Tanya is a 33-year old single woman living in Salt Lake City, UT. She's a dear friend and I'm happy our paths have stayed connected through the years (including two different stints as roommates). I think Tanya is one of the most interesting, sincere, and free-spirited people that I know...it's always a pleasure to hear her insights. Thanks for letting me interview you, T!
You’ve done a lot of interesting things over the years—including working wilderness therapy, teaching English in Taiwan, driving a tour bus in Alaska for the summer, attending a yoga retreat in Costa Rica (just to mention a few). What has been the drive for you to accomplish these things?
I’m really not that organized. So, I think as ideas about what I’d like to do come to me, I feel either like “Oh wow, that’s awesome--I would love to do that. “ Or “That’s awesome and I know that’s going to happen.” I know the difference in those feelings and so the things I’m suppose to do, I do.
It’s not easy for everyone to act boldly on promptings. What gives you the courage?
When I go through the follow-through process, I just remember that initial prompting that said “yeah, this is right.” And usually I start out thinking, “Wow, this is great. Normal people don’t do this.” But when it comes down to it, everything we do, no matter where it is, just starts to feel like regular everyday life. I don’t know if other people feel that way, but I do. I think that helps me to know that this is just something and I’m not better than anyone because I’m doing this. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t done anything exciting for a while, but I go to work, I go to class and that's just everyday life too, which is good and important in its own way.
I like that. C.S. Lewis talks about finding the “thrill” in simple things—like everyday life.
Yeah, like right now I work with the homeless. Not all of them, but maybe half of them are really isolated and cut themselves off from the world for whatever reason—probably mental illness. It’s cool that I get to see them and I get to know them. I might be one of 2-3 people they interact with on a regular basis. That’s really fulfilling to me. So when I’m going to my job and doing it well, I feel fortunate and I really like what I do. A couple of years ago my co-worker had a client die and he was upset. Usually funerals are something that the community cares about and a lot of people attend, but there were so few people at this person’s funeral. I had a client die not too long before that and I said to my co-worker, “Ya know, I like to think…I got to know them. I got to be a part of their life and not many people have that opportunity.” I feel really fortunate and lucky just to be with humans. That gets me through the day to day. I get restless, but it’s more when I’m not engaging in my work.
Traveling in Cambodia after teaching English in Taiwan.
Will you tell us more about what you do?
I’m a case manager. I work with people that were formerly homeless, but they’re still technically homeless and have rent subsidized through housing vouchers. I work with them long-term—20-30 people depending. Once a month to several times a week I stop in to make sure everything’s okay—make sure they’re getting the things done they need to do to stay in permanent housing. The philosophy in approaching homelessness is that it’s a disease rather than just a state of being. Even though they have a roof over their head at the moment, we all repeat our mistakes or go back to old unhealthy patterns. Maybe their disease is homelessness. My job is to help them overcome that.
How did you get your job?The way everything good happens in my life—it fell in my lap. I wasn’t quite done with school and they only hire people with degrees, but they were in a moment of desperation. An acquaintance said they were hiring so I interviewed. I even forgot my resume—I don’t even think I had one! They hired me and it’s been perfect. And so much fun. I feel like my job is a lot of fun sometimes. I don’t know that everyone would feel that way.
You moved to Salt Lake originally to do an internship working with refugees and I know that refugee work has been a passion of yours for a long time. Are you still involved with refugees?
Good chance I will be in the very near future. I’m in school right now to get a TESOL certificate (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). The reason I’m getting it is because I want a back-up plan. If I’m going to stay single, it would be fun to live abroad and work. In one TESOL class, we have to teach somewhere in the community, so I’m going to be teaching refugees. I got pretty burnt out in that internship. I loved it—it was a lot of work, but it was hard for me because the refugees—their needs are endless. It’s hard to be in a situation where I can’t do anything. I felt that way with refugees. I was running the youth program, which was a program they were just organizing for newly arrived children and teens. It was so hard for me to see them come in and have the hugest dreams and just know that they probably didn’t even have enough food at home and their English was really struggling. They had so many needs and on the budget I had I couldn’t afford to do what I wanted to. But with teaching English, if they can have the language, they can access their dreams, or at least live a stable life. My basic point—teaching them English is a skill, something I can give them that’s useful. I like the boundary of being in a classroom, because I don’t feel the need to take care of all their needs, which is overwhelming for me. I think I was compelled towards refugees a few years ago because I think part of my life mission is to work with people of all different cultures and in Utah that’s the best way to do it.
With the kids from her refugee program.
Why do you think it’s part of your life mission?
In my patriarchal blessing it says that “I’ll teach the nations of the earth.” I went to So. Africa on my mission and although there are a lot of different tribes, I think the “nations of the earth” is more expansive than that. So a few years ago in wondering about this, I noticed that it really inspired me any time I heard any kind of successful immigration story or refugee story of someone who escaped tragic circumstances. And I wanted to be able to help. I really admire people that work with refugees every day because compared to the refugees, homeless are easy.
You said that the TESOL certificate is a back-up plan in case you stay single? Do you think it's important to have a "back-up" plan?
I think it's important to not wait on life. I guess I call it a back-up plan when people ask about it, but really, last summer I felt pretty stagnant. Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting still because I’m waiting to meet someone. So I was meditating for almost a month about it and one morning I woke up and thought of these things that I’ve been telling myself I was going to do for couple of years: apply for an MSW program, apply for Teach for America, and apply for TESOL. And I just felt like, “Do these things! Why not?!” I kept putting them off. When I thought about the first two options, I didn’t have any kind of push to do them, but with TESOL I felt really excited about it. I applied and had everything taken care of in a week. That’s kind of how I know something is right—I’m motivated enough to actually do it. Those other things I throw around all the time maybe just in conversation with other people. But when I stop and think, the desire isn’t really there or I would have done it three years ago. I feel good about TESOL and I don’t know why. I don’t know if I’ll go abroad, but I think there’s something to it or I wouldn’t feel so good about it. It could be as simple as just something to keep me busy. I’m not past being dumb when I’m sad, which I was a few months ago, but class helped me stay occupied. I really feel inspired by God that that’s what I needed to do.
You moved into your own place a few months ago, right?
Yes and I was so excited to live by myself. I moved in October and then I got really lonely. I think it’s been good for me actually. When I knew I was moving, I got a blessing from my old bishop. It was a really interesting blessing—we talked about it afterwards and he described this visual image of taking steps—taking a step into the dark and then a light shining on that step so you can see why you took it. I know that had to do with moving here. I think I had to go through that lonely period in October because my whole paradigm shifted. I had relationships that there had been rifts in, or distance, and I reconnected with those people. I realized during that loneliness—life is too short to have any baggage. Be okay with people and move on. So it was good for me mentally, but it was really hard. Now I’m at a place where I’m really happy in my life. It can be a danger too in enjoying single life so much that there’s not room for someone when they do come along. I think it’s important to be fulfilled, but also important to make space.