Hounds with Purpose is a space for alumni to share their stories of purpose and vocational engagement beyond their years at Assumption. This blog is created by the Center for Purpose and Vocation and the Career Development and Internship Center (CDIC) to better connect students and alumni through experiential storytelling.
Into the Unknown: Life After Assumption
By: Elaine Ingalls ’17
When I first graduated from Assumption, I felt like life as I knew it was over. My purpose, up to that point, was to be a student in and out of school. To learn how to write and read, how to think abstractly, how to form and maintain relationships, how to take care of myself and discover who I wanted to be.
While I knew I was on a path to success when I received my diploma, I had no idea where that path was going to take me. Since kindergarten, I had come to know each year as a cycle: entering a new grade in late August, homework nearly every night, Christmas break, the second half of the school year and then two or three months of summer to bring us into the next academic year. Graduating from Assumption broke this pattern. It was for the best, of course, but it was new territory.
I didn’t have plans to attend graduate school right away, and without school as my driving force, I didn’t know where to direct my energy. The summer after college, I continued an internship I had in the spring with Bayard Presse. With no job opportunity with the Catholic publishing company, I didn’t feel tied to pursuing a job near my hometown of Westerly, Rhode Island. I thought about looking for work in Worcester but didn’t feel drawn to return to the city. With no definitive direction for what to do or where to go, I decided to take up a longstanding offer from my Aunt Becky — to stay with her and my uncle for a while in Santa Cruz, California.
I never would have considered moving across the country and trying things on my own if I didn’t have Assumption to set the stage. In my second year at the school, I was a member of SOPHIA, a vocational exploration program for sophomores. Professor John Hodgen taught the required SOPHIA elective course. The way he read and wrote poetry gave new life to my own writing. Professor Hodgen inspired me with his storytelling and passion for the written word. Being his student helped me realize my love for writing and to declare an English major.
The SOPHIA Program stretched me to think about why I was here on this earth. I had never gone so deep before into reflecting on my life and what my gifts were. This reflective thinking is a practice I’ve maintained every year since the program ended. At the end of the program, my class took a 10-day trip to Rome. This was my first time in Europe and my farthest trip away from home. Here, I was inspired by a culture rooted in Catholicism and a city rich with history, mouth-watering food and a language I was nowhere near understanding.
Going to Rome planted a seed of desire in me to travel internationally again. I decided to study abroad in London the spring semester of my junior year. I was truly on my own for three and a half months, attending a school far from home without any familiar faces walking down the street or sitting in class with me. I learned how to build a routine and make new friends who were all experiencing the same anxieties and excitement and homesickness that I was.
Studying abroad in London had such a large impact on me that I decided to write a creative nonfiction story for my honor’s thesis. I worked with Professor Mike Land to recall certain events and conversations and describe my experience to readers as if they were in London with me. I also wanted it to serve as a realistic guide for students considering studying abroad.
Writing my thesis encouraged me to take on more reflective writing. When I moved to California, I joined a poetry group at the library, meeting one Saturday per month for a two-hour session to write and share our words. After establishing a relationship with the instructor, I started working with her one-on-one to write a memoir. I am nearly 75 pages deep into writing about experiencing panic attacks as a fifth grader and learning how to cope with anxiety throughout my life. Similar to my honor’s thesis, I hope my memoir can serve as a guide to children with anxiety and reassure them that they are not alone.
Moving to California was surprisingly more anxiety ridden than I expected. The culprit was that I didn’t have a timeline for how long I would be there, and I didn’t have school to set as my focus. I intended on staying with my aunt and uncle for a few months, and then staying with another uncle for another three months, and then returning home after a year. I wanted to say that I had lived in California, just like my parents had done years before. They met and lived in San Francisco together for about two decades. I wanted to experience the endless sunshine, warm weather, and friendly people they spoke so highly of during east coast winters and humid summer heat. I also wanted to get to know my family on the west coast better. Little did I know when I embarked on this cross-country move that I would still be in Santa Cruz more than three years later.
When I was a young girl, I found running to be my most effective method for reducing my anxiety. Running forced me to get out of my head and focus on my breathing. Otherwise, there was a good chance I would pass out. I also used to run to explore and familiarize myself with new stomping grounds. Within days of moving into a dorm at Assumption, I discovered routes around campus and made a few friends who also enjoyed the sport. Here at school, I also ran when I was stressed about project deadlines or exams or living far away from my parents. I didn’t run as a formal college athlete, only for my own sanity and enjoyment. I enjoyed the physical challenge and the endorphins so much that I ran my first half marathon during the fall semester of my junior year.
