How I Got Started…
Growing the cojones to tell my work colleagues and loved ones that I needed to take a career break and explore the world at the tender age of 28 didn’t happen overnight. Even if I had the mind of an unsure girl in the world, I think I always knew I had the heart of an explorer. After much reflection on the choices I’ve made thus far, I’ve realized that this journey I’m about to start has been in the making since I was a kid. Some of the most influential experiences I’ve had have revolved around a few people I like to think of as my Life Guides. Though I’m equally grateful for the support from all of my family and friends, these are the people who have challenged my ways of thinking and made me think long and hard about what I really want in life, without which I might never have decided to go on this journey.
The Art Teacher – Mrs. Camille
My first Guide came along during adolescence, one of the most confusing and less enjoyable times in a person’s life in my opinion. I was taking Advanced Art in my 8th year of studies and my teacher was Mrs. Camille, one of those rare teachers who strove to not only teach us the state mandated subject material, but to teach us about life.
I’ll never forget the intensity and passion with which she taught and though I didn’t grasp all that she was saying at the time, my intuition told me it was very important. I remember most clearly the story about the lawyer and his daughter. He was a dedicated man who worked long hours to provide for his family, but at the end of the day would retreat to the basement where his daughter watched him paint for hours, and she couldn’t understand why he didn’t have time to play with her. Mrs. Camille’s advice to this man was quite simple, “He didn’t get it. He should have been the courtroom artist.”
Upon hearing this, my immediate conclusion was that my art teacher wanted us all to pursue careers in art regardless of anything else. In my mind, it sounded like a nice proposition, but wasn’t possible for someone like me who needed to make some serious coin. It wasn’t until after spending a few years in my chosen profession of financial services that I realized my interpretation of Mrs. Camille’s lesson was wrong. I was focused too much on the lawyer vs. artist aspect of the story, and missed the underlying message that one can and should pursue his/her real passions in life even if they don’t fall within the confines of societal expectations. It didn’t take me long to realize that toiling away in the offices of a management consultancy for the sake of owning a BMW and having a country club membership, were not my real passions and so I decided to make changes in my life to ensure that I wouldn’t end with the fate of the artistic lawyer in the basement.
The English Professor – Anna Bard
When it came time to choose which university to attend, I was not in the most optimal of emotional states to make this decision (suffice it to say, for reasons I don’t think it’s all that interesting to elaborate on), let alone to decide straight away on which field of study to pursue. However, the decision was made, for better or worse, to study economics at Penn and even though I didn’t end up living the life I intended to by going to Penn, I can’t say I regret the decision.
I remember doing a mock interview for a hypothetical investment banking job during sophomore year and the interviewer asked me what my favorite class was. I quite hastily said, “Writing about Shakespeare in Film”, without giving it too much thought. I thought it was a bit odd at first and even the interviewer me gave me an obviously bewildered gaze as I tried to backpedal into some brilliant argument about how this translated into me being a superior analyst. However, once again, I shrugged it off and didn’t realize the significance of what I said until several years later.
The class, “Writing about Shakespeare in Film” was one of those classes required by the university to ensure that its students could properly string together words as a sentence upon graduation, and one for which I’m grateful to have taken. Written expression had always been my weak point and as such, the class was a good challenge for me. This was in no small part due to the high expectations of Professor Anna Bard. I went through no less than 3 drafts of each paper, which for me was frustrating as hell at first, but after a while, my attitude shifted from one of impotence to one of effervescence. It was exhilarating and relieving to know that at over $40k per year, I could notice a recognizable improvement in my thought patterns.
Looking back, I realized my response to the interviewer’s question was a reflection of the fact that being challenged and having a vested interest in that challenge are real motivating forces for me. Though I still have an interest in finance, at the time, I wasn’t seeing it put to use in such a way that inspired me. However, I do view writing as a creative outlet wherein I both want to and can continuously improve. As such, I recognize that moving forward I need to incorporate this in my life as in the story of the courtroom artist.
The Travel Mentor – Keith
There’s nothing like the sigh of relief when after struggling through college and entering the world of student loan repayment, you’re walking into the office of your very first job, one with lots of security and benefits. Naturally, I arrived earlier than I should have on the first day and was greeted by my first travel mentor, Keith.
Keith was the ‘Anthony Bourdain’ of the office; he had traveled everywhere, seen everything and was a goldmine of great stories. At this time in my life, I think I may have actually forgotten about my passion for travel. It seemed that all of the opportunities for spending time abroad stayed behind at the graduation podium and now was the time to focus on building a “real” life.
