“Our journey as human beings is not about following a preordained path; our journey is about creating that path. Life rarely makes sense when things are done ‘in order’; instead, things begin fitting right when we are centered in our hearts and we let go of resiting how our unique journey needs to unfold in its own beautifully unruly way.”

Part One, in which I let you in on how I feel on days when I have no idea about anything and secretly wish I was a college freshman again when a day’s hardest decision was whether to eat lunch by Lake Mary Nell or on the quad:

Dear Mentor/Parent/Professor/Coach/Friend from long ago/Stranger on the side of the road,

I really appreciate you asking me very briefly how I am. I also appreciate, albeit in a different capacity, how quickly you moved onto asking The Question: So, what are your plans after graduation? Please forgive my half-smile upon hearing this — I have been asked this more times in the past two months than I can count, but for some reason, I’m not quite used to it yet. Don’t get me wrong — I understand it’s completely appropriate to ask last semester college seniors what their next big step is (and it had better be big, let me tell you. If I answered your question with a I have no flipping idea, but I’m thinking about building a shed on some forlorn property and using it to start my own handmade soap business, our conversation would get pretty awkward). But can I tell you a secret? Sometimes, I really resist the pressure I feel — the pressure almost all of my peers feel — to offer up an impressive answer to The Question. Or answers you will nod your head approvingly at.

Please don’t think I’m complaining. Maybe I am, a little bit, but I do acknowledge that you are asking The Question because you are curious, and excited. And I appreciate that a heck of a lot – I am fortunate to have people like you in my life, this I know for sure. Some days, though, I find it hard to live in the present. And I always try to live in the present, mostly because I’m one who conjures up the past and plans for the future a LOT. And this semester, this so important semester where I want to enjoy every moment and do everything I can with intention and not waste a single second of these last few months I have at home, has to be all about the present, all about appreciating what is in front of me that will soon be gone.

Maybe I’m just feeling a little rebellious lately; maybe I think it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I decided to make my barista gig a solid life plan and live in an attic in some ridiculously fun city for an unspecified amount of time. I know, I know, you don’t think that’s the best plan for me, that I should be thinking about things like Master’s degrees and generating income and the fact that attics are prone to infestations of one kind or another. But what if? That’s what we young folk on the cusp of college graduation should be asking, right? What if? The possibilities are endless. The path, this carefully constructed path we have been following for years, is a little less clear; it’s an exciting shade of ambiguity. What does the world feel like when it’s wide open? What does a healthy fear and curious anticipation taste like? Some days, I forget.

Part Two, in which I disregard some of the above and inform you about incredibly exciting future plans that are unfolding for me – plans that include magical things like international service, doing fun things with words, and waking up having no idea what the day will hold:

Anyway, dear mentor/parent/professor/coach/friend from long ago/stranger on the side of the road, since you asked: I do in fact have some fun news. While some days I wake up and feel everything I wrote above, other days I get so excited about what’s around the corner that it’s hard to see the point in doing my economics homework or vacuuming my room. And right now, what’s around some near future corner for me is the Peace Corps.

I’ve had my heart set on serving in the Peace Corps for most of college. I had my in-person interview this past Tuesday (which, as fate would have it, happened to be the 50th anniversary to the day of President Kennedy signing the executive order that created the Peace Corps) and I’m happy to say it went well, very well. I’m only at the beginning stages of what will be a long process of paperwork, communication, and waiting, though. Months of waiting. It will be a lot of back-and-forth but I am prepared to be patient. While I will go almost anywhere Peace Corps wants to send me, my preference is the Pacific Islands or southern Africa. It was solidified in my interview with my very pleasant recruiter that I will almost definitely be teaching English, since that’s a large part of my skill set and what Peace Corps would like to hire me for :) (It also helps that I sort of, you know, like English.) It will be months before I get my official invitation and know where they want to send me, but my estimated departure date is between January and March of 2012.

So, what does all that mean? It means I’m on the track for Peace Corps but am smart enough to know that a lot can happen in a year – other doors can open, other opportunities can arise. I’m much better at jumping into things and taking off on adventures than waiting for them, but Peace Corps just may be completely worth waiting for. I drool a little at the thought of serving a community for two full years, becoming completely invested and immersed. Among other things, Peace Corps will give me language training, a hut or compound of some sort to call my own, time to get my hands dirty and fail and help and write; they’ll give me help with graduate school, some money in my pocket when I’m back in the U.S., and most importantly, a plane ticket. But at this point, I’m not being asked to make any decisions and so I’m going to rest easy.

Do I sound decisive? I guess at this moment, this sunny moment on a late Thursday morning in which I am sitting in a comfy leather chair in a quiet reading room on my wonderful college campus, I am. I don’t have any answers and I’m really glad I don’t have a crystal ball, but I am doing what my parents have always taught me – create options and keep dreaming. I’m truly excited for the unknown and am holding on to that. I have no idea what I am doing this summer or fall. My feet (currently adorned in little red sneakers that I like to think are helping bring spring to North Carolina) still have trouble staying in one spot, so I imagine I’ll be moving around a bit and exploring parts of this country for a while before I leave it (whenever I do). Reading in a cornfield would be nice. Biking or triking across a few states would be, too. Making some money should probably happen, and spending time with and being near the people I care about will have to be a certainty.

Part Three, in which I pause for a moment, stop thinking about myself, and take a break from playing with the colorful, tangled, and open-ended entity that is my future to thank, from the bottom of my heart, those reading this who have played a part in how my journey is unfolding:

In conclusion, dear mentor/parent/relative/friend, you mean the world to me, and the ways in which you lead your life have inspired how I try to live mine. Your support and words of encouragement are the lights on my path. Thank you.

More letters coming your way – I’m glad we had this talk. Thank you for listening.

With free spirit,

Natalie

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3 thoughts on “a letter about next steps and plans of the heart.

  1. Love you nat! You find the words that fill my brain that I can’t sort out. My parents taught me to do well in school and make smart decisions and get a good job – all good advice, but I think I’ve figured out the create options/dreaming thing on my own. :) Can’t wait to hang out and have some amazing conversations and laughter with you!

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