One year and some change ago, I embarked on the greatest journey of my twenty-something life.
It’s pretty difficult to be unhappy when you know that you know that you have so many things in your life to grateful for. At 24, I had so much that I could hardly keep track. Stephen and I were deeply in love. I had a beautiful family with whom I was extremely close; my mom, dad and sister frequently showered me with love and praise. I had a quaint little studio apartment one block from work, allowing me the nightly lullaby of crashing waves. And work, although hectic in the height of the season, empowered me to make bold decisions to positively impact the company as well as my team. I felt strong because I was strong.
And yet sometimes, late at night, I would stare out of my bedroom window looking at the stars and think, “What are you doing?” I wanted to be so content with every aspect of life that I was intentionally searching for the unknown. And I knew that I would not rest until I discovered what that was.
I discussed this first with Stephen, who, because we worked together thought that perhaps I had too much on my plate and needed to de-stress a little. That wasn’t it.
We stayed out late one night drinking gin & tonics at the Nail (okay, we stayed out late many nights, sometimes we’d switch over to Red Stripe) talking about life and the future. One night, Stephen took a long swig and said, “We should just quit our jobs and tour the country.” I giggled my one-too-many laugh, but once the thought was digested, I sobered right up. What if we did quit our jobs? What if we did pack up the car and tour the country? It was as if for a moment things seemed to shift into focus, and clarity was rewarded.
Over the next few weeks, Stephen and I turned the late night conversation into an obsessive possibility that we could not let go of. How would our company react to us leaving? How would our parents react? What would we do for work? Where would we live? How much money would we need? And for me, mostly – what if we fail?
The F words – fear and failure – had plagued me for my entire young adult life. And the shocking thing was that even though I had absolutely no reason to worry – this was a personal problem that I was dealing with. My parents had never made me feel like they were anything less than proud. My ego was the only thing standing in my way.
The day that Stephen bought me an Atlas, I knew it was for real. We spent hours planning our official cross country trip with our final destination set – Jackson Hole, WY.
We took a vacation to Jackson to ski that past winter, and fell in love with the culture and scenery. Because it was a resort, my ‘career fear’ slowly dissipated. I felt as though I was emerging from my cocoon. I was finally doing what Thoreau had been whispering in my ear all along: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life you’ve imagined!"
In between quitting my job and packing up the car, I spend the week at home with my parents. This time – I reflect on it with a heavy, grateful heart. I would not change it for the world. My dad was home, nursing an unknown injury in his leg, which I truly believed was a nagging sports injury from years of abuse on courts and diamonds. A month later – my first weekend in my new home – he was diagnosed with cancer and had his leg and hip removed immediately to try and cut the cancer out of his body. Three months later, he died.
The day that I kissed my parents goodbye and got in the car with Stephen was when I first realized that everything was changing. I had no idea what I was doing. Camping was reserved for the backyard, and the country was a lot larger in reality than my now beat up Atlas had mislead me into believing.
But this time in between – in between leaving everything behind that I held true and settling in a new home – I needed it. I needed to be outside in solitude. I needed to feel the wind through my hair when I rolled the windows down. I needed to eat barbecue in Nashville, Tex-Mex in Texas and drink good beer in Oregon. I needed to feel Sonoma grapes. I needed to put money down on a Vegas roulette table. I needed to hug a Redwood. I needed to take pictures of Hollywood sidewalk stars. I needed to touch rock in the Grand Canyon. I needed a moment to breathe.
Somehow, it’s been a year since I left on this journey, and I miss traveling. I miss my friends. I miss my bedroom. I miss the beach. I miss my dad.
The thing that I don’t miss, however, is me. The old me, that is. The feeling that I had allowed my life to become stagnant – that I had become complacent into believing that we have to settle for there ‘here and now’ instead of chasing our dreams onto the ships that carry them – well, that’s just not for me anymore. I learned that somewhere along the way, I guess. I might only be a year older, but I most certainly feel all the wiser.