Each summer, some of my college friends spend a weekend at a lake in Northern Indiana. It’s come to be known as Lake Weekend, and usually falls towards the end of the summer. Each year it’s a blast, and an amazing time to reconnect with people I only see a couple of times a year and a good change of scenery even for friends I see on a day-to-day basis.
As with any tradition, the first year we had the smallest group. There were nine of us in this beautiful lake house for the weekend. I was almost a year into my job, one full year out of college, and still wrestling with my life not looking like I wanted it to look. There were some periods where I was working thirteen days in a row, both my roommates were either engaged or almost engaged, and it felt like everyone else had things figured out. I walked into the weekend pretty drained. Worse, I didn’t have hope that things were going to get better.
Saturday night after dinner, all nine of us jumped on one of the boats. All it took was one question, “How are you doing?” to begin a time of sharing. I’m usually the first to share. I like to set the tone, and I’m a verbal processor, so no matter how much time I have to think about something, it will usually come out the same way. But this night was different. In the midst of all of my friends who seemed to be thriving, I didn’t want to be the one who was uncertain.
When it was finally my turn to share, I’m sure I fumbled through an answer about how discontent I felt at my job. I remember saying something about how I wasn’t experiencing joy regularly, too. In my mind, these two things were inner-connected. Being unhappy at my job was clearly preventing me from experiencing joy in my life. A friend responded with a question that shifted everything. He asked, “Caitlin, when have you experienced joy in the past year?”
I probably answered something in the moment about community, but the question triggered more than an immediate response. That next week, I went home and wrote down all the things that brought me joy. Reading, writing, cooking, running, and throwing parties all made their way onto the list.
I took that list and looked critically at my weekly schedule. Even though I was working almost sixty hours a week between both of my jobs, I tried to incorporate some of these joy-giving activities into my weekly schedule.
At my healthiest, I’m a big picture kind of girl. I dream, I plan, I create. But, when I’m overwhelmed, I get tunnel vision, and can’t seem to see past the struggle of the day. The simple question asked by a friend, was the act of lifting my chin. It forced my eyes from my feet to the road in front of me.
Even more than shifting my gaze, my friend’s question helped me see my life more holistically. I could still struggle with feeling unfulfilled at my job, but experience joy in relationships, through reading books and trying new recipes.
That was three years ago. We’ve returned to the lake three more time since then. Of that original nine people, three have gotten married (two to each other), we’ve welcomed two babies, celebrated two graduations, with one more to come, bought two houses and a lot of us have gotten new jobs. Today I love my job, truly, even though I’ve gone through seasons more recently when I haven’t. But I’ll always come back to that simple question asked by a dear friend as defining moment that changed me.
Friendship has this unique ability to force us to see beyond what’s right in front of us. Community allows us to dream bigger, create better and live more fulfilled lives, if we let it.