My friend Emily is on her way to a great career as a physician's assistant. She's a year younger than me, married, and doing it all. When feminism broke the glass ceilings of the medical field, Emily picked up those shards as tokens to remember the sacrifices of all the women before her, fighting sexism so that today, she could be a medical professional. She has a stethoscope. She has a white coat.
I admire Emily. I hope she will not be envious when I announce that, I, too, have found my professional calling.
Who can blame her? House-sitting is obviously more fulfilling than saving lives. OK, I'm kidding, and I wish I had even a slice of the intelligence that lives in Emily's brain. As an English major, I may know how to edit and punctuate, but I'm useless when it comes to medical knowledge. Over the years, Emily has become my go-to consultant in all things medical, and I trust her more than I do my own doctors. She has been the recipient of countless text messages filled with graphic details regarding my physical and mental state, sometimes accompanied by photos ("Does it seem like it's infected?").
If you are not an Emily, though, and are, like me, still figuring it out, here are some reasons that house-sitting may be the career for you. It doesn't have to be forever, it may only be a weekend, but changing location can get you out of your own head and give you the perspective to figure out what you really do want to do as a career.
1. You can pretend you're a gardener.
When I house-sat earlier this summer, it was for a friend who has multiple gardens and plants. My "yard" consists of a few square feet of grass often littered with dog feces and cigarette butts. One of the perks of house-sitting is that you can experience outdoorsy things that your own housing can't provide. Whether it's the plants you're asked to water or the patio you can sit on while drinking coffee, the change of scenery may give you new ideas about your own life and expose you to skills you didn't know you had. When I watered my friend's garden, I would get hot and sticky, sometimes even sunburned, but the work was unexpectedly satisfying.
The simple acts required in caring for what someone else values was relaxing, and made me think about what I value in my own life. I realized that as a grad student, I'd lost any semblance of connection with nature, so watering plants felt liberating after months spent in claustrophobic university buildings.
2. You can pretend you have a beautiful kitchen.
Like being in a fancy hotel, I know when I'm house-sitting that it's only temporary, but after a few days it still starts to feel as if it's my own home. My friend's beautiful kitchen, the pretty art she had on her walls, and the good vibes of her home created an elevated sense of living for me and made me not want to just order pizza or drive through for fast food. I normally don't like to cook for just one person, but I decided to go to the grocery store and buy ingredients, then follow recipes each evening.
My solitary meals while house-sitting didn't feel lonely, they felt like I'd prioritized myself and sent the message to my brain that I was worth cooking a meal for. Maybe it's a different room for you. Maybe you can end up house-sitting for someone with a luxurious bathtub or a giant bed. Either way, it can give you a break from being surrounded by your own life and your own problems, and remind you that there are always more houses, more things to see, more places to visit. If you can go into house-sitting with an adventurous and adaptable personality, it can feel a little like being paid to stay at an interesting hotel, one with alphabet magnets on the fridge and somebody else's family in the picture frames.
3. You can pretend you have pets.
The family I house-sat for had an amazing, earnest dog named Charlie. His presence gave my days shape, beginning with his breakfast in the morning while I brewed my coffee and ending with him going to "his" couch to sleep while I read in bed. I like to think there's a future in which I'm old, retired, and financially secure, a future when I could be a person with a dog. Being in grad school, I don't have the time, money, or mental capacity for a pet, so spending time with Charlie was all the good parts about having a dog without the stress. I could count on him to greet me every time I pulled up to the house, and seeing his goofy dog smile reassured me that everything would be OK. For some people, hanging out with their friends' children restores their hope in humanity, but for me, it's dogs. Maybe for you, it's cats — or turtles, whatever — but many times when people need a house-sitter, they need a pet-sitter as well, so you can enjoy the benefits of caring for animals temporarily, knowing there's an expiration date to that responsibility.
Things used to be simple, people grew up, got married, had kids. I'm already 26, though, and I still don't feel grown up. I haven't met the milestones that marked my mother's life or my grandmother's before her. Sometimes, when the stress of school and work and being thousands of dollars in student debt feels overwhelming, I wonder why I couldn't have fulfilled the destiny carved out for me. It would've been easier. There are a lot of us, girls who never dreamed of the American dream. And we still don't know what we want. And we still can't offer a clear answer to the question of what career we will have when we, finally, hopefully, grow up. In the meantime, we can redefine for ourselves what successful looks like. Maybe it's a career. Or maybe it's just you, as you stand outside and water some plants, and recognize a feeling you hadn't had in a while: happiness. You're already successful. You're already enough.
I still wish I had Emily's knowledge of menstrual cycles, though.