Wild & Precious Life

wild precious life mary oliver quote

I have the day off today. For the past three months, I've been working as a hostess at a restaurant, and I've been miserable. Don't get me wrong; the restaurant itself is a great place to work. My coworkers and managers are spectacular people, and I've enjoyed getting to know them and learning about the restaurant industry, which I knew nothing about before I started this job. But Q: what do you get when you combine a persistently anxious person and a stressful service job? A: a nervous blonde girl with an outward smile on her face, helping a bunch of entitled people find the perfect seat for their dining experience while inwardly contemplating her existence and battling the butterflies in her stomach for 6-8 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. 

So five days ago, I quit. I gave them my two weeks' notice, and in a week and a half, I'll be done. I struggled with the decision, partially because I like the people who work at the restaurant so much, and partially because it means I have to tackle the question of Now What yet again. I also feel a little bit like a quitter. So what if I don't like my job? Millions of people don't like their jobs and still manage to go to work five days a week in order to make a living and support themselves and their families. Why should I expect anything different? 

I, like most people, love the Mary Oliver quote pictured above. Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  For me, it evokes visions of trekking across mountains and swimming in the sea, wind blowing through my hair, sunburned shoulders, nights spent sleeping under the stars.

But try as I might, I can't ignore the real world, the one with bills to pay and relationships to maintain, errands to be run and money to be made. That last part is key. You can't have a wild and precious life without money. Without money, you do not have the basic necessities in life - food, shelter, health. You could, technically, try to escape the ruthless machine of our society and live off the land, building your own home and growing or foraging for food; you could go off the grid and not pay taxes and sew your own clothes. But where would you get the land? How would you gain the knowledge needed to do all of the necessary activities? Where would you get the equipment, the hammers and nails and saws and cloth and needles and seeds? It all has to come from somewhere. 

A balance has to be struck, somehow. If what I want to do is explore the world, perhaps that balance means finding a full-time job that I don't necessarily love, for the sake of being able to either use my vacation time to travel or save up some money so that after several years of working I can quit and go wherever I want with my hard-earned cash. Or maybe it means that I need to temper my idealism with a little bit of realism, and get it into my head that my expectations for life might be a little too high, and that it's okay to settle down somewhere and put my nose to the grindstone and make a little money so that I can be comfortable. It's interesting to me that many of the people who are doing what I think I want to be doing (traveling, taking pictures, telling stories) are male, and many of them were either able to quit lucrative jobs to wander the globe or had already carved a career out of doing just that are able to live off their earnings. How does one get to that point with a degree in sociology and no connections of which to speak? 

Do I simply want a certain kind of life too badly? Do I spend too much time wishing instead of doing? Does the thing I want even exist, or is it to vague and abstract to actually plan out? Perhaps I just stumbled into an online world of people who happen to be living the same kind of life, and they got there out of a pure luck and happenstance that will never be afforded to me. Maybe the internet is the problem. Actually...yes, the internet is definitely at least part of the problem. 

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Tonight, I'm going to go on a hike and watch the sun set over the ocean, and tomorrow, I'm going to wake up and try to make a big dent in my to do list before I head to work. One of these activities makes me soar with happiness; the other, not so much. But the little happinesses are what I intend to hold on to, because they are what give me hope and make me feel like all of this, whatever this is, is worth it. And right now the sun is shining and I have a roof over my head and I'm about to put food in my belly and I have my whole wild an precious life ahead of me, so really, it's not all that bad, right?