When I meet someone, the thing I’m most curious about is: “What’s your spark?” Meaning, what’s the thing that brings you joy and purpose when the day to day responsibilities feel less than thrilling? Is it helping others? Your friendships? Your family? Your faith? Your work environment?
Sometimes I imagine everyone walking around with a tiny match, a pilot light, always there, just waiting to be ignited. It burns faintly through normal day to day operations, but at certain points, there’s a spark! And then it roars like campfire, emitting an obvious glow. I see it all the time: when a tired conversation changes because someone begins talking excitedly about a new idea, or their favorite meal, or what they love about their best friend. It’s a glow that can’t be missed.
I know I had that glow when I was a student at JMU. I had an unpredictable and challenging job that required my full attention for 20+ hours of my week, plus I was taking a full course-load, and I was fencing. Oddly enough, I think I had more responsibilities than I have now. I was tired, sometimes. And I needed breaks. But mostly, I just needed my people. The talks I had with friends and coworkers made up for everything that was hard.
When I look back at those years, I wonder how I didn’t experience burnout. I was doing so much, but I was soul-happy. I felt so much joy and purpose in what I was doing. That spark was burning bright through problem solving and student programming. Maybe it wasn’t there for late night study sessions or while completing tedious weekly paperwork, but it was burning again for 7am yoga, or when I sat on the quad writing to my long-distance friend.
And here’s the big thing: aspects of that job were emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting, but unlike jobs I’ve had since, I loved it. I loved helping people, even when it meant facilitating painful roommate interventions. I loved free moments for processing life with my co-workers during our 8pm-2am shifts, even when emergencies meant the shifts lasted longer. I even enjoyed making the bulletin boards that my fellow RA’s dreaded. It never occurred to me to find a less-demanding job, I did it for three years.
Grad school was kind of like that, too. The community was so good. I was never fully invested in the coursework. I nearly dropped out twice, honestly. But the friendships I found with my new co-workers and my cohort made me want to stay. Even though I was on the strictest budget and living without heat for half the winter, I poured myself into non-essential fun projects. I recently found a few fun conversations (thanks, googledocs and gchat) and I re-read them and laughed and felt at home. I remembered a version of myself I haven’t felt like in a long time, which was significant. I’ve felt so out of touch with myself for the past few years.
Recently, I’ve had some conversations with old friends and mentors about career paths and purpose. I like my current routines. Moving to Winston-Salem connected me with a grief group, new friends, a gym, and an inclusive faith community. My career is stable and I generally see purpose in the work that I’m doing. Working from home has it’s perks. For all of those reasons I feel very, very, very lucky. And yet… that match / spark / pilot light isn’t operating the way that it used to, the way I want it to.
I’m just not as a fulfilled as I was when I was 22. I know I’m still working through grief and lingering depression and trying to navigate my role in the laundry list of things that are wrong with this country and the world right now but even when I put the hard things aside and focus on “self care” things like drinking water and writing the letters and crushing it at the gym and spending time outside, I feel detached. Slightly off. And in group settings, especially, not like myself. Not the version of myself I want to be.
All this is to say, I’m searching for my spark. I’m exploring some new potential opportunities: new work, volunteer gigs, maybe more school that would lead to a new career, I’m even considering a big move that would change everything. I don’t know what I want, ultimately, but I’m putting it out in the universe: A hope for something brighter. An intension to be open to changes that may seem impossible at first. And when I begin to dwell on the past and that version of my earlier self that I’m missing, I want to re-focus that feeling into looking forward into the years ahead and what changes are within my control.
I don’t like who I am all the time. I don’t like how I feel most of the time. But I feel so self-centered even acknowledging that. All this is to say, I think I need to focus on getting that spark back.