I never imagined that I would be so happy, at age 34, to be single, unemployed and moving back in with my parents. Strangely enough, it is delightful.
I sleep like I’m catching up for years of deficit, not a few stressful days or weeks. At night I stay up playing Bejeweled on my phone or reading magazines until 2 in the morning, then around 11:30 I roll out of my white enamel and brass day bed that I picked out out when I was 12, take a glance at my unicorn posters and stuffed animals, and head downstairs for breakfast. Instead of racing out the door at 8:20am with sopping wet hair and the vain hope of squeezing out 10 spare minutes to stop by Starbucks on the way to work, I make my own cup of espresso on the stove and read the Wall Street Journal in my bathrobe for an hour, or as long as I feel like it. I feel pretty good if I accomplish one or two of the tasks I have set for myself on a daily basis. I go on long bike rides and savor the red and gold autumn trees and the classic American farmland scenery outside my small Ohio hometown. I sit and watch CNN with my Dad and try gently to convert him to MSNBC. I go to writing workshops at the library and rent movies to watch with my Mom. What I do not do, is dread work, stress about how I’m going to solve this or that problem, or worry any more about how to get my life out of a rut. After nearly half a decade, I can finally say I am out of that rut. I no longer feel chained to my obligations – to my office, to bills, to career advancement and making ends meet. I’ve broken free.
I always thought this achievement would be met with celebration and fanfare. That’s kind of like climbing Mt. Everest and thinking there will be a welcome party there at the top waiting to greet you with banners and hot cups of coffee. The reward is on the inside – in knowing what you’ve accomplished and how much work it took to get there. You can tell everyone else about it when you see them again. Instead of ending with a fireworks show, this has felt more like a long sunset. Exhaling slowly instead of bursting open. Drifting off to sleep with a good book instead of pounding margaritas until you pass out. My celebration bottle of champagne never got opened and ended up being dragged with me to Ohio, because I just never felt like it was the right time to have a party. It’s okay though. I’ve realized that the absence of something is harder to detect than something new added in.
When I quit my job, and my old life, it wasn’t that happiness suddenly came back, or peace of mind newly arrived. They were actually there all along – just covered up. When I left, I got rid of the obstacles and burdens that were in the way, so the good feelings that were underneath could shine through all the time. This is the way life is supposed to feel, and now there is nothing preventing that. The next challenge is to add work back in, to restart my career but without compromising this new found integrity, to find work that is fulfilling and purposeful and increases this positive feelings rather than being at odds with it. The goal is to find work that is an integral part of my life, rather than my life being just what I can squeeze in around work. I don’t know that English teaching is my calling in life, but I’m all about doing what I want to do now, rather than what I’m supposed to do. And what I want to do is see some of this vast planet, get to know another culture, and become more of a citizen of the world. And hey, why not help some people learn something in the process? That seems like as good a purpose for now as any.