Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Known Unknowns

With the arrival of spring, a young woman’s fancy turns to Expedia in the hope of finding cheap flights…or, more accurately, dreaming about them.

At least that’s the way it’s been for me this spring. I am always a daydreamer, but the tendency has been especially strong in recent days. As I contemplate and search for a new job (which explains my recent absence from TLJ), the fight or flight instinct kicks in. Sometimes I am super-motivated to seek out new people to get advice, or apply for another fellowship, or give my resume yet another update—you know, fight for the next step in my career. And other times, well, I just want to take a flight.

Where to? Anywhere. Just away. Away from my own disappointment, away from colleagues with exciting new opportunities and my stupid jealousy about their happiness and seeming self-assuredness. Away from not knowing what my own future could or should hold.

OK, wow, I just read that last paragraph back, and I am making it sound much worse than it really is. Of course, I am aware that I am incredibly lucky, with a great support system and a job that fulfills me more often than not. But as they say, it’s all relative, and seeing folks experiencing great successes all around you…yes, you’re happy for them, but it makes you feel like more of a screw-up. (Lesson: never look at your news feed on Facebook if you want a pick-me-up.)

Say what you will about Donald Rumsfeld, but that whole thing about the “known unknowns”? He was really on to something there. OK, not on the weapons of mass destruction stuff, at least for my own purposes here. When you’re seeking the next step, you know you want to be happy, safe, comfortable, and successful. But what happens when the path is unclear? Or when it’s obstructed by lack of opportunities? You know what you want, but you don’t know how to get there, or you don’t even know whether such a path exists. Despite constant assurances that I’ll figure it out, I’m not sure right now how I will.

Well, at least I know in all likelihood, that someday I’ll look back at this post and laugh, wondering how I could have been so angst-y when things indeed would fall into place, how I worried for nothing. But naturally, it’s hard to understand that when you’re right in the middle of the storm.

And so it’s nice to think of flying out of the storm, I suppose. Perhaps you read this Converge magazine piece from a few months ago—“Why You Should Travel Young.” While I am not exactly the adventurous sort (before Pat and I made it out to California in 2011, I had not set foot on an airplane in more than 15 years), the argument that “traveling allows you to feel more connected to your fellow human beings in a deep and lasting way” is one that resonates with me—especially given my concerns about my future prospects. More and deeper connections allow for greater clarity and perspective, I believe.

And yet when I daydream about travel these days, it’s not so much about the connections as the escape.  As I look at Expedia right now for flights, the whole country seems open to me (the budget doesn’t exactly allow the world to be open to me quite yet).  So many destinations—so many I have not been to and would like to see. Fort Lauderdale? For sure! Buffalo? Why not! Little Rock? Sure thing! Kansas City? Absolutely!

I often think about roaming the streets of a city I’ve never seen before, or driving through a stretch of country that had been previously just a picture in my mind. It’s not like I need a journey of self-discovery, a la Homer Simpson and the Johnny Cash coyote. But in the same way I believe that connections can bring clarity, I think that a temporary distance from your own cares can bring it as well.

In the meantime, though, the search continues for that next career step. And if it comes soon, maybe I’ll treat myself to one of those flights. Until then, I’ll keep that Expedia tab open—just in case.