Today marks four months since I left my job.
Until four months ago, I knew where to go every day. I rode my bike to work. I walked to the wine and cheese shop for sandwiches on lunch breaks with my coworkers. I had an email address, and on the other side of the @ symbol was the name of an organization made of thousands of people who were doing things like building million gallon water systems for refugees and delivering medicine across the flooded plains of South Sudan. The weight of the organization’s name rolled into the room with me wherever I went. On top of that, I could say I was the Roving Correspondent at American Refugee Committee. At the very least my job title surprised people, made them pause, and at the most it conjured questions that made me feel … well… cool.
“So do you travel a lot for work?”
“Oh, yes,” I would say after 6 years at the job. I couldn’t stop the wide smile. I would beam. I was full of pride for the places I’d been, the work that I’d done. And anytime I was asked a question about my job, I hoped and hoped the conversation would hold long enough for me to talk about the people.
The people! At ARC, I sat at my desk every day surrounded by dozens of humanitarians reaching through phones and computers to work on big ideas with our teammates around the world. And, with joy I boarded plane after plane to hit the ground running with my teammates, my friends, in Uganda or Somalia or Thailand or DR Congo. I got to stand with teammates as they rebuilt clinics, laid water pipes in the ground, navigated newly built tent cities for thousands of refugees fleeing across borders. And, on nights where we needed to bring our spirits high after the low lows of refugee life, we made food and danced together.
I did the best work of my life in those 6 years. Then, four months ago, three days before my baby was born, I left my job.
There are so many reasons to make such a big change, and frankly, I’ve talked about the reasons I left my job so much that there’s simply no juice left in that orange.
I have reminded myself a few times in the last four months that, given the dominoes stacked up in front of me, I made the best decision I could make, and I leapt out into the unknown, a world of new fatherhood coupled with a new family life with a hefty dose of professional reorganization and a lot of humility-inducing steps. And diapers.
On my best days of these four months, I have soaked in the wonder that is my baby girl. I mean, truly, and this is not an exaggeration, I have seen nothing in my life so magical as watching this human become a human. Four months ago, I held her against my chest as she took her very first breaths. Now, four months later, when she sees me, she smiles. WHAT IS THIS WONDERFUL FEELING? I am still figuring it out.
On my best days, too, I remember the work I’ve done that I’m so proud of, and I plug away at the work I do now, here in my little office in the attic. My old boss, Sarah, used to say to us, “There is as much magic in a tiny house as there is in a skyscraper.” I totally believe that. This is a mantra for me now. I repeated it to myself when I was at a multinational organization. It means more to me now, sitting alone in my tiny attic office.
But, I lose it sometimes. On the worst days of these four months I have flailed. I feel swarmed by the fear of failure. Will I be a great dad? Is my magic good enough? Do I have the right ideas? Am I making a huge mistake? I feel like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, whirling and whirling and whirling and whirling, lost out in space on my own.
In those moments I have one tether. I wish I could say it was my baby, but it isn’t. She is totally new to this living thing, and I save my whirling for when she’s in daycare. And my husband is INCREDIBLE. His encouragement and support has made this leap possible for me. But honestly, it’s not his responsibility to stop my whirling mind.
My one tether is this – memory.
I was fifteen years old when I walked up the road and along the ravine in a tiny village in the mountains of Mexico. I was standing next to Saul, a boy from the village I’d met at a class we taught that summer. We were walking to a volleyball court across the ravine which my Texan friends and I had poured. I was asking Saul to teach me words in Spanish.
On my last day in that Mexican village, I thought to my 15 year old self, “This is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
I couldn’t have told you then what “this” was. I wouldn’t have had words for it. Today I don’t often have words for it. But the feeling I held in my heart that day as the sun set over the mountain top and over the American and Mexican kids playing volleyball, that feeling in my heart is the same one that is in my heart now as I write this. I’ve carried it. It was with me all along. It is with me now.
That feeling in my heart is a line I can follow through every part of my life. This feeling is my one true tether. When I’m whirling, I can close my eyes, and the whirling almost always stops long enough for me to grab onto that line. With my heart beating in my chest, I open my eyes again. There is the line now, stretched behind me through every memory I have. This feeling in my heart is connected to every memory of finding new friends in slums and refugee camps and far away cities and my hometown. This feeling in my heart is connected to every time I found my true self, like the days I journaled on top of my house in Guatemala or hiked up in the desert hills of Somalia. This feeling is a line I can follow through every memory I have, and there, right now before me I can see that line stretching out like it always does, just a few steps into the future.
I hold onto that line and keep walking forward.