Inner compass.

It seems like every day I get another recruiting email from this graduate school or that graduate school. Some of them are on-point (“Come to our online open house and learn about what a career in public health can do for you!”). Some of them…not so much (“Live and work in New York while pursuing an MA in art and design!”).  I read through all of them (except for the art and design ones) and then just leave them in my inbox, presumably to revisit on another day. Schools get added to and from my list of schools I want to apply to/am actively applying to all the time. I am doing this in a semi-orderly fashion, filing schools under online/on-campus/hybrid, making note of application fees, letting my references know where and when to send a letter praising my various quirks and qualities.

There’s just one problem. I honestly can’t tell if my heart is really in this or not.

The first summer I worked at camp, I got similar reactions. Surprise, doubt, confusion. But I had a feeling, a magnetic pull toward some destination in the journey of the soul that no one else really saw.

Lake Superior, January 2013.

Similarly, when I first told people I was moving to Michigan to finish my degree, I got some pretty predictable responses–namely, appalled confusion. Why in God’s name, they wanted to know, would I LEAVE balmy beautiful North Carolina for the frozen hellhole that was Michigan? Weren’t there any schools closer to home that offered the program I wanted? Of course there were. I wanted to study microbiology. Where there are microbes there are microbiologists, and microbes are everywhere. But I didn’t want to stay in North Carolina. I love my home state, but I wanted to move north. I wanted to live away from my support systems, to stand on my own two feet in an unfamiliar and occasionally hostile world. Even more than that, I needed to go, if only to prove that I could. I felt as though I were moving in darkness, following a compass that I could not see but could feel, spinning in the back of my mind.

This is not the first time I’ve followed my internal compass to strange and wonderful places. Most of my major life decisions have been made in this manner. I make lists of pros and cons, I weigh my options, I talk it out–and in the end, I close my eyes and jump, so to speak. And sure, I usually worry, I fret, I constantly question and second-guess everything I do. But when I’m following my internal compass, that fretting is usually only skin-deep. Deep down, I know exactly what I’m doing, and I have a breezy faith that it’ll work out.

But what do you do when your compass is spinning and hasn’t picked a point yet? What do you do when the inner voice that says Go left or Move to Michigan has been beaten down into an exhausted murmur? What do you do when you no longer have faith in your ability to just feel it out, to figure out where you’re going? What do you do when you’re just so goddamn tired of feeling like a failure that you’re not sure it’s worth it to keep trying?

I keep trying to find an orderly way out of this feeling. I keep asking myself what I want. I want to go back to Michigan (because I miss my friends–but I suspect that once I’m there, I’ll be itchy to leave again). I want to go back to Pennsylvania and stay (but can I find a job? Is there a program I can get into? Can I afford it? What about Pennsylvania speaks to me? What if that was just a fleeting thing?). I would love to go back to Maine (job? School? Both? What if my love affair with Maine was just a summer fling and living there wouldn’t actually make me happy? What if I actually want to be in Pennsylvania now?). I would like to teach (but probably not in public schools, and if I did teach, what would I teach? Can I be that organized? Was I as organized as I thought I was at camp? Am I actually a good teacher). I want to move far away (but somewhere where I can have friends and not be alone all the time). I want to live somewhere where I can have a cat. I want to be close to water (but somewhere that gets snow). I want to travel (but have a home to come back to). I would like to live in a city (but somewhere where I can find trees).

I can see how I want my life to be, but I don’t know how to get there. And my compass is silent with exhaustion.

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