Long ago, before Alaska, before my life turned topsy-turvy into the wonderful woodsy wilderness it is today, I wanted to work in an office.
Yep, you read that right.
At the time, I was in my early twenties, recently graduated from UC Berkeley and waitressing at a local restaurant and feeling that every day I was falling farther and farther behind my cohort. You see, I had gone into Berkeley thinking I’d come out well on my way to becoming a world-renowned Sociology professor. However, I quickly realized during the first class of my first semester that perhaps the research I’d done around my future job (none) had been lacking, at best. Apparently, one was suggested to budget 10 years for a Ph.D. in Sociology.
“If I’m not able to perform surgery after spending 10 more years in school,” I thought to myself, “then no, gracias.”
I couldn’t believe it. Yet, there I was, knee-deep in my first semester headed towards my “job”, bills to pay stacking up, enmeshed in a subject that I was interested in yet held no clearly laid out professional path.
I worked my way through the next 3 semesters and graduated with not a clue of what to do for a career.
And so, when a dear friend who too had battled her way through Berkeley asked if I wanted a job with her at a local restaurant, I said “Yes”.
That job taught me about a sense of urgency, it taught me never to judge a book by its cover and perhaps not even by the first chapter. It brought me into a family of friends who all helped one another and it taught me to multitask and organize my workflow in the face of a restaurant full of patrons, all wanting you. I truly think waiting tables should be a mandatory occupation for everyone. It changes the way you see the world.
Still, I felt the breath of Berkeley hot on my back in the form of my own pressure and, of course, in the form of all too nosy patrons.
“You went to Berkeley? And you’re my waitress?!”
Yes, doll, your first statement is true but I’m not yours.
(*Sidenote: Somehow, in all of this, I seemed to have forgotten the lessons I learned from the year I lived in Italy where waiting tables is a career. Some of my best friends have made it a wonderful career. Days free, cash tips, thinking on your toes, every day a different day, shift drink? Hello! Plus, what could be a more noble profession than bringing nourishment and warmth and happiness to those around you? I have a lot of respect for those who can do that on the daily. Love to you all).
I felt pressure from the world and pressure from myself and as my cohort found their respective posts in the work world, I felt as if I was falling behind.
I needed a new job.
An office job.
Growing up, I had spent hours on end with my Dad in his office building. The cubicles with their padded walls with pins stuck into them holding up pictures of family and drawings from kiddos seemed so cool to me. Even cooler was my Dad’s office. A room all his own, shut off from the bustle and even a printer all his own to boot. He wore suits every day with ties I helped match and pockets that held a wallet with business cards. I thought it was the cat’s meow, the wolf’s howl.
I had applied at countless jobs for years for marketing, research, think tanks, anything! So, when I was offered a job one night from a table I was waiting on I felt that my answer had come. They loved me. They were so excited I was considering their offer. A few weeks later, I left my post and my family of friends at the restaurant and promised to return for Happy Hours and “hellos”.
I was a Happy Hour person now.
9-5? Sign me up.
Count me in, boogaloo!
I was a businesswoman, a woman in heels, a woman with a cubicle all her own with business cards and a phone line and a corporate email. I had meetings and off-site visits and goals to meet.
I had arrived.
A few months in, red-lipped smile fading, heels starting to hurt (despite their absolutely fabulous cheetah print), cubicle closing in on me slowly, my co-worker said to me: “Sweetie, you are a flower, but you are wilting here.”
She was right.
And so, almost as quickly as I had arrived, I found myself departing.
Thankfully, at that time, the women’s gym I had been pulling doubles with teaching classes in the evenings after my 9-5 needed more of me and so I moved into my next career of a personal trainer and eventually the role of a business owner when my partner and I opened our own gym.
And then, I gave it all up.
My partner bought me out of our gym. I quit the waitressing side job I had needed to supplement the bills and I left a relationship of 7 years.
It’s funny looking back how we slowly align things for ourselves, isn’t it? The whole process of my subconscious slowly freeing me of my responsibilities took close to a year. The untangling of the ties that bound me and the final cutting of the last thread was not something I knew I needed to do, not consciously at least. And in that final cutting of ties, I awoke.
And I was free.
Free enough to go full circle.
Back to waitressing.
My second Summer, I was still working for the Food Truck I’d started at my first Summer and also the Restaurant. Waitressing is a skill I’m beyond grateful for that made my jump to Alaska possible.
