Last night I sat on the floor of my friends living room inside a 2001 Dodge B3500, a “vansion” compared to my Ford Transit Connect. We sat in the warmth provided by the Coleman camp stove that sat diligently boiling hot water for us. Our conversation began focused on the climbing day and climbing in general then slowly gravitated towards life. I realized, a little abashed, I had faced her with the question I loathed to answer myself-
“What do you want to do?”
Not in the next five minutes, no. But in life, with the rest of it. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want to be when you’re all grown up?
We laughed because I reflected openly on how despite how frequently I get asked that question, I’m always caught off guard by it.
Concerned adult: “What do you want to do with your life, Reese?”
Me: “My life? Well um…that’s really none of my business, is it?”
I could choose to be resentful towards the concerned party but I see the real meaning behind the question and the merit to asking it. For the most part, the question is not presented in malice, more out of genuine interest.
Nevertheless, I’m still searching for a proper answer to that question. I have always envied people who answered the question with an unwavering confidence in their voice and a look in their eye that leaves no doubt in your mind they would achieve that goal. Meanwhile, I seem to forget how to make eye contact and wear a look that gives the one questioning reason to believe the thought had never struck me until that exact moment.
Directly after high school, I was living in a small, income based apartment with my high school sweetheart. We were both working often, there was nothing exciting on the path ahead, and the future was a little blurry. Then one day he popped the question, the words spelled out in a collage of photos,
“Will you marry me?”
The window to my future was suddenly wiped clear in one swift stroke and I stood facing it. Marriage, house, and kids, each carrying their own heavy weight, stared back at me. I had been going through the motions for years, allowing life to simply happen to me. High school placed me in that mindset, drudging from one class to the next, until I could go to college and do the same at a more expensive level. My managers at work had begun appraising me with looks of potential advancement in their expressions and with the finality of this question, my life was laid out like a map.
I would like to think I have learned better communication tactics by now but 19 year old me gave a quick, “I have to think about it.” Then with a quickness similar to the Road Runner’s legs kicking dust as he fled, I packed a bag. Within a month I accepted a job 1,000 miles away and moved out to a place where I knew no one.
My impulsive move did not put me on the path to adventure immediately. I regarded my life with the same uninvolved attitude, the only difference being I was in a different state. My life represented that of a Candyland board game at times with most of the biggest changes occurring simply by chance. With the quick draw of a card, you could land in Lollipop Woods, wondering just how you got there.
Years later, I had my first day attending college in this new place only to be interrupted by a phone call announcing the youngest of my five brothers had been in a motorcycle accident. This threw me from the nervous but exciting setting of a classroom to the side of a hospital bed, holding my brothers hand, wondering just how I got there.
I took some online courses a little while after but I withdrew from college and never went back to that school. I moved home and suddenly my life was on a different course than the one I had planned. The story of how I got from there to here is filled with events like that, wildly unexpected and out of my control. It wasn’t like I had applied for a job promotion and it was affecting my daily life. It was more like waking up to a different house without recalling the moving process at all. And more often than not, I didn’t want to live in that house.
This theme in my life could explain why I live the way I do now. For the longest time I could feel the illusion of control slipping away each time something threatened to take my independence. Whether it was a boy wanting the promise of a commitment or a work promotion ensuring more responsibilities. The result was me not giving my all to really anything but being indifferent enough to just give some. Through a painstaking process, I realized this is not the way jobs or relationships should be treated.
When I bought my van, everything from the size to the build out, revolved around me. Each decision made and action taken was like a small tribute to myself. I had lost so much in the past four years and with each bit of insulation and custom woodwork put into my van, I gained something back. It began to feel real only when I saw cabinets, drawers, a bed frame, shelves, flooring, a ceiling, all of it coming together. My very good friend Randy willfully helped build my home and in the process, gave me a deepening sense of freedom.
When the time came for the van to be finished, my lease was almost up, my job was only service industry level, and I was free of attachments. It was terrifying. I began to wish for something to hold me in place, a relationship maybe, my mother, still alive, asking me to not go, or anything at all. But I stood facing what I had wanted for years, knees shaking, fixed in place. So I took a deep breath, stepped forward and never looked back.
A few months before I made this life changing decision, I read a book Walden On Wheels by Ken Ilgunas. A quote from it ran through my head most nights and it expressed:
“We weren’t meant to be dishwashers, doing the same thing day in and day out. No, I knew from this sustained joy, this steady percolation of fulfillment, that we were meant for lives of variety, of novelty, of adventure. Immersed in this constant newness, when every step was exploratory, every interaction novel, and every day completely different from the previous, it was hard to think of ever going back to the dullness of the normal, the expected, the planned.”
I had experienced a taste of this newness and this adventure but I had never fully immersed myself in it. Now my life is constant change, travel, sore muscles, low funds, cold winter nights, and a bit of loneliness. But it’s also the comforting routine of making coffee every morning, reading aloud to someone I love, meeting strange and new people from all over the world, and sitting in a friends warm home discussing life. Whether it’s a little more of the good or the bad, it didn’t happen by chance. I didn’t wake up one day in the place I now call home. I sought out the perfect van, was fortunate enough to have the help to bring it to fruition, and committed to the lifestyle. It was scary but each decision was thought out and approved by yours truly.
The answer to the foreboding question, “What do you want to do with your life?” still looms in the background at times. I can’t say whether I’ll have an answer soon or not but what I do offer as a response will no longer be a recitation of what is expected of me. It will not be a life idly drifting by, the edge of it caught by chance.
To have the window a little foggy can be disconcerting but it’s much scarier knowing exactly what is next. What do I want to do with my life? I’d like to think the answer will be one I dreamed of and put in the work to make it a reality; a life of my own choosing. As crazy as it sounds, it could even be the life I am living right now.