• Jessyca Stoepker

My quarter-life crisis



Gosh, it's been a while! I'm always so surprised at how many people read and follow this blog; it's the frequent "I haven't seen a blog post from you in a while" remarks from extended friends and family that push me to keep the updates semi-regular.


Unfortunately this year has been a giant cluster. 2020 may have been the year of global crisis, but 2021 is the year of my quarter-life crisis. Turning 25 in March inspired the thought at first, but it quickly became clear that it was the most accurate way to describe the last nine months. Stressful forks in the road are a regular part of life, but this has certainly been the most tumultuous time for me. Career crises, housing crises, relationship crises, personal crises--you name it, I've had it. Let's dive in to some, shall we?


I'll get my biggest reveal out of the way first: I quit my job. Yes, really. The events leading up to and following my resignation at the end of April deserve their own memoir. I'm hoping I actually get to write that one day, so I won't be giving away too many spoilers here.


I will say that, all things considered, leaving Manna Food Project was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Besides losing stable, full-time income and benefits without another job lined up, I lost a family of coworkers, volunteers, and friends. I made the difficult decision to forgo any and all goodbyes, which continues to be a large source of sadness for me. For various reasons the entire process of the departure was traumatic, and throughout the entire months of March, April, and May I felt that a massive creature loomed over me, threatening my sanity and well-being at every moment.


Rooftop melancholy

I spent several weeks in wary limbo. Quitting had made me question so much more than where I wanted to work next. Did I want to stay in food access work, or find another nonprofit area? Or did I want to move towards advocacy and policy? Did I want to work remotely, or go back into an office every day? Did I want to become a contractor, managing my own freelance writing gigs? Did I even have what it takes to make that happen? What about my grad classes, did I have to put those on hold? Was I even pursuing the right degree at this point? On top of these dilemmas, I was left to ruminate over the consequences of quitting a highly respected organization under the circumstances I did. How would the gossip (and yes, there was some of that) affect me in such a small community? How would it change my relationships outside of work? Would I be able to, or even want to, go back if I could? How often would I run into old coworkers in town? What would happen if my former director decided to knock on my door one day? Is all of this a sign that I should find another place to live?

Basically me all the time (photo cred to Kara)

And on the last point, I was coincidentally dealing with a bit of a housing dilemma, too. My landlord, a sweet old lady who had owned the building as a basket shop for 37 years, was selling. I had multiple appraisers come in as well as home inspectors, measuring this and taking pictures of that. The worst part was, each time, I had to strategically hide my secret cat (and all traces of him...he has the fuzziest, fluffiest white hair you've ever seen). I was terrified that a) I would get caught, and the cat being out of the bag meant a landlord confrontation or eviction, b) the building buyer would want to do something drastic, like demolish the place, c) my rent would spike, and/or d) I'd have to find another place to live, in an area with a nationally recognized housing crisis or in a brand new place all over again.

Needless to say I was a stress ball. I was also numb, still recovering from cutting myself off from my past life. There were days when I only rotated from bed to couch and back. Therapy appointments throughout that time were vital. My therapist Christine actually gave me the confidence and support I needed to resign, as I wasn't informing my family or many friends what was going on. Thinking through it again now, I realize that literally no one knew what I was going through. Though that was my choice, and perhaps I didn't need to approach it that way, I would argue that was the most alone I have ever felt.


Of course, good things still happen at the same time "bad" things do. I was able to visit with friends here and there, enjoy some time in nature, finish up a grad course, and start seriously exploring freelance work. My wee sister somehow graduated from Ferris State University and accepted a great job offer the day after I quit, so I was able to celebrate, take her pictures, and elegantly break my not-so-positive career news to the family over drinks. Yay!


Perhaps the best thing came exactly a month after I resigned: I was hired as a contractor for Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, an inspiring, go-getting, local nonprofit that I've admired for years. Not only do I get to work within a powerful Food & Farming team of women (and Nathan!) who I already considered friends, I get to make some of the real, concrete change I've been searching for, and get paid for it. As a project coordinator, I'm steering a pilot program called Building Resilient Communities (BRC, "brick") that combines food access with nutrition, infrastructure improvements, community engagement, small farm viability, and local food systems. It's pretty darn cool.