Still, as an extroverted introvert, it takes a toll on me. I don’t always recharge by talking to people the way true extroverts do. I found myself rushing home after work just to be alone and I let myself realize for the first time that it was ok if this wasn’t for me. I wasn’t one of those people who could feel replenished by serving. It drained me. But what else was I good at? What was there to do? I started to think about other options. Could I have a career in the woods? Did I want one?
The Chief and I brainstormed about ways to make money year-round instead of seasonally. How could we stay home and still make money when all of the businesses left and it was too cold for construction? I told myself that by the next Summer I’d be working at least part-time out of the restaurant business. But where and how I didn’t know.
Having started the blog I was back to my writing roots. I had helped a few friends with wording on their websites, marketing, editing, etc. So, that second Summer when a local non-profit asked me to donate to their silent auction, I realized that writing was my skill and time was what I could donate.
And so I did, and then I promptly forgot about it.
A few months later, I got a call. It was from the auction winner, a CEO in Seattle who had come to our town for a backpacking trip at the time of the auction. He wanted to set-up a time for me to edit his website for a new business he was launching.
I was in California at the time, transitioning back to AK for my second Winter and I saw the requirement as a mild imposition but something I had agreed to nonetheless.
The three hours I had donated turned into four, then five as I worked my way through the texts, listing my recommended changes. I submitted them and brushed my hands together as if to clap off the dust of computer work well done.
That was the end of that.
Still searching for a career.
Or so I thought.
The edits, apparently, were a hit and the auction winner asked if I had any interest in picking up a few hours a week to help with editing and what not.
At the same time that my heart lurched forward towards the pint-sized pinch of stability this offered, it also jumped back.
Wasn’t this what I was getting away from? I had found happiness in a simple life and now I was going to muck it up by bringing my old life into my new life? Was I to be a wilting flower or a wild rose, surviving through Winter with my Summer stores?
I decided to see where it led.
Two years later, after slow times and busy times, I have become the head of Market Research for this company. A company far away with a boss and co-workers I’ve never met face to face yet talk to every day.
It’s a strange dichotomy to live amongst the trees and type away. To conduct business meetings in the dark of a quiet Winter morning, stationed close by the woodstove to fend off the cold with a laptop instead of a book in hand. To have my day planned in advance with meetings and deadlines instead of being open to the whims of what have you.
A strange full circle it is.
It’s taken The Chief and I a moment this Winter to get used to it again. In California, everyone is busy, busy, busy. It’s often the first thing we hear. “How are you?” “Busy.” So my new position faded into the buzzing about.
Here though, in Alaska, that buzzing is awfully loud. And so, these last few weeks, we’ve begun to adapt to my first full-time working Winter. Mornings start early, sometimes at 5 am (the only downfall to Alaska being far to the left in the timezone scheme of things. 5 am here is 9 am EST. Ouch) and work weeks can far extend the 40-hour average and spill into the weekends. Yet those work weeks are conducted in my own home, definitely not in heels with lunch breaks filled with cross-country skis (sometimes) or at least a home-cooked meal. It’s the oddest compromise I’ve ever been a part of (and I live with someone in less than 400 sq. feet) but it also makes a lot of sense.
I want a career.
I also want to live in the woods.
That’s who I am.
I love order and organization and planning. I can’t help it. I tried my first few years to just go with the flow, to have zero scheduled and to let myself ride on the whims of the weather alone. And I learned a lot about myself. Namely, that while I shouldn’t plan everything, I should plan some things. For me, it makes me value the time off I do have. It gives me structure. I love waking up early to a house to myself. Even if some of those pre-Chief waking hours are spent working, they are also filled with pre-work rituals that I might not do otherwise: stretching, journaling, reading. When time is more scarce, I tend to make better use of it.
Plus, even on the longest of weeks, I’m still working less than the life of constant doubles I worked in California. For almost ten years, I worked doubles most days of the week. Weekends always meant work, holidays too. It felt like it never ended.
I went from so much responsibility in California that I felt I couldn’t budge to few responsibilities greater than feeding and warming myself in Alaska. Life went from buzzing busyness to absolute calm and now, to somewhere in between. And this somewhere in between won’t last forever either. For now, it’s another addition to the list of dichotomies this life holds. Another lesson in learning who I am, how I thrive and how to shed the ideas that we and society (both in the woods and out) hold of how we should be.
Cheers to the whispers of the subconscious guiding us and to those whispers turning to shouts when we decide not to listen. Here’s to the utter serendipity of a businessman in small-town Alaska and a girl looking for a career in the woods. Here’s to whatever comes next, but to never again wilting.
May you be blooming.