embracing my inner misfit, living my life

“Today is the youngest you will ever be.”

My senior year of college, I had this saying taped to the wall next to my bed. Beneath those words, surrounding a world map, I had created a collage of images of the people, movements and personal life events that drove and inspired me – mission trips, TOMS, studying abroad in England, The Buried Life, time in northern Michigan and more. These pieces evoked feelings that shook me. They were the things – big and small – that made me think and dream.

That wall embodied who I was and who I wanted to be. It kept me motivated and engaged in what I was doing. It reminded me to fill each day with the things that mattered to me, to strive to live an intentional, purposeful life.

That year, the balance of my life and my vision for my future felt right.

Somewhere between graduating from college and the year and a half that followed, that wall and the part of me that yearned for “something more” started to feel subdued. The service jobs I worked seemingly left a void in my life. I missed college and the creative, young minds I had been surrounded by every day. I craved a learning community. I missed the energy and the late nights – the times when I usually produced my best work.

I had let myself lapse into a life that wasn’t necessarily my own.

Of course, my life was my own, but it wasn’t the way I’d envisioned my life post-college. I felt misunderstood by the customers who came into the cafe where I worked. I felt as though my position as a server didn’t justify who I was as a person – not just my college education but other aspects of who I was and what I wanted. My identity felt tested.

In many ways, I hid behind the hat I wore to work, shying away from the people I encountered – especially high school classmates who came in from time to time.

A few months into working at the cafe – and getting to know my coworkers – I realized I had learned a great lesson: the people we encounter in our everyday lives are typically more than meets the eye. We’re taught this all our lives, but this was the first time I had knowingly lived it.

Throughout my year in the service industry – first at the cafe and then at a brewery – I felt pressure to find professional work – any professional work – but I also wanted to sincerely enjoy my work. I wanted the mission of the company and the work I was doing to align with my interests and education. I wanted to live an intentional, purposeful life.

While interviewing Simon Sinek for The Unmistakable Creative Podcast, Srinivas Rao says, “Sometimes, I think that we sleepwalk through life.” This sentiment perfectly captures why I refused to settle for just any professional work.

If I was going to “get my foot in the door,” I still wanted it to be the right fit for me. A few months down the road, I didn’t want to be unhappy and feel stuck all for the sake of having a professional job and building my resume – although there is something to be said for doing those things. I thought it would be easier to escape a service job than it would be to escape a professional one.

After a year and a half of “proactively waiting” – as I like to call it – for the right opportunity, I was offered a job at One World Futbol Project in Berkeley, Calif. My position and the mission of the company embody what I was striving for throughout my job search. At times, I feel as though I lucked out – and, in some ways, I did – but ultimately, I believe my persistence and desire to live intentionally made the difference. I had to be both diligent and patient about living my life and writing my story.

In the same interview on The Unmistakable Creative Podcast, Sinek tells Rao, “There’s a pattern. If you look at the jobs you’ve loved the most in your life and the times when you’ve been happiest, you’ll see a consistent pattern. There’s always a reason. There’s something behind it. Even though the work may not have been easy, the thing that fulfilled you was always the same.”

My senior year of college, the wall next to my bed displayed the stories and experiences that moved me. Moments – sometimes challenging and sometimes easy – that left me full and satisfied. I am moved by experiences that push me and experiences that allow me to connect with people and places.

In hindsight, my time in the service industry did not necessarily leave a void in my life. I now know those jobs enriched my life in many ways – and aspects of them fit into different parts of my pattern. I am thankful for those experiences and what they have taught me – about the service industry and myself.

As I sat in church last Christmas Eve, I was overcome with an immense feeling of gratitude. My heart was full. During the service, I couldn’t help but think about how many people had touched my life in the past year and all that I’d done.

My path since college hasn’t been perfect, but looking back, I am so grateful for the experiences that have led me to where I am now and the people I have met along the way. I feel a great sense of joy and pride in my life path. I can’t help but smile when I think of all the diverse things I’ve done – including my work at the cafe and then the brewery. Often, distance yields great perspective.

March 29, 2014

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