What do you do? (on productive unemployment and uncovering my true self)

“No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I’ve not had a job for the last four years. And it’s been hard.

There’s this question that gets asked. It happens everywhere, but especially when you live somewhere like Luxembourg, where half the population is foreign and the turnover of people leaving and arriving is huge. It means that around every third conversation you end up having begins with that dreaded question, “So what do you do?”

I’ve had the hardest time answering that these past few years.

What do I do?  Where do I begin… Well I preach at my church pretty regularly and I am heavily involved organising their all church and women’s retreats every year. I led the mums and tots bible study for a long while before I even had a tot of my own. I was the wedding planner for our friends’ multi-cultural wedding in Estonia, and I helped organise an anniversary celebration for a Somali NGO. I worked on the front desk of the American Woman’s Club for a while which was kinda weird because I’m not America. I also planned their Silent Auction at the American Embassy which raised thousands of euros for charity. I co-founded an awesome NGO called Serve the City which has been the catalyst for hundreds of people volunteering in our country with the homeless and victims of abuse and asylum seekers and the disabled. I spent a year as an editor for one of the best online Christian blogs in existence and traveled to Uganda and Burundi with some of those amazing women. I raised over €3000 for young women to go to University in Uganda. I made a brand new website for an entrepreneur friend I met and I was on the committee for a fantastic women’s business networking group. I gave a pecha kucha speech on the power of events. I grew our own food on our balcony three years in a row and I have regularly written on my blog all of that time. Oh and I had a baby.

But I haven’t had a job in over four years. And that’s hard to explain in one sentence. It’s an even harder question to answer on your CV.

These past four years have been so hard as I’ve tried to find my place and grasp onto my identity without a paid job. As much as we like to claim otherwise, so much of our identity and even our value is wrapped up in what job we have, in what we achieve in our career. When you’re a young childless woman who’s not working, people tend to quickly class you as a “lady who lunches” and I was so desperate to be more than that.

I said yes to anything and everything at first. I’m proud of all those achievements up there but there’s a few I wouldn’t say yes to a second time. And that’s such an important thing to have figured out.

Now, I feel like I am closing in on myself, as if I am this mysterious treasure that is only slowly being uncovered. It’s an incredible journey.

It’s also an unsettling one. Expat life is never easy for the ones who “trail”. And Rasmus saw that. He sees me. And so he’s been demanding, in the gentlest way, that I figure out what I want next. So that we make this journey through life together, neither one trailing in the other’s wake.

It’s truly a process of excavation. Jan Richardson writes about this idea of desire being a layered thing. Sometimes we have to dig down through the layers of desire, the ones that have settled on top due to circumstance or duty or pressure, until we reach our core desire, the thing that drives us, the thing that will make us whole.

What do I want? I can answer that question in a hundred ways but not yet one that will tell me which step to take next. I’m still digging. Still going after that deepest truth in me. I have a suspicion it’s the task of a lifetime, that at some moment soon I will need to step out and take the risk, try out a desire that I’ve come across within me, see if it’s the real thing, or if it’s pointing me on to something deeper.

That something deeper I think is my true self. The closer I get to her, the more it feels like coming home. The closer I get to her, the closer I get to the Creator who formed her and nurtured her and loves her deeply.

That’s why this journey feels so important, so significant.

So what do I do? Perhaps the better answer, as quirky as it sounds, is that I make pilgrimage through this world and into myself. I explore and I dig and I take each tentative but bold step towards discovering who I am created to be.