I feel liberated, not being in school anymore. The academic environment, undoubtedly, is exciting, and powerful and motivating and wonderful, all at once...and I'd be lying to say I don't miss being in it. But I am so grateful, too, to be beyond that period in my life, to have more freedom, fewer constraints, more responsibility and independence.
Not that this life is without stress...but it feels more manageable than school stress did. There's so much pressure in college - academically, to push yourself, to please professors, to accomplish, to exceed all expectations...and socially, even at a purportedly nonconformists' haven, to "fit in" with the status quo, to want to always be in big group situations, to go out every weekend, to not "be lame" and stay in or go to bed early or ever spend time alone. Until I got to enjoy small-town Ohio post-graduation, and spend time off campus too, and with people not just my own age/race/socioeconomic status/etc, I think I really, really struggled with Oberlin.
Which leads me to: Seattle! Another big factor in my transformation. And along with that, REI. It's still too early to tell whether my REI friends are a good selection sample for all of Seattle, but if so, this is truly, truly my kind of city. It's been criticized for being a socially cold city - albeit a polite one, but one that's difficult to break into beyond surface pleasantries. But I feel like you could make that case for just about any city, especially as a young adult who's been accustomed his/her whole life to situations (grade school, summer camps and programs, team sports, college, study abroad programs, etc.) that make not making friends just about impossible. No matter where you are, it's hard to be thrown into a totally new place and try to develop meaningful friendships from the ground up. It involves a certain level of effort - to get out of your own apartment, to be bold, to be open-minded, to occasionally take the reins and organize gatherings, to be willing to try new things...
But in other ways, the friendships I've made here just...make sense. Instead of being friends with somebody because you're thrown into the same situation (class, dorm, house, etc.), friendships are built on mutual passions. Here, I have hiked, run, walked, biked, and played in the woods with acquaintances who, in turn, have become close friends. There are plans in the works also: snowshoeing, camping, serious trail running, snowboarding, and maybe someday, mountaineering. Anybody who's been in touch with me in the last two years knows how much I adored my coworkers at Dick's in Ohio - but honestly, I was a little bummed after I got hired there to realize that most everybody there was more fan than athlete. Not that sports retail is my lifelong career track, but I'd definitely sought out that job in hopes that I'd meet fellow runners and hikers and lovers of the outdoors, and it just didn't quite happen that way in Ohio. (Though I got other wonderful, unexpected gifts from them instead!)
At REI, I can hardly keep up with my coworkers. There's Jeff, who's climbed Rainier and doesn't run much but woke up last Sunday and decided spur of the moment to go run 26.2 miles...and Tom, who's celebrating his forties with a skateboard and barefoot trail running and 200km bike rides and absolutely kicking my butt in the woods...and Ryan, who did a full Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run) just out of college...and Michael, who's at Cyclo-cross Nationals in Oregon this weekend...and Suzi, who went to Boston to row at the Head of the Charles a few weeks ago...and Chris, who hunts with a bow and arrow and built his own kayak and sewed himself a pair of moccasins out of a deer he killed. There is serious peer pressure to ride a bike (or walk) to work, and everybody seems to pack themselves a healthy lunch each day. No fatty fast food for any of us; we all just sit down with our tupperware of quinoa or fresh salads - and it's awesome. It's just great, positive energy to be around.
Today, I went for a 9-mile run in West Seattle with Kate and Jenica. It's cold here, cold enough to make this fountain freeze over:
...but we bundled up, and had a blast traversing trails in Lincoln Park (which I wrote some about in July) and then running through quaint little beach-town neighborhoods to get to Alki Beach. Imagine the Florida Keys, except in 32-degree weather, and surrounded by mountains, and you get the idea. Cute beachside cottages, little palm trees, stretches of public beach, crab shacks and beach bars everywhere...plus the joys of mountainous, densely-forested trails!
Apparently, working out in threes is awesome. This was the second time this week, the first being an incredible three-hour forest workout with the afore-mentioned Chris and Tom, modeling our afternoon after the MovNat philosophy - training your body through natural movements like running, jumping, climbing, carrying, balancing, swimming, etc. We ran trails (the two of them "barefoot" in Vibram Fivefingers), vaulted over logs, crawled across fallen trees on all fours, leapt over creek beds, scrambled up off-trail hillsides, picked up logs and carried them around on our shoulders, climbed into trees, jumped off of them, jumped up and down staircases, balanced on rails, slacklined, and basically, just played in the woods. It was the most invigorating and fun workout my body's ever had, and four days later, my muscles are still feeling the burn...in a good way :) Here's what it looked like:
In conclusion? These people make me feel alive. It's not all working out; we have egg nog parties and hideous holiday outfit parties and Rockabilly-themed bowling parties. We have hot cocoa dates. We hit the local German pub with two dozen of us and pass around a giant glass boot of beer. We go out for open mic nights and concerts.
But getting outside is the biggest part of it. The quote "You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with" has been of serious inspiration to me these past few years, and with that in mind, I feel lucky to be where I am.