Finding Comfort In the Unknown || New Steps

Kelsey Stoneberger returns to Boshemia in her guest post, "Finding Comfort in the Unknown." She writes on the experience of the unknown after finishing university and joining the world at large. Kelsey is a writer, poet and wandering soul. One of my best friends recently told me—or more so insisted with no refrain—that I need to stop wasting my time not being present because I am controlling too much of the unknown. Apparently, you can’t control the unknown, who knew?


 My eighteen-year-old brother left for basic training with the Army this past Monday, so pushing and pulling in new directions is very much a topic of conversation in my life right now. I wrote a letter for him to open when he got to Georgia. Part of it read, “there is a moment in everyone’s life when they’re young and think they have everything figured out. That moment is realizing you have to leave, for many reasons or maybe just for one. For me, this moment encompassed many different reasons but an all-consuming statement recognized by the fact that if I stayed here any longer, I would resent my hometown. Not home in the sense of living, but home in the sense of a place with which I’d grown too familiar. So I’m running but not running away, and I think you’ll understand the difference because I think you’re doing the same. I’m a firm believer that it is important to get away from where you’ve lived your whole life, so you can find yourself in places you do not recognize.”

On the 12 of October I am going to board a plane that will head to Sacramento, California, and I don’t know when I’ll be coming back to the east coast. Long story short, I got accepted into Americorps NCCC and while my journey with them will only last 10-12 months, the adventurous explorer within me will make up every excuse possible to avoid boarding another plane back toward the Eastern Panhandle. I grew up in a spot of West Virginia that is impatient and bends toward and reaches for Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. I’ve never lived in any other state, so for the most part West Virginia is my first home. Home in itself is a funny  word. I am only 22 but I have found lots of homes in places and things I never expected to, despite having never physically lived anywhere else.

The comment that sparked the conversation with one of my best friends was something along the lines of, “I don’t know what I’m going to do after Americorps is over. I just get antsy that I’ll end up with nothing lined up. I don’t want to come back to my parents’ house again and there is that internship opportunity in Portland.” You see, the problem is, I started to focus on what is going to happen after Americorps and that hasn’t even started yet. That type of attitude forces my brain to shadow and blur the life-changing experience that is soon to take place. I worry about what comes next because I have anxiety but I am learning that it is time to embrace this opportunity and not get anxiety about what’s AFTER the opportunity.

There are two things sitting in front of me like a dog desperately needing to pee—and whether I want to realize it, these things are currently far more daunting than the unknown. I am starting to understand how to focus on the small things so I don’t dwell on the bigger ones:

  1. How I’ll fit a year’s worth of belongings into one duffel bag. I will maneuver my underwear and toothbrush into the same corners and there will be no room left for the things I want to worry about. Like flower girls at a wedding, I will drop my worries across the country and let them fall onto states I have yet to meet.

  2. How I am completely okay with the fact that I’m leaving everyone I know behind on the Eastern Panhandle. This new experience will be pulling me toward the Pacific Northwest and I will no longer be surrounded by parts of myself I recognize. When I say this, I mean I will no longer have access to coffee shops with baristas who know my order when I walk in the door, or sidewalks that are embedded with my blood and sweat, or trees that hold my voice in their veins and heartbeats in case I forget what it sounds like.

New steps are scary, yes, but they are far more exciting than scary because it only means that we are moving forward, one wobbly planting of the foot at a time.

In his book, CloudHidden, Whereabouts Unknown, Alan Watts writes that, “as soon as we [free] ourselves from the mirage of hurrying time—which [is] nothing more than a projection of our impatience—we [are] alive again, as in childhood, to the miracles and ecstasies of ordinary life. You [will] be astounded at the beauty…”

There is going to be so much beauty in front of me once I step onto California soil. AmeriCorps NCCC is a program that offers strength to communities. I am going to be serving with local and national organizations to help communities on the west coast. Opportunities such as building homes, cleaning up streams, planting trees, assisting veterans and senior citizen populations, and clearing forests to prevent forest fires are things that I will find myself doing. Throughout all of this, there is no way I won’t be “astounded at the beauty” (Watts).

It’s difficult to stop planning bits of your future because for all intents and purposes that is normal, and it’s even more difficult not to enshroud yourself in the anxiety of what to do and what comes next, but in the words of one of my best friends, “things work out, and they work out better when you let go a little.”

So the next time you find yourself jumping ahead to explore what will come after an adventure you are about to partake on, step back and focus on the present. Focus on the things you know are sure. It’s okay to wonder about the future and the unknown, and you can write down a million things you want to do in that time (go to grad school at Boston University, take an internship with Tin House in Portland, teach English in Micronesia, work for Random House in the United Kingdom), but we’re humans and we change our minds every day. You can’t plan around an adventure you’re about to start because other opportunities will arise. You can’t plan to be in Portland a year from now because you might find yourself in India, or Boston, or the United Kingdom, or the region that makes up Oceania.

Don’t get caught up in hurrying time.