By Julie Arcaro
“What’s the bravest thing you ever did?
He spat in the road a bloody phlegm. Getting up this morning, he said.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Silence doesn’t come naturally to me. I talk for a living. It’s how I process. I’m the 100% extrovert that Myers Briggs never even knew existed. The former teacher turned startup up millennial. Incidentally reconciling with the “corporate sellout” label that my new sales job at Oracle has afforded me.
I entered into my silent retreat 6 years ago with The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, which I borrowed from the library. My thought being the only way to get through 5 days of silence was with a book. I didn’t know the plot line at the time, but as it turns out, The Road is a post-apocalyptic story about a man and his son walking for several months over a landscape blasted by a catastrophe which has destroyed nearly everything on Earth.
Silence is a challenge for me, but to sit in my room alone to read a story about the end of the world took silence to a whole new level. It took those few days to learn that I associated silence with loneliness and it scared me.
For the past 6 months, prior to the start of my new job, I was working from home. The company I had been working for closed its office and went remote. This was great news for most of my colleagues. It was clear the financial status of the company was in question. For most people, it also meant more time with family and fewer hours to sit in traffic on the 101.
For me, this meant five days a week I’d face an empty house alone. “What am I doing with my life?” The question and inspiration to proceed my weekly breakdowns. I hadn’t thought about that for years. During this time, I was working for an Ed Tech company, which I believed had an inherently good mission – to help schools make the shift from paper to digital by making it easier to manage learners’ work in the cloud, thus empower teachers and students. Prior to that, I taught young women from economically disadvantaged families at a Cristo Rey high school. I thought my call is front and center, but I confused my calling with the missions of the organizations I worked for.
It’s not often that structured silence is an offer open to us. I didn’t see it coming and to work from home each day was daunting. What I longed for most was stability and a renewed sense of purpose. I wasn’t getting either of those things from work. This was a lesson for me in paying attention.
Then a realization came to me, after months of midday coffees with friends and swimming with retirees-I was feeling called to corporate America. In the same way my mother did for me, to pave the way for women in business and my LGBTQ peers. This is still a little embarrassing for me to say, especially to a group of Jesuit Volunteers, but that’s what the silence does – it stretches our perceptions of ourselves. Moreover, it challenges us to be who we are and encourages us to keep listening to our callings.
Julie served as a Jesuit Volunteer in San Francisco, CA in 2010. A former Catholic school teacher turned “typical startup millennial,” she recently left her work from home pjs behind and joined Oracle, where she sells software. When Julie’s not riding her bike in the Headlands, she can be found talking someone’s ear off with a story about life in the city, as told from the perspective of a queer, corporate woman on a bicycle cruising about the town.