These last few weeks have been hectic. Every project for every class is due in about two weeks. This means scheduling interviews, driving hours to and from the interviews, praying to the journalism gods that my sources don’t cancel on me, like they seem to do every single time. This means running to and from campus to rent gear over and over again so that I can record audio, so that I can take video. This means hours of editing on my very slow, very old computer that is inevitably going to crash because it can’t handle all of the programs I am running on it.
Another security deposit is due for a new apartment soon and my bank account is going to crumble with the weight of it.
The ABS light has been on in my car for six months and I’m too afraid to find out what it’s going to cost to fix it, so I just haven’t been driving my car in bad weather.
For the last two months I’ve been working two jobs and finally quit one of them to make more time. But somehow it seems, even when you make time, something else comes to take its place.
I am afraid to open my email. I am afraid to check my inbox. Students are asking for help, professors are sending me more grading. There are still loose ends to tie up with the old job and so many things to figure out for the new one.
And I am exhausted from the instant communication. I am so tired of feeling the pressure to respond the second I see a message. I am so tired of feeling like I have to check my email 10 to 15 times everyday so as not to miss something important. I am tired of getting panicked emails from students on a Friday night, with the expectation that I will respond and then anger when I don’t.
I feel like I can never leave, like I can never unplug.
And somehow all of this constant communication has left me feeling more isolated than ever before.
I spent the last eight months writing handwritten letters to my friends and family in an attempt to break this digital communication cycle. Only three people have written back. I must have sent 30 or 40 letters this year.
I am again, reflecting on Edward Abbey, and the way he holed away in Utah and Arizona for most of his life. He would probably be appalled by cell phones and email and Facebook. I can almost guarantee he would have disowned every single one of them, written multiple articles on their uselessness and then gone backpacking through the desert for a few days and not given a single shit about getting the perfect Instagram photo.
I’m not saying that becoming a hermit is the best thing we can do as people. But perhaps when a friend has sent us a beautifully crafted card and we can find 30 minutes to spend on social media but then claim we have ‘no time’ to write a letter back, we might need to start reevaluating our priorities.
Which is why, in the midst of my chaotic schedule, I signed up to volunteer at a community garden here in Boulder. I signed up because I needed a tangible excuse to leave my apartment and my work to go do something with my hands. To talk to real people about something other than journalism and podcasts. To ‘shoot the shit’ with people who have nothing on their minds other than figuring out what bed to weed next.
And that’s exactly what I did. For an afternoon, I left my phone at home, rubbed sunscreen into my face and sat at the foot of the mountains pulling weeds. Sure we talked about school a little (the other volunteers were mostly undergrads) but we also talked about Barbara Kingsolver, and backpacking and yoga. We talked about our dreams and plans and what we wanted to do with our lives. And for the first time in almost a year, I didn’t feel the weight of existential dread as I tried to figure out my next life step.
Maybe I’ll work on a farm for a while. Maybe I’ll walk dogs. Maybe I’ll write a book and start my own podcast about environmental issues. Or maybe I won’t do any of those things.
But whatever it is I do, it better be something that makes me happy. Sure I understand that you have to earn a living and that sometimes means being a little unhappy. But here’s a list of things you don’t have to do:
- Go to college (unless what you want to do legitimately requires a degree, like becoming a nurse/doctor, engineer, etc.)
- Take on a job you hate for longer than you have to
- Take on debt for a useless degree just to say you got a degree
- Be unhappy with your job 100% of the time
- Continue living in a place that you hate
- And the list could go on and on
Right now, strict journalism isn’t making me happy. I’m tired of intruding on people that just want to be left alone. I’m tired of half-assing projects I don’t really care about just to get them done. I’m tired of showing up to classes where my time is wasted, and then paying an exorbitant amount of money for said classes. I’m tired of arrogant people telling me I have to do this or that or I’ll never be successful.
By sheer luck (or fate, whichever you choose to believe in) I found a job that makes me happy and leaves me with enough time to hike mountains, write stories and volunteer in community gardens. I get to perfect my craft as a storyteller all while making a better income than the average print journalist.
It took an afternoon of squatting in the dirt and laughing with people I’d never met before to realize the good things I had and to let go of the things that weren’t serving me. So if you’re unhappy with where you are in life, put down your phone, write a letter to a friend and go pull some weeds. I promise things will become a little clearer.