I recall a particularly dark, lonely, night, driving to grocery shop by way of a back road that bypassed the streetlights and North Conway’s tourist traffic. I was still crushed from breaking up with my first boyfriend a few months ago. I’d just moved two and half hours from the suburban town that had finally started to feel like my first post-college home to accept my “dream job.” I’d convinced myself the move was a risk worth taking, though it barley seemed like a risk at the time. This job was “the one;” I’d build a new life around it.
Listening to the radio, the word “God” jolted me to check the dial and see if I’d accidentally tuned into a Christian station. Nope, it was still public radio. I’m not sure where God fit into the conversation, but it made me focus as the commentator was discussing how applying for jobs is a lot like dating. A light bulb went off in my head- of course it is.
The voice went on about how we reinvent ourselves after a breakup and we need to do the same thing during a job hunt. I had just purchased a new snowboard to leave behind all the memories of skiing with my ex, so I could relate. I had no way of knowing this plan would fail and I’d marry a skier.
I arrive at the grocery store that night and walk around in a daze until a small child runs up and hugs me on the legs. “That’s Miss Kae,” she tells her mom. I still chuckle as I look back on this moment because I had no idea who she was.
For this new job, I traveled around to different schools doing outreach work and clearly leaving a decent mark on some of the students. I loved the kids, even if there were too many to learn their names, I loved the teachers, and I loved the value of the work I did.
But something was missing here, and I eventually fell out of love with what should have been my dream job. I did not have the stamina or perhaps the desire to work the 50 or 60 hour weeks it endlessly required. My supervisors poured their heart and souls into the organization. Since they put in these hours so effortlessly, it was difficult to explain why I wasn’t inclined do the same.
My heart broke as I realized this wasn’t the job I thought it was- the job I’d stay at until I retired, or at least until the retirement benefits began to accumulate. I was surprised to be brokenhearted over a job. It made me think back to that conversation on NPR- if looking for a job is like looking for a romantic partner, then a break up with either is painful.
It dawned on me that what I grieved was not the job I’d had, but what I thought the future at this job would’ve held. The potential, the possibility.
Last spring, I reconnected with a friend from my time there who told me that the organization’s director had terminal cancer. I soon found myself standing among hundreds of greeting cards thinking that Hallmark had never considered the possibility that through word of mouth I would hear that my ex-boss at a job I didn’t really like was terminally ill and I’d like to send him a note. C’mon, Hallmark, doesn’t this happen to everyone?
Two weeks ago, I learned he had passed away. My heart broke again. This man’s passion was his work. He touched so many lives in a community big enough to not to know everyone’s name; but small enough to see everyone at the grocery store. He touched my life in ways I can’t articulate but still deeply value.
I haven’t sent his wife a sympathy card yet. I plan to, but I am sure that Hallmark has no clue how I feel right now. I’m not really sure how I do, either. But I’m trying to embrace the reality that heartaches, like hugs in the grocery store, aren’t always predictable, or even from an identifiable source.