It was July, I had been working for 10 months, and I was itching to move on. I was unhappy and I think I had been taking it out on the wrong people for a long time. I thought I’d been pushed into things I didn’t want. I was working crazy hours. I wasn’t fulfilled.
Then one day, something snapped inside me. It was time to make a decision that was all my own, in what would become a journey of self-accountability. I looked at a friend of mine at lunch after a brief morning of research, and I said, “I think I’m going to go to Nepal.” She looked at me as though I’d just told her I was planning on buying a froyo, and she said, “That’s great! Go for it. Why not?”
And just like that, I made what felt like the first completely independent adult decision of my life. It took me six more months to be financially secure enough to make my next move. I started planning. I moved out of an apartment I loved with a friend I adore, and saved as much as possible. I had long conversations about 401Ks and security and how any decision I made could possibly be sustainable in the long term.
And then I left.
When I got to Nepal, I had a plan. I knew how long I was going to be there, and when I was going to come home.
But the problem with having plans is that things change. Conversations stick with you. Things feel unfinished. Earthquakes strike.
I met a family, two parents and two children, who were living a fascinating life. A business decision had left the breadwinners unable to work for a year, and in the spirit of seizing the opportunity, the family took off the year to travel. Their two children were homeschooled on the road as they visited at least 15 countries. My return ticket was looming, and I was debating whether or not I was going to be returning to the field I was working in. The mother, a career advisor, and I would have thoughtful conversations about being flexible in life during my daily walks around the temple. She was American, her husband was Dutch, their kids were raised in France, and now here they were in Nepal. I explained my conundrum to her, and she listened as I parsed things out.
“The important thing to remember,” she told me, “and please pardon my French, is that you always have your fuck it card. You can go back to what you were doing and see how it feels. But you always have a choice. You have the power to decide something isn’t working. It is always going to be in your hands to make the decision to leave.”
And suddenly I found myself skipping out on a return ticket to explore India with my friend Kris. This decision and all its repercussions, financial and otherwise, were mine and mine alone.
When I got home in July, the plan was to get a job, and I tried. But nothing sounded like it was for me. The right opportunity hadn’t come my way. I still had money saved, and my wanderlust wasn’t feeling satisfied. I didn’t want to force myself into something that was going to make me just as unhappy as I’d been before I left. I could wait things out in LA or blow through the money I had while I lived on my friend’s couch, or I could move on. I stayed calm. I waited for the right move. Then my great-aunt called. My great-uncle had passed. They wanted us to come visit. I’ve been trying to translate my great-grandmother’s memoirs for four years. An omen.(1)
In Spain, I worked in my cousin’s restaurant, and learned to iron, and badly plated desserts. I ate amazing food, and watched my cousins raise their kids. As someone who has always said I didn’t want children, I watched my cousin with hers, still living her life, running her business, and doing things she loved, and decided that maybe it was time to rethink my firm position in one direction. It probably still isn’t for me, but why set lines in stone, when you can draw them in sand? In openness, there is possibility. One of those possibilities is joy. We are not always in control of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but we always, always, always have control of how we react.
I spent 22 years of my life trying to set boundaries and definitions; I wanted to explain things, and have them be explained to me. I wanted yeses and nos and plans. I wanted definitive ends to conversations, and to know exactly where things stood.
But plans change. Trains get missed, jobs I think I should get don’t always come my way, and people pass away. So I’m learning to keep going. Now I buy one-way tickets, and stopped saying “never” to having kids. I don’t know where the future will take me. I’m living life on a short-term plan. That will probably have to change someday–maybe even someday soon.
But for now, I have some short-term goals I’m feeling pretty good about. I have hundred-year-old memoirs to finish, a train to catch, and some new cities to explore. And I have learned to stop trying to force endings. People ask me what I’m doing, and the answers are a little bit free form. My plans are always changing, and sometimes I actually follow through. I can’t tell you where I’m going to be in three months time.
I do know that I have some income, a backpack, and some stories I want to tell.
People are scared of the (…) because there are a million possibilities that could be laying on the other side. But to me, the ellipses means that stories are still unfolding, conversations haven’t ended, and adventures are waiting to be seized. There’s something being planned on the other side, even if we can’t see it yet. The ellipses is a work in progress, and I think that’s pretty exciting.
1. In the sense of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Photo 1: My cousin and her daughter as we carved pumpkins for Jalloween.
Photo 2: An autorickshaw in Agra.