Please welcome today’s guest writer, Caitlin Strikwerda (‘16). Caitlin graduated with majors in biology and environmental science. Since then, she has worked in outdoor education where she shares her passions for the natural world around us. On her days off you’ll probably find her back out in the woods trying to unravel each question the world presents.
This was going to be my second season working for the same outdoor education organization in the northeast. I was so excited for the school groups to start coming. Each group of kids makes my heart swell with joy as we explore the woods, grow as a team, and find new spaces that we love. On top of that, we had an amazing training week. Even after a twelve-hour day of training, you could find half of us in the gym balancing brooms on our chin or playing some basketball. This was going to be an awesome season. Unfortunately, just as quickly as we came together, we had to disband. With the fear of COVID-19 impending, schools were cancelling quickly, and we were all left without a job. All of us headed back home, and I could feel the weight of losing the community I had just started to build.
I wasn’t ready to leave another community. I had just left communities I was growing to love, and I’ve done it many times before. Yet I know I’ll do it again in only a few months, and then a few months after that, and more times than I feel ready to grasp. Each time I’ll feel a weight pulling on my heart asking, wishing me to stay, but I won’t. I’ll take another seasonal job that lets me try something new in a place I’ve never been. Every time I do, I’ll have to take the time to mourn another community I’m losing.
I’ve always wanted to live in a solid community—one where I feel safe, comfortable, and loved. But when I take a new job in a new city, I’m not allowing myself to create that vision. I wonder why I neglect my own need to build a present community. Yes, I thrive in new environments with consistent change, and I am ecstatic to learn from new people and experience new things. It makes me feel so alive and at peace. But is this the right choice for me?
What about my community? Moving on brings a deep feeling of anxious guilt as I say goodbye to a community that wants me. Sometimes my friends will try and find a way to help me stay once my job has ended, but I still leave. I wonder if I am a less valuable friend. For so many people I’ve arrived and left only to flicker back with messages and calls. Does my transiency cause me to seem less loyal or consistent? Am I okay with that?
This past winter I made the choice to return to my outdoor education position. This was a community and job that I loved. Even though not all of my friends would return, I knew this was a place I would continue to thrive. I felt confident and comfortable with my decision, but I still waited until the last minute to return my contract. An undefinable fear held me back.
That fear lingered the week I arrived. A few days into training, I wept on the phone to a friend wondering if I had made the right choice to go back. I was letting roots grow, and I felt so vulnerable showing up and asking to be a part of these people’s lives even though, for the first time in a long time, there were many familiar faces. These recurrent roots were bringing me into a space I hadn’t really been before.
Choosing to leave is terrifying, but I’m realizing so is choosing to stay. I’ve switched communities so many times since college that it’s starting to become second nature. I haven’t chosen to remain in a community before, and I didn’t expect it to be so hard. Even now this community is only seasonal, but these roots bring up new fears I have yet to unpackage. Will I ever be able to move away from the desire for novelty or will I always move from one seasonal job to the next? Someday I think I’ll stay, and perhaps that will be the hardest choice of all.