Having graduated from Assumption with an English degree, I felt that I needed to pursue work that involved writing. The truth is it was very limiting. I locked myself into job searches that only related to my degree, which left me with few options. I moved to the Golden State without a job lined up and without a necessary reason to move back home– besides missing my friends and family and everything I knew. I wanted to keep myself open to future possibilities, but not having a timeline was actually quite stressful. I lacked structure and a plan, and with home being an expensive plane ticket across the country, my first year was full of anxiety, heartbreak, and lots of phone calls home crying to my parents and closest friends from Assumption.
During my first week living in Santa Cruz, I visited a church that a friend from home had recommended, Vintage Faith Church. While I grew up in a Presbyterian church, I didn’t dive deeper into understanding my faith until I entered college. Nearly every week from freshman to senior year, I attended a Monday night Bible Study with InterVarsity staff member Scott Brill. Sometimes, I was the only one that showed up. I also went on two mission trips with InterVarsity to New Orleans and served on a SEND trip to Baltimore. I found that I enjoyed volunteering in unfamiliar places and building friendships with the people I served alongside.
I benefited from the faith community at Assumption and the practices it helped shape in me, from praying to seeking spiritual counsel to getting in my Bible on a more regular basis. These are some of the things that I sought at Vintage Faith Church. Above all, I sought community. I discovered that the eco-presbyterian church had community groups, which were smaller groups of members intended to build relationships and a support system. It reminded me of the intentionality of the SOPHIA Program and the small group of students enrolled each year.
One of the community groups at Vintage was a young adult’s group, specifically made for young people living in the county that ranged from college-age to early thirties. I have committed to going to this group nearly every week during the school year and taking a break each summer. The young adult’s group has been my foundation for building community in Santa Cruz, and I’ve met the majority of my friends through it. These people were vital to adapting to life in California. With extreme anxiety from my cross-country move, I needed to talk about my worries and fears and major FOMO. And they listened and shared similar stories of difficult times and how they got through them and promised to stand by my side. As they became more vulnerable with me, I became more vulnerable with them and learned to trust them. We made new memories and I learned to be present, instead of getting stuck in memories from college and home. Even though I’ve only known these friends for a few years, we’ve grown and faced post-college job and life challenges together. In recent months, I’ve had the privilege of seeing them get married! And sooner than later, they will attend my wedding. One guy in the Young Adults group who I found I could open up to and trust rather quickly became my best friend and confidante, and later, my fiancé.
I formed many of my friendships at church as I was struggling to find a direction with work and to determine how long I actually intended to stay in Santa Cruz. After searching for a job for about a month, my Aunt Becky, who I moved in with, found an opening as a server at a sushi restaurant in town. Part of me didn’t want to enter my career field yet, so I settled on jobs that were typical of high school and college students. I decided that before I got a big girl job, I wanted to try out jobs that I wouldn’t be able to do later on in life when I would be supporting a family or living on my own.
While I waitressed at May’s Sushi, I also worked at my cousin’s consignment shop as a retail assistant. Both jobs lasted for a few months, until I landed an internship at the local newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel. In order to do the internship, I needed to take a journalism course at the nearby community college, Cabrillo College. Although I had previously taken a journalism class with Professor Land at Assumption, which I felt qualified me for the Sentinel internship, I needed to be enrolled in the course while at the paper. I enjoyed being in class again, learning and surrounded by students. Having assignments and being in a crowd of people my age felt familiar and it was an environment I knew I could succeed in.
During this time, I was applying to graduate schools for MFA programs for creative writing. A week before the deadline to accept or decline admission, I was accepted into my dream school, the University of San Francisco. After fighting logic against the longing to study in my favorite city, I deferred. I ultimately decided, with a very heavy heart, that I wasn’t in the financial position to take on more student loans and go back to school.
While at the Sentinel, I befriended a reporter who happened to be a runner. Running The reporter invited me on a few 6:30 a.m. runs with her running group — the majority being men close to my parents’ age. I was the youngest member of the group and didn’t experience the same bond I had with people my age, but I did gain a social and physical outlet with new friends that shared the same love of the sport that I had. It was this group that ran and hosted my first marathon with me in March after the Oakland Marathon was canceled. We named the race the “Elainathon.”
