Over the past four months, I have done two seemingly incompatible things: I have become even more engaged in my community, while not living in it.
Why, you may ask? A little context, if I may:
Our dream is to live in Philadelphia for eight months of the year, and elsewhere for four. We hope to travel extensively, but also to eventually find a place to make our second home – a place where we will have friends, work we care about, community, and a life in which we spend a good portion of the year. People tell us we have to do all of this before having kids, because once we do we’ll have to settle down in one place and only budge for biannual vacations pivoting around national holidays, commuting to family Thanksgivings, and trips to the zoo on school-sanctioned days off. But for us the whole point is that this is the very life we want to build for our children; we see our work right now as getting the twigs together to plump up the nest, believing that if we can lay the foundation for the kind of life we want now, we’ll be in better shape than trying to figure it all out with infants screaming in our ears.
The first step for us in creating this dream is to reinvent the kind of work we do, and work for ourselves. While we get our entrepreneurial ventures off the ground, renting our home and staying with family periodically has helped us to make our dreams financially viable – and the fact that this option is available to us is incredible, and something for which we are extremely grateful – but in so doing, it has made working on those dreams incredibly difficult.
Logistics have been complicated. I have been scheduling phone meetings whenever possible; commuting a few hours a day to attend meetings I deliberately stack to make the most of my time once I’ve arrived; working from my car, from airplanes, from other people’s homes, from trains, from coffee shops. I’ve taken client calls from the street as I walk with earbuds and a notebook, leaning on fire hydrants to take notes and ducking into small alleys when the conversation takes a profound turn so that my client’s confessions aren’t muffled by the cacophony of garbage trucks belching in the background. I’ve felt like I’ve had to keep our situation a secret because of judgment from others, as well as not wanting to seem unprofessional or have folks doubt my intention or capacity to follow through on commitments. While this has been trying, I know it’s in service of a larger goal and dream – and that we are lucky to even have this option – and therefore it’s been OK; the struggle, however, is when the choreography becomes so tiring that it feels difficult to work on the larger dream – in those moments, it feels a bit more like the Gift of the Magi than the American Dream at play.
Conceptually, it has been fascinating. I see the past four months as the embodiment of a struggle I’m going through right now as Husband & I try to take the next steps in our life together. Can we have a profound sense of belonging in multiple places? Can we be entrenched in our community, but also live in other places – and perhaps be a part of those communities as well? Can we take on responsibilities and leadership roles in our work and our volunteering, but do so with the understanding that for eight months of the year we’ll be incredibly dedicated and active, but for four months we’ll be traveling?
Where is the space between having roots and wings?
I see these kinds of questions come up with clients all the time – they feel as though they want things that are diametrically opposed, and that they have to make a choice whose result will never feel right, because choosing one side means sacrificing something of equal importance. I always ask clients to consider what grey area lurks between the black and white poles they describe. I have asked myself this same question many times over the past few months – can I have both? Can I be an active and civically engaged member of my community, but also travel extensively and perhaps even live abroad? Can I be connected but free?
In terms of volunteering, this raises some serious questions for me. I am deeply committed to growing my Young Friends group – in the past ten months we’ve grown to 60 strong, held five events, raised $500 for a local animal shelter, and renovated a room at the neighborhood women’s shelter. I want this work to continue to deepen – I see great potential not only in the group itself and what it can contribute to the neighborhood, but also how it could be a model for other Civic Associations to create similar troops of young neighbors looking to meet one another and get involved. It thrills me to think that we might increase the level of volunteer opportunities in our neighborhood through the group, and I get all frothy just thinking about it.
But I also know that I am not giving it as much attention and energy as I would and could if I were firmly planted in my home base right now. Being there, I’d have an ear to the ground more; I’d be connecting with folks more; I’d be open to more. I thought of the Mercy Hospice volunteer event because I walked past them one day while walking the puppies and looked them up. What opportunities am I missing because I’m not soaking up the atmosphere of the community I’m looking to serve?
Another question this raises is that of leadership; I joined the board of PhilaSoup over the summer, and am running for Vice President or Outreach Committee Chair (fingers crossed – the vote is in two weeks!). When I submitted my materials, I told the Executive Committee that I know I’ll be out of town for seven weeks in the new year – and it may be much more. I felt uncomfortable sharing all of this, and it also made me worry that, much as I want to contribute on a deep structural level to organizations I care about – and much as I have learned through my experiments in volunteering over the past year since I started this blog that I really enjoy being in an organizer/leadership role! – I worry that being in Philly only 67% of the year, I won’t be able to do as much as I should. On the other hand, if I’m my happiest self, living the life I really want to be living, and I am giving my absolute all to my work when I’m in Philly, is that 67% better than 100% of time from someone whose feelings about their involvement is a little more sodden?
I don’t have the answers, but I look forward to hearing your thoughts, and to continue sharing with you what comes up as I work through this ongoing question – how to balance my vying needs for belonging and freedom; for responsibility and adventure; for community and self; for both wings, and roots.