Cars hummed on the bridge above me. A jet thundered across the sky, like clockwork, creating a shadow on the packed dirt trail. I sharply inhaled the damp, stagnant air. My legs ached, and my heart pounded. I was running – as fast as I could – away. Away from this city. Away from this anguish. Away from this reality. Away from myself.
Minutes earlier I was on the floor in my apartment, weak from sobbing. I pulled myself up, looked in the mirror, and stared blankly at a woman I no longer recognized. Her eyes were dull; cheeks tear-stained and red. What is happening? This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. This was not glamorous. This was not shiny and new. This was difficult, incredibly, overwhelmingly difficult.
For those that didn’t hear, I decided to graduate a year early, pack my life into my Subaru, and leave the only home I’ve known for a policy consulting job in Washington D.C. It was my dream job. It was my dream city. It was going to be perfect.
I should have known.
I’m terrible with transitions; change uproots me and warps my perception. When I’m out of my routine and in unfamiliar places I’m slower to combat my internal critic and less apt to have perspective. Unfamiliarity and discomfort weakens my internal optimist. I was known to write letters asking my parents to come get me at summer camp. I almost pleaded my way out of a summer program in France. It took me eight weeks to be okay with living in San Diego for a total nine weeks. Change is hard. And Washington has been no different.
For the past month, I often woke up confused and dismayed to realize that I was in D.C., again. Most days ended tear-streaked and taking to the trails – running as far from my reality as I could, only to begrudgingly return to it miles later. The permanency of my situation weighs down on my conscience. There is no end date to return home and tie a nice bow on my experience. This isn’t a summer internship or semester-long program to be captured and turned in for a grade. This isn’t a test-run. I am in Washington. For an undetermined amount of time. With a job, a job with contracts, benefits, and expectations. I am not in my safe and sacred classroom anymore. I know how to handle the classroom – I’ve been navigating classrooms for the last 15 years. School is my safe place. Corporate America, however, is a strange and foreign land, and I forgot to buy the guidebook.
Since moving, I have felt uprooted and misplaced, as though I lost myself somewhere between Indiana and D.C. This is not my home. This is not my dream. I don’t belong here. I have spent the last five weeks imprisoned by my own grief – grief over the loss of who I was, of my past experiences and routines. Grief over the absence of familiarity and the overwhelming presence of the strange and unfamiliar. I shoved my sadness under the rug and chastised myself for feeling anything but grateful. You’re not supposed to feel this way. This is your dream job, remember?! You’re not allowed to feel sad; you should be grateful for this opportunity. Get it together.
But I’m not together. I’m not okay. I’m tired, I’m confused, and I keep getting lost trying to find Target. Maybe this isn’t my dream job. Maybe, at the ripe age of 21, I don’t have it all figured out. Maybe I’m not ready for this. But, maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s not until I recognize this grief, look it in the eye and say, “Yes. I see you. I understand your pain, and it’s okay.”
It’s okay to be afraid leaving the only home I’ve ever known. It’s okay to be apprehensive in new situations and challenges. It’s okay to be lonely. I have given myself permission to feel sadness, to stop resisting the uncertainty and fear, and in this grief, I have made space. Space to grow and learn. Space to fill with new experiences, opportunities, and relationships. By acknowledging and accepting the grief, anxiety, and loss over who I was, I can finally embrace who I am becoming.
So no, my new life in Washington is not as wonderful as I had anticipated – yet. But it’s also not a new life. I’m still me – the mildly introverted, somewhat obsessive, nerdy me. The girl who would rather run ten miles in the woods than sleep until noon. The one that collects miniature Buddha’s and old, family Bibles. The one with the lobbying and consulting job on K Street in Washington, D.C. It’s all me. And while change is hard, nerve-wracking, and out-right scary, it’s also necessary. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now. I still don’t really know how to get to Target. But I do know I am here. I am here to learn, grow, and explore this next chapter. I am here to relinquish my white-knuckled grip on life and embrace each moment’s opportunity. I am here to discover the young woman I am becoming. I am here, and I am no longer running away.
Also, as evidence that I have done more than think deeply about life, below are some photos from my adventures the past few weeks in D.C. For more, follow me on Instagram and Twitter! (I have been known to live-tweet Congressional hearings, you have been warned).