On Moving Forward, Making Friends, and Finding Myself

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

I've been thinking a lot about the last post I ever wrote on my old Xanga site. Remember Xanga? Man, I loved that place. I wrote there all throughout college.

My last post was on July 4, 2007, just over a month before my graduation from Kent State University. The day after commencement, my mom, aunt, & I loaded up two cars with all my belongings & drove me to Washington, D.C., where just two days later, I started my first post-college job as a legislative assistant at a Jewish nonprofit. I expected to work there for a year & move home, but instead... well, I never left.

Until now. 

Last Friday was my last day of work, marking 13.5 years with the same organization. Thirteen & a half years of working for social justice & Jewish values in ways both big & small, fantastic & mundane. Thirteen & a half years of coworkers turned friends turned family, of being a mentee & becoming a mentor, of growing up & growing older & finding my way & creating myself. I became an adult in that job; it's all I know, & it's been home.

But it's time to move on, & I'm thinking about that Xanga post. In it, I wondered about the life to come, about my upcoming move to D.C. & the people I'd meet there. Here's that post, in its entirety, if you're so inclined to read it all:

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I may have found a D.C. roommate, but we don’t have anywhere to live yet. Her name is Rachel, & she’s clearly a gabillion times “more Jewish” than I am. While scanning the names of her Facebook friends for common denominators, I found that nearly everyone she knows is named something über-Jewish, like Shoshana or Ariel or Avi or Ephram.

But super-Jewishness aside, looking through her myriad friends’ names inspired something strange in me – it imbued in me the realization that there are SO MANY people I have not yet met. There are so many hundreds of people I haven’t yet worked with or encountered in bars or been introduced to through friends. People I haven’t accidentally met while shopping in grocery stores & walking the dog I don’t yet have in the park. And when I realized this, I was overwhelmed with the idea that everything will be fine.

I spend so much time worrying about other people & what they think of me & what I mean – or don’t mean – to them. I worry that they’ve decided they don’t like me, that they might soon decide they don’t like me, that I don’t like the few people who do like me. I lament the friends I’ve seen come & go in my nearly 23 short years, the friends who have turned their backs or changed their minds or simply drifted away. I recollect ex-boyfriends & dates & would-be crushes gone awry, blaming myself & various other circumstances for poor judgment, bad timing & overall failure. 

I give everyone my heart to break, just like the old [Billy Joel] song says. And quite often, they do – break it, that is. But frankly, I’d rather have my heart broken a million times over, by friends & lovers & enemies & strangers, than have never cared enough to let it happen. 

I have learned to be optimistic, even when I’m at my most pessimistic. I have learned that being hopeful usually screws me over, but it also keeps me afloat. It makes things hurt more when they don’t work out, but when I have it, it buoys me & encourages  me to move forward with things & people that less hopeful individuals might give up on before experiencing. And I learn from everything, as cliché as it sounds – I learn from experiences I never would have gotten myself into if I hadn’t been hopeful enough to let them happen. 

Yes, there are hundreds of people I have yet to meet. And I am quite hopeful that somewhere out there, there are a handful of those as-yet-unmet people who will turn out to be the loves of my life. Maybe I’m a fool for putting so much hope in those people’s existence, but I believe they’re out there somewhere.

This post both breaks & buoys my heart. If I close my eyes & think back hard enough, I can remember exactly who I was at 23, & exactly how much I was hurting. I remember how scared I was, not just of my new job or the responsibilities that would accompany it but of my new life & of all the new people that would be coming into it.

I did not trust myself to be likable. I did not believe that I was the kind of person who would ever find my people. I'd never really felt like I fit in; I'd been abandoned by friends who were deterred & disgusted by my early struggles with mental illness, in particular, & those experiences left me gun-shy, if not actually shy, about trying to welcome new people into my life. I didn't believe that anyone genuinely wanted to be my friend, or that I was capable or worthy of their friendship even if they did.

That was 13.5 years ago. My time in this job has changed a lot about me & about my life, as has the simple yet complex factor of the passage of time – but the single most important thing it did for me wasn't related to my career at all. Working there helped me believe in me again. It taught me that I am a likable person, a good colleague & overall person, someone worth knowing & befriending. 

I think back on 23-year-old Kate, who had no idea what kind of life she was stepping into, but who did it anyway – enthusiastically, optimistically, with hope for the future & everything it held, not least of all everyone it held. I think now to all the friends I've made, to the people who filled my wedding with laughter & love & true, genuine, unshakable friendships – people I met at work, people whose presence has changed my life in a myriad ways. 

"I am quite hopeful that somewhere out there, there are a handful of those as-yet-unmet people who will turn out to be the loves of my life," I wrote. And hot damn, was I right. 

So as scared as I am to start a new job, full of new people, in a new place, where I know no one & can't imagine what life will look like a month from now, much less a year from now, I'm channeling that senior-in-college version of myself who had no idea what came next but charged headfirst into it anyway, ultimately finding all the people she would love & cherish the most. 

And any time I think that this next chapter feels scary, I'll remember all the times that version of myself has, throughout the past 13.5 years, given other people my heart to break... & found it to be 100% worth it. I know it will be this time, too. And I'm ready. 

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