Today I realized, more than I have at any other time since the trail, how much I changed during my AT thruhike. How much I have changed since college. Because today I started and quit a job, all within a two hour period.
The plan after the AT has always been get jobs in Seattle, move there, start jobs, work for a few years to pay off all student loans, leave jobs and continue adventuring. So I followed through with the plan. I found jobs to apply for that I had had my eye on before we started hiking. Before we hiked I had thought I wanted to get involved with politics a little bit more, grassroots work, put in my time on the streets and so those where the jobs for which I applied. And I got hired. And they warned me, this will be a lot of work, and I thought I would be up for it. My college self would have been up for it. But today I went in for my first day of work and asked what my hours would be and my stomach flipped upside down when the director said I would be working from 10:30 am to 10:30 pm, Monday through Saturday with every other Saturday off. I thought about the job, which was about to become my life, and I took the director aside and I quit.
So why did I apply for and take a job that I ended up quitting on my first day? Well, I think to understand my motives you have to understand a little bit about who I used to be and who I am now. When I was in college I lived off of stress. Once my brother described me as “eating pain and suffering for breakfast”. I had jobs, clubs, classes, activities. I took extra credits, I worked at multiple places, I was in productions and volunteering at nonprofits; I was a crazy woman. And I thrived in that environment. The status quo was such that if your resume wasn’t filled with a multitude of different experiences then you weren’t going to make it in the real world.
Then I graduated and went to work for ACE and learned to love days off and hiking and free time. I met Kyle, who showed me the courageous side of being happy. Learning about his experience and how he quit something that, although comfortable and steady, wasn’t fulfilling made me start seeing the world differently. It made me want to do things like hike the AT, to search for a completely different kind of happiness, one that wasn’t structured around that status quo college had loved so much. The trail changed me. It left me with hours to think about myself and what makes me happy. What makes me tick and purr. I began to redefine my priorities. But whenever people asked what we were doing after the trail it was still easiest to say, “oh, apply to work with a grassroots organization, work with some issues I really care about, get my foot in the door with environmental politics”. Once I got off trail real life hit and we applied for jobs. I applied for all sorts of jobs, environmental jobs I thought I would really like but that I wasn’t qualified for, political jobs that I wasn’t qualified for but that needed viable candidates, etc. In the end it’s a crap shoot what you end up with and I ended up as an Assistant Director for a campaigning organization.
Did I think this job would make me happy? Not exactly, but I didn’t know what to expect and I figured it was better to do something that was resume building then go back to working in a restaurant. I thought the job would be formative, a right next step, a good experience. I care about the issues I got hired to work with (LGBTQIA rights) and the people in my office seemed great. But the one thing the trail taught me, almost ironically, is how important balance is to me. Hiking the AT is one of the least balanced lifestyles you could ever lead. You have one main activity you do, constantly, all day, every day. You walk. But somehow, the freedom to just walk and feel good about it, to do something for you, and you alone, for five months teaches you to love yourself. That it’s okay to be happy and stress free. It’s okay to have time to do things that matter to you, to exercise, to be outside, to spend time with family and loved ones. And that is why I quit my job. Because I knew, even though I might be changing the world for the better I would be changing my life for the worse. And the trail showed me just how much I am worth.
The incredible thing about all of this is the reactions from my family and friends over the past few hours. Not one person chided me for not giving it more of a try or for being unemployed again. My mom and Kyle told me they were proud of me. My dad and my friend Abigail both said, “Congratulations”. It makes me hopeful, for our societies priorities that it was more important to my friends and family that I was happy than employed. So, I am being true to myself, from now on. I am finding jobs that either make me happy or give me the free time to do things that make me happy. Today the words, “I quit” helped me to live out that dream.