Returning to the United States has been harder than I imagined. I feel a bit like Frodo did when he returned to the Shire after his adventures in the wider world; how do I simply go back?
I was out of the country for almost a full year, and it turns out that it was the perfect amount of time in which to forget the all-consuming question that drives American culture: What next?
I met a woman in a pub in Ireland in June, and one of the first things she said to me was, “So you must have a job waiting for you back home.” The moment my rather baffled, “No” hit her brain, her eyebrows vanished into her hairline, and I was forcibly reminded that American culture is truly driven by title and worth. I need to know what you do for a living so that I know where you rank in relation to me. Are you better than me? Do you make more money? Do I want fries with that?
The real problem is that I have no clue what happens next, and that makes people uncomfortable. I have big dreams that involve finding a career with a multinational corporation, or starting a company based in sustainability. I also have small dreams that revolve mostly around my garden and long walks with my dog.
During my travels, I met the happiest man in the world. He is a grocery clerk in a tiny shop in the Scottish Highlands, and he’s happy as a bird with a french fry. His job had no glamour whatsoever. In fact, every job I’ve had for the last 14 years would be considered more glamorous than his, but I have not once been that happy while on the clock.
The day after my husband proposed to me the question was, “When is the wedding?” and immediately after (actually during) the wedding I heard, “When can we expect babies?”
Now, after a year of extremely exhausting and emotionally fulfilling work overseas, the most important thing anyone can think to ask is, “What are you going to do for work?”
I spent a year with my hands in the dirt, learning to dig and sort potatoes, harvesting seaweed from the Arctic Ocean, milking cows in Ireland, building rock walls in Scotland, running a table-saw in England. I learned that the value of work is not in the station or position, but in the satisfaction at the end of the day. Seeing an important job description on my Facebook page was nothing compared to the joy of scraping dirt and horse shit out from under my fingernails, all the while knowing that one more carrot field would survive the winter because of my work. I spent a year changing the way I viewed work and status, and coming back to a culture that needs to know where I fit in the pecking order of society has been overwhelming.
I know that my frustrated rants alone won’t go far in changing America, just look at Bernie Sanders. For now, I suppose I’ll just have to find an answer to the “what next” question.
I’ll have a baby when I’m sure nothing else good can happen in my life- thank you Mike Birbiglia for that line- and I’m planning on finding a job that makes me as happy as a Scottish grocery clerk.
Hope you’re well,
P.S. – Where are you working now?