Limbo, and Learning about Myself

Hello everyone! Happy Halloween! This is my first blog post that isn’t related to my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (and has nothing to do with Halloween, sorry if I got your hopes up).

For those of you that followed the blog because you wanted to keep up to date on my PCT trip, but aren’t interested in whatever else I’m going to ramble about now that the trip is over, please feel free to unfollow! I’m writing because I want to. It’s a bonus if any of you stick around to read, but I certainly don’t expect you to unless you really want to.

Truth be told I’ve always wanted to have a blog, but I’ve been held back by my own self-consciousness and uncertainty about what the blog would be about. Luckily for myself, and maybe for you, I’ve finally decided these are poor excuses for not writing and that I’m just going to start doing it! Let it evolve as it will, it’s an experiment!

Anyway, for this first post I want to share a bit about my evolving mental space with regard to life and figuring things out. I’m in that ripe period of time between college and formal employment, a space that has been full of uncertainty and at times painfully anxiety-ridden. There’s certainly a lot – much more than I can cover in one blog post – to write about within this topic, so let’s just see what happens with this post and then maybe there will be more to come in future posts.

Stop 1: North Carolina

A few weeks ago, after settling in at home post-PCT and visiting with family and such for a while, I flew to Durham, North Carolina to see my boyfriend Mathew and other friends. Since I don’t have any schedule or life commitments at the moment, I decided to go for a full two weeks. Two weeks with Mathew! How lovely is that! I also could justify it because I figured that whatever I’m working on in terms of figuring my life out could be done there just as well as here.

By “figuring my life out” I mean eventually finding employment, more or less. Not that there’s time pressure to immediately get a job – and in fact, putting too much emphasis on the job part almost takes away from the good parts of being in the pre-employment space and having the world at my fingertips – but for lack of a better frame of reference, I’ll say that’s what I’m shooting for at some point in the near future. Before then, it’s a bunch of things: network, talk to people, think about things, try to gain some clarity about the direction I want to go in, and then go for it.

When I left for North Carolina I thought I knew how I was going to go about that, as well as some idea about  my specific direction. My plan was to start building a better skill base for coding so that I could explore options related to my Computer Science degree – maybe a programming job. I’d arrived at that plan after a long time of not wanting to do anything with my degree, but being tired of not knowing what I wanted to do. I decided that it would be better to just jump into something – anything! – just to get going, rather than continually angst and be paralyzed with indecision.

Pretty much the first full week in Durham I indulged myself in just being there. I spent a lot of time with Mathew and with the other people in his house. We talked, cooked, went on walks, went to coffee shops to read books, watched Stranger Things (ah! so good!), stayed up late, slept in late, talked more, and hung out aimlessly. I baked a lot of vegan cookies for the house and ran laps around East Campus. It was actually kind of crazy to be back in the middle of student life… it’s an intense energy! I don’t realize that when I’m in it and used to it, but it was a little overwhelming to me when I first got there. Granted, it was the most socially stimulating experience I’ve had since getting off the PCT a month ago, so maybe I just wasn’t entirely prepared for it.

Anyway, then Fall Break ended for the Dukies. Mathew went to class, and I ‘got to work’. I started pooling some online resources for teaching yourself how to code, came up with a plan for learning the basics of web development, and started working on it. I sent an email to my career counselor at the Duke Career Center and made plans to meet up with her before I left. Finally I was getting the ball rolling on my plan for getting my life together, and it felt good!


At this point I started feeling like I was being productive.

It’s been kind of challenging to define productivity for myself, because productivity has to do with forward movement, effort you put in towards reaching your goals. Part of what I’m doing with myself right now doesn’t lend itself well to that productive feeling because it’s lateral movement rather than forward movement. I’m engaged in a sort of drifting exploration of my thoughts and feelings, my sense of myself, and the landscape around me. I think there’s value in the lateral movement, though it’s hard to define in rational terms, and I don’t really enjoy diving so deeply into the lateral movement as to lose the forward movement. (Although maybe it’s an interesting question, why is it uncomfortable for me to not be productive? Do I see it as bad for any good reason or just because I’m used to measuring myself based on my productive output?)

Some of lateral movement definitely isn’t worth my time because it’s ground I’ve already covered. For instance, I periodically engage in existential debates with myself about what I really want and what I’m even capable of, and my opinion about those things seems to change regularly. One day I might feel that it’s important to me and a worthwhile use of my time to pursue getting better at coding. Another day I might feel that I should let go of that idea entirely because my heart isn’t passionately in it and I know it’s not what I TRULY want to do with myself in my ideal, most fulfilling career — plus I feel insecure about my capacity to be successful if I really throw myself in, to be honest. But the more I settle into what I’m doing the more I agree that it is a total waste of my time to think about this because it’s all in my head! It’s all theoretical, just ideas that my brain is calling reality for lack of actual substance to ground itself in. I just need to jump in and do something! Anything! Even if it’s something I end up hating, because it will be a learning experience anyway. At the very least I need to be talking to people, because at this point the only things influencing my ideas are coming from external sources. Every time I talk to someone and hear a new perspective, my ideas shift a little bit. So it’s a more productive use of my time to seek out new perspectives, or just to put in some work, than to have the same old argument with myself.

Speaking of talking to people, while I was in Durham I had some great conversations with my friend Dawson, who had just attended a conference called the Conscious Life Workshop in Las Vegas with Steve Pavlina, a highly successful personal development writer. I am pretty interested in all things personal development, so I went and looked up Steve Pavlina and spent a good chunk of time one day reading some of his blog posts. I felt so inspired! I couldn’t stop reading. Dawson came back from the weekend and said it had been transformational, so I spent some time talking to him about what he’d done at the conference and what his takeaways were. He told me about an exercise they did that involved writing out a contract with life. The idea is that you can come up with your own contract with life: how will you serve, and what do you expect to receive in return? Dawson said that after doing this they all went around and basically pitched their contracts to each other, taking each other’s responses as feedback from life about whether or not their contract seemed fair.