As it turned out, the mix of living in suburban Detroit, not knowing many people and having a shy personality was not entirely conducive to this building of a real life. I believe I mildly expressed my skepticism about living in the Detroit area once in the office, but still maintained an open mind about the situation. This is where Keith, the walking Fodor’s guide, jumped in with this enthusiasm for all things Michigan and began telling me about all of the places I could see and events in and around Detroit. This inspired me to take my first road trip around the thumb of Michigan (for those of you unfamiliar with the geography of the state, Michigan is shaped like a mitten) where I ventured from lighthouse to fishing village to smelly farms and finally back to Detroit. From this point on, I was back in travel mode.
It was Keith’s stories about his pursuits around the world that reminded me of my passion for travel, but it was this great push of encouragement to come out of my shell and do new things that reignited the explorer part of my being. For me, that was the most valuable lesson as it dovetailed quite nicely with my move, a few years later in 2008, to Amsterdam. While planning to move there, I sought Keith’s advice and began looking for ways to expand my social circle in the city itself as well as planning for which cities to visit on the weekends. 3 years later, Amsterdam turned out to be a decision full of the most fulfilling life experiences I’ve had to date and the greatest inspiration for my current journey.
The Best Friend – Diana
It goes without saying that if you’re lucky, you have at least one good person you can call your best friend. I am lucky, and in fact I can say that I’ve been surrounded by quite a few good people who I can claim as best friends. As I reflect on some of my life decisions and the journey on which I’m about to embark though, one in particular stands out for me – Diana, who’s oddly enough a lawyer! If all of my other Guides have led me to take a break from the rat race to re-evaluate what I want from a career, it is Diana who has led me to re-evaluate what I want from love.
Diana is in many ways my patron saint. About 6 years ago, we met through our mutual friend Gabriel while she was visiting with some friends from Chicago and we all immediately bonded as we drunkenly sang and played guitar in Gabriel’s house until the wee hours of morning. Being a few years my senior, Diana took me under her wing immediately and before we could finish singing “Smelly Cat”, she was already doling out advice on men. As we moved from city to city she was always been the voice of reason when I came to her with my relationship drama and never let me feed into the ‘Oh so typical single woman’s self-pity party with a faceplant straight into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s’ way of coping with heartbreak.
Diana kept me honest and her constant encouragement to live a “full life” gave me the courage I needed to stop pursuing a safe life, which wasn’t working for me. I’ve now redefined my own standards for happiness in love. I feel a sense of calm in that no matter what happens, I’m optimistic about the choices I’ve made, as well as the ones that have been made for me. Of course, if all of that positive thinking turns out to be bullshit, I have no qualms about falling back on my ability to develop a strong rapport with the local bartender to help me prevail.
The Spiritual Guide – Tanya
As I have recently been gearing my pursuits in personal growth toward grounding my emotions and slowing down my ability to create disaster scenarios out of the most trivial of matters, I sought out guidance from a high school friend’s mother, Tanya, who is certified in essential oils therapy and Reiki. After going through another rough patch with work and relationships, I decided that I simply needed to get a new perspective on my problems and start working from there. The result of this effort was the final push in deciding to quit my job and start a new life by traveling around the world.
July 2010 was not what I would call an optimal month in my pursuit of happiness. As if Holland losing the World Cup to Spain wasn’t tragic enough (if you don’t already know, my obsession with the World Cup and connection to Holland will be explained in due time), I was feeling overwhelmed with work and relationship drama. I felt like I was re-reading the same draft of some lousy short story over and over again, and finally called in an editor to assist me in strengthening the plot.
After pouring out my heart by way of facebook messaging services, Tanya’s advice to me was simple and precise: take a bath, specifically one with lavender salts and sage. I thought, “And this is where a private bathtub would come in handy.” Quite serendipitously, if also ironically, I was set to go on a business trip to Romania where I would be afforded the luxury of a bathtub in my hotel room. While I was marinating in my bath salts, I was reading an issue of Architectural Digest that featured homes in exotic locations such as Bali, Turkey and Kenya and the light bulb finally turned on. “Just go.” Well that was a rather simple solution and in very uncharacteristic fashion, I agreed with myself.
From that point on, my life has been a nonstop frenzy of researching travel blogs, networking with other career breakers, and having a never ending string of ‘going away’ parties. I’m now one week away from takeoff to Lima, Peru and I thanked Tanya just the other day for advising me to cleanse my soul.
The journey continues…
Reflecting back on some of the people who have inspired me to go on the adventure I’m about to start has reaffirmed for me, that the journey is more important than the destination. I know I’ve made both right and wrong turns, and what encourages me the most is how each one has had an equally profound impact on the person I am today, even from as early as adolescence. If you never have an absolute destination that you must reach, all of those supposed wrong turns become right in their own way. And so, it really is all about the journey.