The Happy Middle

Her voice trembled with the pain of uncertainty. She shifted her body as she talked, the restlessness hanging around her like a scarf. She had just spent four years in South Korea, she told me, but came home because it felt like it was time. But now that she is here, she is fearful of being stuck and terrified that her adventures are behind her. We met just three times, at a meditation group in Wrigleyville, but one day she stopped coming. The twitch overcame her and she was off again.

There have been times when I have been this woman, anxious for the next and afraid that being still meant missing out. Impatient in each place because my purpose wasn’t immediately revealed, I floated through experiences trying to find the one that fit my soul.

The first time I heard someone use the word wanderlust I immediately knew that I wanted that to be my descriptor as well. This wanderlust had beautiful blue eyes and we spent afternoons in coffee shops, him describing his adventures and me my planned adventures. I dreamed of being a vagabond, but it wasn’t until I met this Viking that I had any courage to do so. When he pushed me away, I fell into the arms of stuffed backpacks and the beds of benches in bus stations. I became wanderlust, in occupation and heart.

Last February, shortly after arriving backing the U.S. from three and half years in the Peace Corps, I had a decision to make: I could take a job, my first in nearly four years, or I could join my friend Nick on a road trip through the western part of the country. I knew that the suitable thing was to re-establish an adult life, but I was scared that if I committed to that it would be my fate forever. I wanted freedom and to sleep in cars and to binge-watch the countryside from a dirty windshield, but Nick knew what I needed. Take the job, he said.

Less than two weeks after I arrived in D.C. and started my job there, I got an email about a job in Chicago with the Peace Corps. I went home and cried that night because I knew right then and there that I would have to disappoint a bunch of people and take that job.

There were a lot of reasons I took the job in Chicago. The city was closer to home, a better fit for me. It was with the organization that I love, and another chance to feel like a nomad, moving again to another place I had only been once before. But the job was also only a 13-month contract. A minimal commitment, a forced out.

While such a short-commitment is unsuitable for someone with a family or a house payment, it was perfect for someone with a roaming heart. I wanted the universe to tell me what to do next and, at the end of 13 months, I could leave or I could stay, but I would let the universe lead me to that decision.

There have been times where I put out my intentions into the world, only slightly, and the universe has brought them to me. One day I thought to myself that I wanted to get a subscription to a certain magazine and then a few days later my sister-in-law sent me a link to a free one upon completion of a survey. Or the time I decided I needed flowers to brighten up my days and I received a beautiful bouquet from my parents. In these times, just merely asking is all the universe needed.

I said that I would let the universe decide what I should do beyond my work contract and I would go with it. In a rare change of character, I wasn’t worried about my future and truly believed things would work out.

A few months ago, things at my office began to shift and it was made official this week that my contract was expanded to the full five-year contract. My time in Chicago will not expire come September; rather it’s expanded into years. This is where I could stay instead of running off.

My friend Sean recently told me that Chicago is my happy middle. He said it is not where I began and it will not be where I end, but it is where I can stay and explore my being within a new home.

I am 30 now. My wanderlust is still there and my purpose, largely, is unknown. While I enjoyed being a nomad in my 20s, I understand that it’s time for me to stay in one place for a while. This new contract confirms that. I need to pay off loans, find my go-to coffee shop on rainy Sundays, pick out my favorite place in the city, go to yoga class. I need to learn who I am when I am not going from place to place and watch myself grow from the roots.

It’s good to explore and wander through experiences in order to grow and learn more about yourself, but there also comes a time when you need to stay still and see the things about you that can’t come out when you are searching. That’s where I am and it’s on this journey that I will find the wisdom and courage for the next thing. But here I stay, embracing the happy middle and believing it’s where I am needed.


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