During the past nearly three years that I have been in Peace Corps, I have seen blog posts and Facebook status from people who were ending their service, and talking about “returning to real life.” I’ve also been told that after this stint as a Response Volunteer, I need to “return to real life, settle down, and get a job,” among other things.
In thinking about all of these things, I have to wonder, real life according to whom?
From a young age, I ignored my inner voice and lived the “real life” that was dictated to me, or that I felt I “should” be living because that is what people do. But that life never felt real to me – I felt like I was somewhere I did not fit, was unhappy, and felt like I was seeking happiness in a place where I could never find it. I felt like there had to be something else.
As it turns out, there was. These past three years of my life have been the most “real” of all of my years. Although challenging, frustrating, maddening, difficult, and painful, they have also engaged me in a way in which I never felt engaged in my old life. Although the extent of the impact this experience has had on me will not come to light for quite some time, right now I can honestly say that the changes I have noticed in myself are equal to or greater than those I was able to effect during my work.
So what is more real – going through life as if you are on auto-pilot, living a routine and being unhappy, or leaping off a cliff with no visible parachute and seeing what happens? All my life, I have been the cliff-jumper. Sometimes this has served me well, because I have had some wonderful experiences. Sometimes I crash-land, and, like the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, need time to recover before I pursue my goal again. That’s real life to me – and to some, it makes me a change junkie (I think that’s a good thing). Does it mean change is easy? Absolutely not – I am worried about what is next, and admit it. But I still embrace it and look forward to it all the same.
Will I be returning to “real life”? By whose definition was I not living a real life this whole time? What does it mean? To have a “real life,” must we follow society’s dictates and do what we are told is expected? I hope not, or the U.S. would not exist, women would not have any of the rights we have, injustices would never be corrected.
Are we setting ourselves up for failure by setting forth expectations like “real life”? Would more of us take that leap into an uncertain future if we were encouraged to do so, to take the opportunity to think of something bigger than ourselves, rather than just following the values our society has set out for us? What if we followed our hearts rather than letting logic and expectations take over – what would we be capable of doing?
Okay, so now I sound completely idealistic. As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is a time of transition for me, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting. In one week, I return to “real life” in the U.S., and I have to wonder what my “real life” of the past and that of the past few years will mean going into the future – will employers see the value of someone who has taken the chance and done this as a mid-career person? By returning to “real life” in the U.S., will I be able to retain who I am now, or will I once again become the person I was before Peace Corps?