Living In The Liminal

The Three of Wands is about waiting for your plans to come to fruition.

Well, it’s summer.

I guess, officially, summer started a couple weeks ago; unofficially, it’s felt like summer in my hometown for a few months. But Fourth of July—with it’s attendant fireworks, watermelon, tank tops, and backyard shenanigans—has always served as my nostalgic summer herald. Even though adults no longer have a lengthy summer break, the holiday allows me to indulge in a bit of escapist imagining.

fourth of july

Except this year, I don’t have to. This year, I actually have a summer break. Four whole weeks, starting today. And I’ll continue to have a summer break (at least in theory) for the next five years. That’s because on Friday, I “retired” from my career in advertising to go back to school to earn my PhD in Political Science.

I am fortunate to have a few weeks off before classes start in August. And I am even more fortunate to have so few obligations during this time. No required reading. No freelance copywriting. Not even a big personal project since I sent Hello My Name is Harold to my copyeditor, Jaclyn.

hello my name is harold draft

So what now?

When I visited campus in April, I asked professors and current graduate students if there was anything I could do over summer break to prepare. I expected a few book recommendations, some math assignments, encouragement to read the big poli sci journals. Instead, they all gave me the same advice—“enjoy your time off. Because soon, you won’t have the time to do whatever you’d like.”

That answer was unsatisfying. Perversely, I was hoping for a few assignments that would keep me busy. I am excited to start this new phase of my life. I don’t want to wait. I want to get started now.* Instead, I have four weeks in this liminal space—the space between things. I can do anything, except for the one thing I want to do.

bridge over the arno in florence

When this feeling has come before—during summer break in college, as I graduated and entered the workforce, when I was in between jobs—I always felt uncomfortable. This past week, author Colin Wright shared a timely blog post that helped explain why:

“We define ourselves, in part, by how we spend our time and energy. When all the trappings of one lifestyle are swapped out and when what replaces them is not some new collection of the same, but instead, nothing, a period of waiting—your new life, your new external identity hasn’t arrived yet—it’s possible to lose yourself in such moments. You’re facing countless unknowns without the support system you’ve long enjoyed, and without a complete understanding of your own behaviors and preferences that have, up until that moment, provided you with helpful reflexes and defaults.”

There is no way to speed up this process. I just need to be patient, wait, and enjoy the freedom.

But I am bad at rest. I feel compelled to do. So maybe what I need to learn during this period isn’t math or politics—there will be plenty of that soon enough—but rather, how to be at rest. How to be comfortable simply being.


*Of course, I’ll feel differently next summer. By then, I’ll have had my fill of readings, problem sets, and research. I’ll be nostalgically thinking back to this time, right now. I’ll wish for a month of nothingness. I might even reread this post and laugh.

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Margot Escott July 9, 2018 Reply

Congratulations on your retirement and pursuing your Ph.D. I know you will be successful in everything you do!

Ben Noble July 11, 2018 Reply

Thank you Margot! 🙂 I really appreciate your support and encouragement.

Nichole Bennett July 11, 2018 Reply

I’m in the same (liminal) boat. I’m going back for my Ph.D. in science communication. Congrats, and here’s hoping those of us that are bad at rest find some.

Ben Noble July 12, 2018 Reply

Thank you, Nichole. And best of luck to you. Congrats.

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