In May of 2010, I left my job as a counselor at a women’s health clinic. It was a job that I loved, a job I was good at, a job that I felt passionate about. Every day, I felt like I was making a difference in the lives of the women I met. But at the beginning of 2010, I had known, deeply known, that it was time to move on. I couldn’t explain or fully name the deep sense that I had brewing within me that there was something else I needed to do. All the rational reasons (or excuses) that people have for leaving jobs didn’t fit this situation: I got along with my supervisor, I believed in the work, I could see areas where I might grow in the organization. But I still felt out of sync, like there was something waiting for me that I wasn’t doing and couldn’t do here. I’d need to clear life space, energy, and focus for whatever was next.
For months, I went about the work of applying and interviewing for positions, trying to figure out where to land while holding the larger, more frightening question of who I might become in the quietest parts of myself. When nothing emerged immediately, I knew that whatever was out there wasn’t going to be conveniently available in the pre-packaged form of a perfect job I could transition to immediately. I knew I’d need to walk away from my work without any clue as to what might come next. And so, in May, I did that.
It’s an uncomfortable thing to know without knowing–to feel the truth of something and be certain of its shape and yet to not be able to name or explain how that truth came about or to describe what might come next. Especially when there’s a cultural script that assumes we have some kind of control over what our fates may be. For a college-educated person, the logical reasons to leave a good job don’t usually include a gut feeling. But resisting the need to couch my transition as something with notes of upward mobility for the sake of easy explanation, I followed the knowing without knowing what might come next.
On my last day of work, I cleaned out my office and drove home in the early afternoon. I wandered around the house, then into the back yard. I sat in the grass and watched the trees. I watched the unfolding of late spring. And by the time my spouse returned home from work and found me in the yard, I was covered in dirt and spray paint. Here is where the new garden would be, I explained. Here is my work while I wait.
That May, I dug in the dirt, forming borders for the perennial bed that would stretch across our entire back yard. I arranged for delivery of 10 yards of compost, and when it was dumped in a pile that stretched over 5 feet tall in my driveway, I set to work spreading it about my lawn one wheelbarrow load at a time. I begged plants off of neighbors and gardeners, filling the space with varieties of hosta and daylillies. When I couldn’t stand to dig any longer, I’d ride my bike to the part of town with two hundred year old houses and magnificent gardens so that I could learn what I liked and plan my own.
I was working in the garden when I received a call from a friend that would lead me to my next job via a series of small steps and big conversations. I remember standing, sweaty and gritty, gloves in hand as I said the first in a series of yeses that opened doors I never could have imagined and yet somehow knew were there. I both did and didn’t know what was waiting for me. Or what I was waiting for, I suppose.
There’s a romantic story that I’ve told myself for a long time–it’s not about a prince, but it has the same ring: that if I waited, my sense of purpose would find me, and that once I found it I would always have it, tucked in a pocket of my heart, and I would never feel the pull of my gut leading me into the unknown. Having done it once, I would never have to do it again. It is the great myth I wanted to live by, mostly because it is a common story and easy to explain. But it is a lie. And I was wrong.
Of course, there have been times when a growing certainty about change would send me back into the garden, digging and planting, acting out the removal of what was no longer needed and mimicking the deep rooting I needed. The plants gave me comfort and courage–if they could survive having their roots pulled up and plopped into new soil, I would be fine, too. But it was never as strong as it was that May.
Another season of change is waiting for me. Or I am waiting for it. I don’t really know which it is. I don’t know if it matters. Again, I know it’s time to clear the plot of my life to prepare it for what is next. This knowing comes with every good reason and none at all. I try not to name it too clearly, knowing the act would be folly and a waste of precious energy. There is an urge to ramble and to be still, to let the persistent thrumming of this knowing work its way through me into speech and action. And there is the natural opposition to this urge which makes me want to run and jump into what is next, to plug up my ears and pretend I don’t know. But I do. And I don’t.
Another season of turning the soil. Another season of waiting for what will emerge. Another season of testing whether I have the courage to say yes when the time comes. Another season of holding certainty in the midst of fear that that time may never come. I do not believe we make our own fate, nor do I believe that we passively float in it either. It is more subtle than that. Simpler. Even though I want it to be more complicated, even though I want to attach all the reasons in the universe to the sense of unrest that is within me (especially when some of them are true). In truth, it is as simple as knowing and acting on that incomplete knowledge and assuming I will know more someday. I’d like to say that I do this with grace, that there is a calmness to this waiting. But there isn’t. Each day, I have to choose to wait until the moment I don’t have to any more, until the moment comes in which what is coming has arrived. But I feel it. I feel it.
And so I begin the work of waiting and find the waiting work–whether it is a garden or a blank page that waits with me, trusting that what comes after is good. Trusting that what comes after is true. But also knowing this will not be the last waiting I do, not the last time I know before I can explain. And it feels a little less dire, a little less like I have to try so hard to make something of the wait. Which, I suppose, is something worth waiting for.