If anyone reading this has talked to me within the last week or so, you probably already have an idea as to how this post is going to start out. That being: I cannot believe I have less than one month left of AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps. Almost 9 months of my life seem to have come and gone in what feels like the blink of an eye. I remember sitting in my very first AmeriCorps meeting being told that this was going to be the longest, shortest year of my entire life. I remember not only feeling extremely intimidated but how confused I was at the thought of that idea.
The longest, shortest year of my life. Well 8 and a half months later, I can very strongly say that this is one of the few things that AmeriCorps told me that turned out to be completely, totally and 100% true. There were times during this year where I sincerely thought I would never lay eyes on Philadelphia again. It felt that I would live out the rest of my days sleeping on a cot or sharing a bed in a church or a dirty hotel room. I was convinced that my ability to drive a vehicle other than a 15 passenger van had completely left my brain. But here I am, getting ready to say goodbye to California, the state I have called home for almost a year, the work that I have given my all too for what feels like forever, and my friends that I can barely imagine my life without. Friends that I mine as well just refer to as my family.
I already feel myself eating my words every time I called home and cried about how much I couldn’t wait for this year to be over. Yes this year may not have been everything that I thought it would be, but in some ways it has been so much more than I ever could have imagined.
More than anything, more than the experiences I gained and the places I got to go, this year gave me the opportunity to get away from all of the things that I was terrified of at home. It gave me a chance to see that there is so much more outside of Northeast Philadelphia that I would never have had the guts to explore otherwise. It has motivated me to keep negative people out of my life and to work towards things that will only better myself in the long run.
But with any major experience, you of course leave feeling like a new person. You have all these new morals. You can’t wait to see what you can do in this new life you have created. But deep down you know that in a few weeks a lot of those ambitions will lose a little bit of their luster. I am well aware that will eventually happen to me. I know that in a few weeks, after life gets back to normal, and I have seen my family and friends, I will probably be sitting on my couch, with my staring at me with the look of “where the hell have you been for the last year?” on her face. And I will utter what may be the most terrifying words known to the entire human race.
Of course I have been doing a lot of planning for what we call “Life After Americorps.” But all the planning in the world really cannot prepare you for the feeling of basically being catapulted back into reality.
How do I keep myself even close to as motivated as I have felt within the last 9 months? How do I avoid the emotional landmines scattered across my home town just ready to blow and drag me right back to where I was before I started this process? How do I continue on my journey of personal improvement and stay focused on all the goals I had set for myself?
For the first time in a really long time I won’t be working toward a tangible, defined goal. Over the last few years I was working for my college degree, then working to get a job right out of school, then I was working to find a way out of Philadelphia and then of course toward my education award at the end of my AmeriCorps service. But now, the options are limitless. And although that may not be bad thing, it sure as hell is pretty intimidating.
I guess the only way I can answer those questions is to take a little bit more from what I have learned this year. During some of the most difficult times, the weeks that felt they would never end, the days that I thought would be the day I sent in my resignation I had to remind myself that reaching a goal that I set for myself has never been easy. The thing that I am searching for has never just landed in my lap. I had to take things one day at a time and keep my eyes peeled for the opportunities to make my life what I want it to be.
Before coming to AmeriCorps I was unhappier I had felt in years. It actually may have been the most miserable I have ever been at all. I felt scared and alone and was just wishing for something to come along that would make my life feel even a little bit less pathetic.
But that is not how the world works. I had to work really, really hard, take a ton of huge risks, and even make some really significant personal sacrifices. But if I was able to get away from that time in my life and experience everything I have this year and still make it out in one piece, I know that I can conquer whatever the next chapter of my life has in store.
So yes, I will have that inevitable “Now What” moment, as I am sure many of my Amerifriends will. I will definitely start to feel sad and scared like I was a year ago when I started this whole process. But I also know that coming out of this program, I have the tools and experiences that will motivate me to get my ass off the couch at take control of the life that I want. Life doesn’t just happen. Sure, there are times where luck is a major factor. And yes there may be times where your answer to the “Now What?” and you end up being totally, and utterly incorrect. But in sorting through the many wrong answers and luckily come across the one you have been looking for at all.
They’re just two little words that will seem a whole lot less scary if you try to answer them at all.