an online magazine. I was Heather, the Peace Corps Volunteer.
I’ve never just been Heather.
Without something behind that comma, I feel incomplete and insufficient. For some people, not having a job means no income. Yes, that scares me but what scares me more is that unemployment is the same as no purpose. And the more I look for my definition the more I consider my skills incompetent.
As my father pumped encouraging statements into my ear and I flipped through the album my mother made of acquired happy memories, I suddenly saw myself for more than a person without a job or purpose. I am Heather, who is loved and who has experienced quite a bit of life in 26 years. I’ve traveled, I’ve took risks, I’ve loved, I’ve been heartbroken, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried and I’ve been able to do some incredible things.
“The people that love you, Heather, they don’t care if you have a job,” my dad said. “They care about you.”
Maybe this pause in life is a chance for me to reconfigure how I think of myself and learn to indulge in the things that make me happy, which is never something I could do well when I knew there was work to be done. I don’t be an overworked hag and this might be chance to make sure that doesn’t happen.
I do want to find my next thing, whether that be a job, school or another Peace Corps assignment, but the right thing will come it is supposed to. Right now, this is an opportunity to just be Heather.