A few days ago--much, much sooner than I was ready--I returned to California.
It didn't matter that I was only there for, like, 62 hours, or that I was no where near the horrible place where I lived before. It didn't matter that I was surrounded by people whom, for the most part, have no idea of the emotional shitstorm that went on in my life last year. It doesn't matter that it was a trip to bring closure to one of the few remaining things that tied me to California. I just didn't want to go.
For the weeks leading up to this trip, I've been dreading it. There were times when I was about 10% convinced I should just bail. It was a trip in which I would be flying (ugh) to California (ugh) surrounded by some of the best librarians in the state of California, some of the most ambitious and accomplished current and emerging library leaders in the state, and would have to give a five minute presentation (ugh) about a project that essentially I sucked at. At least in my Crazy Aunt Mel brain.
But leaders don't quit, or something, and I felt like I owed it to the cohort to stick it through. After all, last year we vowed to ourselves and each other that "We are Eurekans, and we are in!" (and if that doesn't sound like a cult, then I clearly didn't live in California long enough) so I bought the damned plane ticket and slapped together a powerpoint presentation and memorized my talk and packed my bag and hauled myself up to Indy at ass-o'clock in the morning and flew out to the Land of Sun and Bullshit.
And I lived to tell the tale. In fact, almost immediately I was pretty happy that I went. I'd made some friends through the program, so everything else aside, I got to reconnect with them. In an over-air-conditioned conference room, I watched my closest friend in the cohort give an effing flawless presentation (while wearing my heels!) and knew that it was worth it for me to come, just to see that. In that same room, my mentors presented me with a pin and told me about how they could see how much I had struggled during the program, and came out stronger. In that same room, I stood before 50 people and talked about my project and somehow managed to acquit myself pretty damned well. Oddly, no one else thought the project was a failure--but then, according to one of my mentors, if I use my smile right, I light up a room and can sell ice to an Eskimo. And then, a very few hours later, I boarded a plane and came home.
After all of that, I am still not sure what professional leadership looks like for me, or whether it's something that I will ever really be ready for (shit, I can't even keep myself from crying at work), but after those 62 hours, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that while it was one of the sources of stress for me during the Year of Suck, it was also one of the sources of strength that I found myself equipped with when it came time to make my decision to move home. It helped me leave California so that I could fly away from Indiana and then come back, as my home. It helped me to become the leader in my own life.
I don't know when I'll be back in California. I have neither an immediate reason nor a pressing desire to go back there. So when I flew away from there, it was both departure and farewell. And it was with a sense of closure, and a happy one, which we don't always have the luxury of experiencing, that I came home.