Working 15 - 25 hours a week on my own schedule (except for the week of July 4, when we worked overtime to submit a ginormous USDA grant, but we try to forget about that) has given me some time to breathe. I love being able to wake up to a sense of calm, enjoy a slow morning, and walk over to Groundwork's downtown Petoskey when I need to. Not to mention friends and the office dog, Django, with whom we perform very important work.



It also gave me the bandwidth to form my own LLC. Officially the founder and lead strategist of Mission Control (website coming soon), I write, design, develop websites, and strategize for nonprofits and small businesses. I guess you could call me a "consultant," but I'm not sure how I feel about that term yet. I've already picked up some freelance projects, the biggest so far being a campaign to elect a fifth generation farmer, small business owner, and clean energy advocate to the Great Lakes Energy board of directors.



I'm incredibly privileged to be able to pursue my creative passions in this way, though at times it's another stress-inducer. I've forked up a lot of money for a new laptop, Adobe software, a slue of premium programs and subscriptions, and a lot more without much cash coming in yet. And Imposter Syndrome is a constant devil on my shoulder, doubting every decision and capability no matter how many times I receive support from others. It links arms with ADHD and they skip around in circles, making me freeze amid thoughts of the future and all the things I should be/could be doing.


Oh yeah, did I mention I have ADHD? That's another obstacle I've been dealing with, and it's worse now that I regularly work from home. ADHD / ADD has been something I've been researching and pondering with both curious friends and mental health professionals about for a while, but it's clearer than ever that my brain works more differently than I had ever realized. I mean, I've always had a harder time than most with getting up in the morning and focusing on / prioritizing tasks, but I just thought those were personal flaws. And of course procrastination is a bitch for everyone. But when those things affect every part of your day--even getting dressed, brushing my teeth, taking a shower, making it to work on time, making a phone call, or moving my car so I don't get a ticket (I might be the city's biggest individual donor)--it becomes a real issue.

Pita may not be a productive colleague, but I don't complain.

My sudden loss of routine and work environment was a prime conductor for the ADHD static to really start to spark: my mind, normally kept in check with others nearby (Google "body doubling" when you get time), became an all- and self-consuming force. Cyclical thoughts I can't pin down, a sense of being untethered, hyperfocus powers going rogue, zero accountability outside of myself....and the disorganization! Now that my "workplace" is my tiny studio, I finally felt the pains of a remote work transition more than a year after everyone else, only taken to another level.


What really distressed me was that I started to feel like I didn't know myself at all. What's part of my personality and what's ADHD? What's temporary disorientation and what's permanent? What's chronic depression and anxiety and what's a normal reaction to the stress I'm experiencing? What's being humble and realistic and what's pervasive self-doubt? What do I want, and is it the same as what I need?


 

As you can see, there's plenty of personal drama here to cause anyone a mild migraine. But, since the one thing I do know about myself is that I overthink and overanalyze everything, I'm working through it. I'm reminding myself to be patient with my tired brain and all the situations I'm finding myself in. I'm building calm. Finding meaning. Accepting my reality as it is and addressing things in the present moment. It's nice to have friends who are maturing and coming to similar realizations around the same time; I've had many a journal-worthy conversation on a blanket in Penn Park, on porches, in a bar, and on long walks. This is not to say it's been easy, or that I'm anywhere near nirvana, but it's something.


Another thing I did in May was get two tattoos: the letter "Y" and an open triangle. The Y represents me--it's what makes me unique, how people remember me--as well as virtues to remember: curiosity, dichotomy, choice, Yes over No, purpose. As for the triangle, the delta symbol means change, so the modified delta means "open to change." Because change is necessary. Because change is the only constant we should know. By expecting your life to change at any moment, your approach to living also changes.


I didn't necessarily mean to get these tattoos right in the middle of it all (my sister and I had been planning to go since before the pandemic), but I guess that's perfect timing: a permanent reminder to question everything, value myself, and stick to my core beliefs, even as the tendrils of change ebb and flow and bring me to new places.


Even with all these bumps in the road, I'm both finding and creating happiness. And I think my next blog post won't take nearly as long to write.



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