David and I hiked to Flat Mountain Pond on Sunday, with Betsy and Cathy. It was a lovely hike, to a long, remote pond in the White Mountains, made more delightful by the chance to spend time with our friends — they enjoy being active and outdoors, like we do, and they are also among the most intentional people we know. They pay close attention to how they spend their time, where they’re putting their energy, how they’re living their lives, and make sure all of that is lining up with what they really want. As a couple who “dropped out” for a year and traveled across the country, they were among my most enthusiastically supportive friends when I told them, over a year ago, that I was going to be leaving my job at the Coalition. They thoroughly supported my willingness to try a new life.
Given how hectic our summer and fall has been, this was the first chance we’ve had to hike with Cathy and Betsy for over a year. I was eager to talk with them about my ever-shifting ideas about how to best use my time, how to balance acceptance of consulting jobs I’m being offered with my desire to write, how to structure my days, how to figure out what exactly I’m doing. It’s not that I expected them to have answers, but I knew they would understand the questions.
And coincidentally, I had just gotten an offer from Cathy’s sister Anne, who I know well from her work on violence against women at the national level, to represent her organization at a U.S. – Russia Civil Society Partnership Program meeting in Moscow in three weeks, taking part in the gender equity workgroup. I’ve been to Russia twice to do training on domestic violence, and have planned programs for two delegations of Russians visiting New Hampshire, so I was an easy choice for Anne to approach, knowing she wouldn’t be able to get away and accept the invitation to participate herself.
But do I want to go to Russia in three weeks? Do I want to get involved in what might be an ongoing project? How much exactly do I want to work, and stay engaged in the movement to end violence against women? Do I have the energy to spare that a quick trip to Russia will use up? Do I really want to do this, or do I just not know how to say no?
“Work begets work,” was one piece of advice Betsy gave me. And she also said she always asks herself, when considering whether to take on work for her own consulting business, “Is this going to help me get where I want to go?” This was all bouncing around in my head on Sunday night when I went to hear Kay Ryan read her poetry in Concord. In talking about coming to know that she wanted to be a poet, she said it came down to asking herself, “Do I like it?”
The short story in all this is that I said yes, and will be going to Russia in a few weeks. The longer story is that David and I are both deeply involved in helping each other sort out what exactly we want to be doing with our lives, now that the huge structure of demanding jobs isn’t dictating the basic work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, laundry, grocery shop, sleep, work, eat, sleep over and over again schedule. What we’ve come to affirm is that we’re in a mode of figuring it out. Saying yes to something for this year doesn’t mean I would say yes to the same thing next year. Or I may be out there looking for more opportunities like this, rather than waiting for them to come my way. Is this taking me where I want to go. Do I like this?
There is no Grace and David Four Months Into Having Left Their Jobs Rule Book. We’re making it up as we go along, paying attention, keeping track, staying present, asking the right questions. And having fun, like in the photo above. That was part of Sunday too.