After my internship at the newspaper ended, one of my running friends connected me to a job at Mount Hermon, a Christian camp and conference center in a neighboring town. I worked at the front desk in the Adventure Center, where I greeted guests arriving for zip lining tours through the redwoods. I thoroughly enjoyed the environment and the staff I worked with. Each time I drove onto the campus for my shift, I felt calmer and as if whatever was weighing me down that day was a little less heavy. I learned to appreciate the redwoods more as I saw visitors excited and lit up by the size and beauty of the trees every day.
While I worked at Mount Hermon, I simultaneously took a part-time position as a newsroom clerk at the Sentinel. This job did not last long, as the position was terminated five months later. However, the timing was just right for an opportunity to arise in my favor. As my position was on its way out the door, a reporter retired and I was offered her position, which I took with little-to-no hesitation. I left Mount Hermon to be a full-time journalist, covering business, housing, transportation and other beats for Santa Cruz County.
I was unhappy with the position from the start. The stress of deadlines, of breaking news, of finding stories daily while simultaneously working on bigger series gave me an anxiety that affected my quality of life and friendships out of work. Being my first career-job, my goal was to stick it out for a year and hang on to hope that it would get better as I gained more experience. But when a year passed, I didn’t feel ready to leave. I knew there was a dire need for local journalism, and in a field that was losing money to the digital age, we had a small staff doing the work of twice our size. I didn’t want to quit and leave my team.
Quitting had never been my strong suit. At Assumption, I knew how to push myself to excel in my classes, staying up late to write papers while holding a work study job lifeguarding at Plourde. To me, quitting felt like failing or giving up, and I didn’t let those words exist in my vocabulary.
I didn’t learn to quit until quitting was the only shot, I had at feeling fulfilled and happy in my work. In April, I was furloughed because of the coronavirus outbreak, and when I was called back three months later, I declined the offer. For once in my life, I chased joy and not career advancement. I sought jobs that fueled my love of exploring the outdoors. Of the nearly 20 jobs that I applied to during my furlough, I received one call back, and I took it. In June, I began working at a gift shop and grocery store at Big Basin State Park, the oldest state park in California. While some may see this as a step backwards in my career, I have realized since taking a degree-oriented job that my life purpose is not work. I am naturally a workaholic and I previously believed my purpose in getting an education was to learn how to do a job I would be in for the rest of my life.
From my first day at Big Basin to my last day there, I never lost enthusiasm or interest in my job. Unfortunately, my time there ended much sooner than I wanted to. August’s CZU Lightning Complex fire ravaged the forest and burned down many homes and commercial buildings, including the one I worked in. Due to lack of work and a workplace, my coworkers and I were laid off. As I mourn the loss of local residents, my job and the forest, I am on the hunt for a new life-giving position. I have yet to find another job, but I am approaching my search with the same mindset– to chase joy and do something that makes me happy.
Having had to establish new roots in California and learn how to be present, I believe my current purpose in life is to be where my feet are. Sure, I am a daughter, a friend, a significant other, and many other roles, but I believe I am called to serve and act where I am. That action can be challenging myself physically, mentally and spiritually, or being a part of other’s actions, big or small. I believe I am called to love others near and far and be involved in my community and bring to the table the things I am good at, and humbly admit to the things that I need help with. I need to push myself to face my fears and ask for help when I’m stuck. I do believe I will use my writing to impact others and create a space for self-reflection. How exactly, I’m not sure yet.
One of my post-college role models has been Hannah Brencher, a 2010 Assumption College graduate. I receive her Monday morning emails every week, encouraging me to start the week well and with a positive and hope-filled attitude. I am a major fan of hers and I strongly identify with her latest book, Come Matter Here.
“I think the point of this lifetime is to live as deeply as you can, with the people to the right and left of you, in the place where God sets your feet. The point of this lifetime is to become okay with saying, ‘Wherever I am — in waiting or in triumph — I know there is a purpose.’ Life isn’t something we talk about; it’s something we do.” (Brencher, 234)
I don’t know how long I will live in California or what my life will look like at the end of this pandemic or in the next five years and beyond. But I know I am grateful that Assumption started me on this journey and has given me a foundation of friends and a passion for lifelong learning and service wherever my feet may land.
Author of the blog post: Elaine Ingalls
Editor of the blog post: Sydney Huckabee