It just struck me as a really refreshing way to see life, and a great way to empower yourself to create the life you want to have. If nothing else, it could just be a good brainstorming exercise to get the ideas flowing. How stale our normal way of navigating life is in comparison! I guess that’s been something I’ve been grappling with, trying to figure out how to find work / financial stability in a way that is also fulfilling. How do I want to serve in this world? What do I really have to offer? These seem to be better questions to explore than just “What job can I get that will pay me enough and also maybe be good for me?”

Right now I’m on the just-choose-a-path-and-move train, mentally, but I’m bookmarking that idea for future times when I feel stuck or stale.

Internal Dialogue on Self & Life

As long as I can remember, I feel I have had this great creative and spiritual force within me that is greater than faith, greater than ambition, greater than confidence, greater than determination, greater than vision. It is all these combined. My brain becomes magnetized with this dominating force which I hold in my hand. ― Bruce Lee

For other people in this limbo state between college and employment, do you also feel yourself caught in more existential questions about life and how you fit into it? For better or for worse, the job-search-adventure has forced me into a place of deep self-questioning.

I would say my conversations with Dawson (and other conversations, and books, and blogs… it was a creative two weeks) were feeding in to this ongoing conversation I’ve been having with myself about how to navigate life in a more personal, spiritual way. Spirituality is a broad term and it means different things to different people so I’m going to go ahead and define what it is for me, briefly. Primarily it is about quality of life. It’s about really living life, being engaged fully, being true to myself, expressing myself in the things I do, exploring my ideas about life and my place within it, and trying not to get lost in the material pursuits and external expectations and self-criticisms, AKA all the BS of life that can take you away from what’s really important. I just read Zen and the Art of Of Motorcycle Maintenance – which is popular for a reason and has definitely left an impression on me – and the concept of Quality in that book fits pretty well the way I want to live my life, I think.

Encompassed in my concept of spirituality is everything in the category of personal development – so if the word “spirituality” freaks you out you can just sub that in and interpret how you want – and in fact it’s only recently that personal development and spirituality merged conceptually in my mind. Really recently – like in the last couple weeks. Before then I would have called myself spiritual but in a nonspecific way. I would have said I’m interested in personal development but that that too was just a component of my life, rather than the primary focus of my life.

This mental clicking of my concept of spirituality happened, oddly enough, while I was at the airport waiting to board my plane back home. I was contemplating a phone call I’d had the day before, that had ended with me feeling really drained and emotional and confused. [sidebar: I had this conversation with one of my dad’s friends, a career coach named Julie, who told me things that made me heavily question all my ideas about what I’m doing with myself. I didn’t know how to handle being poked right in my insecurities and it kind of overwhelmed me.] I had this moment where I all of a sudden realized that I didn’t need to care what anyone thought about my decisions… that I was totally free to live my life for myself, without a sense of obligation towards anyone or anything. It really was like a light went on in my head, because those were words I’d heard and agreed with before, but finally I understood. I really get to choose how I want to live my life. And I don’t have to sacrifice that for anything!

Then I thought, maybe that conversation with Julie was a reality check, and if so then that’s okay. Or maybe it was just a nudge from the universe to explore other directions, and that’s okay too. In fact it’s good! I’d rather get the nudge sooner rather than later.

Anyway, in the Raleigh airport a week and a half ago, I made a commitment to myself to live for myself. I decided to make spirituality, my own understanding of it and desire to keep exploring it, the priority. This is the First Spiritual Revolution of Emma! And it’s really exciting to have this happen as I’m deciding what path to set out on and looking for jobs and all that, because it means I care more about being myself than being employed. It means I don’t want to sacrifice my values to appease my insecurities. And I think it just means good things for my future, but I guess time will tell.

Settling In

Back in California, living with my dad and Anna, and the newness of being off the trail and at home for the first time in 5 years has faded into comfortable and happy coexistence at the Arata house. The three of us have settled into living together as adults. I’ve settled into the process of whatever you want to call this job search, which isn’t even a job search yet but a series of informational interviews and exploring my options and mentally preparing myself as a more grounded, confident, self-assured, spiritually alive person. Plus getting better at coding! I think that is a pursuit that’s here to stay, because I just need to walk down that road a little farther and see where it takes me.

I am really enjoying the pace of life right now. I feel the forward movement and the lateral movement, and it’s all good. I’m talking to people and learning a lot! Also, I am challenging myself on the way I do things: I’m learning to not put unnecessary pressure on myself, learning to notice some unhealthy mental patterns, learning to let things go. Or at least trying to!

I’m gonna call that good enough for my inaugural post-PCT blog post; hopefully we’re all caught up enough that I can just write about whatever I want to and it will have context. I already mentioned that I don’t have a grand vision for the blog, but if you are familiar with my writing and have ideas for future topics, I’m open to hearing it. Same goes for critiques of standing posts, because I’m hoping to refine my writing style as I go on and I would appreciate any feedback.

Ciao 🙂


One thought on “Limbo, and Learning about Myself

  1. Iris Pattillo


    I love you. I just do! I hope you never lose the belief that you can create the life YOU want to live. In reality, our needs are basic and with a bit of effort you can cover those no problem. The bigger quest is the one you are on – to live a life of authenticity surrounded by people who love you for you. So many of us walk in fear for so much of our lives (I know I have). When you can look fear in the eye and acknowledge that it is just an emotion, not fact, a fairy tale, not history, then you begin to conquer your world.

    Know we are in your corner, rooting you on, knowing you are on your way to an amazing life.


    Liked by 1 person

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