I have dreamt of outfitting a campervan for at least a decade but always talked myself it. After thirteen years of working at Colgate University, I left my job as Director of the Outdoor Education Program in May. I committed to a year of unemployment and adventure to decide what I want in my next stage of life. I am very aware that this is a luxury and a choice that only the financially-stable and child-free can often make! I know I am moving to Maine (more on that in another post) and I may want to keep working as an outdoor educator, but I wanted time to be intentional about that decision. This year of transition seemed like a perfect time to outfit a camper van, travel, and enjoy some personal adventures and learning outdoors. Hence the birth of Vanna White!
I decided to outfit Vanna with the help of friends and my partner Emma in part to save money. Professionally-outfitted vans are incredibly expensive. However, I also wanted a project in the early stages of unemployment. In truth, I quickly discovered that I was in WAY over my head. From the moment summer started, I became a bit compulsive about researching how to outfit a campervan. The general cycle went as follows: hours of research led to a decision, which led to doubting said decision, which led to more research, another decision (or, often, the same decision), to the implementation of a decision, which was occasionally followed by regret. Sounds exhausting, right? Imagine how my partner felt J. This amount of doubt and lack of confidence was also not typical for me and, in many ways, Vanna’s evolution has been cathartic for me as I slowly regained my footing and sense of self post-Colgate.
While I was always learning new things as an outdoor educator and outdoor adventurer, this project was the first time in thirteen years that I poured ALL my time and energy into something entirely new to me. I quickly realized that I had grown accustomed to having a certain level of competence in my life. I also realized how much my confidence had waned after feeling undervalued and disrespected by the actions and decisions of my supervisors during my last few years at work. These two phenomena compounded into a “storm of the century” of self-doubt with Vanna. This was not where I expected to land at age 40. While it wasn’t always a pretty ride, I am thankful to have been on such a brief and educational journey towards self-improvement. In this case, I mainly had to acknowledge that the way I was made to feel was not an accurate portrayal of my person or skills, and I needed to remind myself that I have a lot to offer to myself and to those around me. I know I still have some more work to do and am hopeful that time on the road and patience will continue to serve me well.
I also learned a few really valuable lessons about campervan build-outs that may be helpful to other “under-skilled” people outfitting a van in the future. First, while some choices are better than others, there are very few choices that are absolutely wrong. Second, people who sound very knowledgeable on the internet are often just more confident, not necessarily more knowledgeable, and their input needs to be balanced with your own observations. Third, it is okay to ask for help! Often, just the process of brainstorming with an equally or more skilled person allowed me to move beyond the hurdles in front of me. Or, in other cases, learning from experts was essential to completing a few steps of the build. Lastly, attention to detail is everything.
Building Vanna has been the first step in my evolution as a forty-something year old. I have always identified most with my work, and my unemployed status has left me lacking an identity in a more profound way than I had imagined. I don’t believe the answer is to find new employment in order to have an identity, but rather to find more comfort and value in other ways to identify. I look forward to the type of clarity that only time on the road can provide.