For the first time in probably more than a year, I’ve been walking on sunshine. This past year has had its challenges and I’ve spent it feeling hollow. I’ve been living my life with one foot in the Midwest and the other on the East Coast. While I am so proud to be from the Midwest and, with my family living there, Nebraska has always been my sanctuary, DC is my town. I lived there for five years and made it my place in this world. I earned my MPA degree there, the first years of my career in government started in DC, I fell in love and had my heart broken in DC, and it’s where I became a runner and marathoner. I’m still inspired by the monuments when I see them, intrigued by the dynamics of a vibrant dialogue on more issues than I knew existed, and excited by the city’s transient energy– where few people are actually “from” there but most everyone has made it their own with “Natitude,” community groups that meet over brunch, running, or softball on the Mall, and the loyalties to their own neck of the D, the M, or the V. I’ve missed being a part of that so much since I’ve been away.
Several times over the past few months, I’ve asked myself, “What would make you happy?” Of course the usual answers come to mind: a husband (I’ll spare the specifics of what I’m looking for in a mate), a career that I can sink my teeth into for several years and grow as a leader in the government relations field, enough financial stability to make good use of my passport, the joy on my mother’s face when I tell her she’s going to be a grandmother. But in a general sense, feeling like my life is moving forward is what would make me happy. I haven’t been able to live in the present because I’m stuck wanting the life I had back in DC and wanting to get back there again.
I think back to a time when I was ridiculously happy with life: college. The five years I spent earning my double Bachelor’s degree in Kearney, Nebraska had its challenges, but I look back on those years and how happy I was, and I realize it was because I was living presently. I knew my time in college would be temporary and that soon enough, I would get where I wanted to go and that my life was going to move forward when college was done, but I spent my time making the most of it while I was there. I accepted where I was, but I also knew that if I busted my butt and worked hard at the little things– one paper, one project, one class at a time– I would eventually get where I wanted to go. And I did. I didn’t realize back then that I was living presently, but I remember not being worried about the real world and just enjoying my time in college. It’s how real life should feel.
I’ve been in DC for the past week and I’ve been having the time of my life. I feel oxygen in my lungs. I’ve spent time with amazing friends, grabbed more coffee meetings with colleagues than I can count, visited all my favorite food spots. I had a successful interview for an opportunity that I might not have gotten noticed for without the work experience I just had in Nebraska, I went to a lecture through one of my fellowships where I got to see the German defense minister speak about the numerous international security challenges the NATO Alliance faces in Syria, Ukraine, and now Iraq. I lobbied my home state Senator to support clean water reforms and electricity development in sub-Saharan Africa. I ran on my old trails and on the National Mall. I am praying hard for the opportunity to come back and trusting God that he’ll put me where I belong, but I’ve been living in the present all week and, as a result, the past five days have been nothing but joy.
Living in the present, to me, means being okay with where you are right now. It’s hard to do that when you feel like everything is off track, but it means trusting yourself to keep moving forward towards a goal and not settle into complacency. It means having the foresight to know exactly how to get where you are going but being flexible with your methods of getting there. Living in the present is putting in the hard work every day to lay one more brick down on the foundation of your life and knowing that the house you are building– your career, your marriage, your health and fitness goals– cannot be a house without that one brick. Living presently is as much a conscious decision as it is unconscious. When you worry, it means you are thinking about the future. When you regret, it means you worry about the past. You can choose to worry or regret, or you can choose to be here and now. This was something I never once thought possible, but now I sort of get it.
I hope the lesson I learn from my past year is that things might not make sense right now, and the worry of “am I doing everything I can to change things?” can be suffocating, but that eventually, I’ll be able to see what I am putting together and I will be even more happy about how far I have come.