The couch comforted me without judgement as I stared off into the midafternoon sunlight, still reeling from my decision. I quit my job and booked a one way ticket to Mexico. A sense of boundless possibility ricocheted in my mind, accelerating to the point of emotional overload, and I attempted to piece together how I arrived at this point.
The Life I thought I Wanted
When I look back to where it all started, I think about high school and the rigid standards I held myself to. I measured cottage cheese breakfasts meticulously, spent Saturday mornings behind a cash register, ran six days a week, and held a transcript of gleaming ‘A’s and impressive extracurriculars. Happily toiling away, I aspired to perfection and the promised success it would bring.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re motivated, and the fire under my ass was the dream of a brilliant -albeit poorly defined- future, all mine if only I put in the hours. So I did. I graduated from a good college with good grades and good internships under my belt, and I was rewarded with a good job.
Graduation came and went, and the job was everything I had imagined. I wore yoga pants to the office, clinked Apricot Ale from the beer cart with my fun, young coworkers, and the explosive growth of the company indicated massive career opportunities. And then… that was my life. That was it. I continued to work hard, but I wasn’t sure what I was working towards any more. Would the rest of my life be hours of commuting, endless happy hours, escaping on the weekend? All of a sudden the future stretched long and indefinite in front of me. It’s like I’d been hurtling down a tube slide my whole life, and I finally popped out into a large body of water. What is the best direction to go? And do I even know how to swim?
The year plugged along and I saved vacation days to spend two weeks in Europe. On the day I left, I emailed a friend about my current predicament:
“I keep flip flopping about work. On one hand my job is challenging and I have lots of growth in my role. My coworkers are all unbelievably cool, fun, smart, supportive, and positive. Couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be surrounded with. On the other hand, I’m not hugely passionate about software and I don’t get super excited thinking about my future in the field. I want to do something that’s more meaningful…
The other part of me wants to just quit my job, hop in a plane and go travel indefinitely and feel my way through my future. The pragmatic side of me doesn’t know how to deal with the idea of not having a plan or goal or safety net, but I’m wondering if that’s the only way it’s possible to push ourselves to be more than we are today? I am not sure, and it doesn’t seem like anyone has the answer.”
I hit ‘send’, hopped on a bus, and caught a flight to Europe knowing I wasn’t quite satisfied with life as it was, but unsure if the alternatives were realistic.
A Breath of Hungarian Air
My second night in Hungary, dread tightened my chest as I stepped off the train into the cool black night of a lakeside village, searching the quiet streets for a hotel.
“This looks like a fine place to sleep. We just need to find some cover,” said my travel companion, pointing to a patch of grass near the shore of the lake, barely a hundred yards from an empty bar thumping American pop music. I swear I gasped audibly. ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,’ I told myself, scared but wanting to go through with it. We proceeded to find a hotel ten minutes later (a single neon sign, lonely in the darkness), and I was safe until the following morning.
At dawn, I awoke to a day that would shatter my comfort zone. With the encouragement of my friend, we skinny dipped in broad daylight, navigated the countryside with a map, and hitchhiked from village to village. That night we did not find a hostel, and instead set up our sleeping bags under the porch awning of a closed down hostel. I curled into the smallest ball I could muster in hopes of not being seen by the owners who lived in the house next door. The rain beat down noisily on the awning and I awoke fearfully to footsteps and passing cars throughout my sleepless night.
When I opened my eyes in the morning, unscathed and alive, perhaps that was the moment I realized I’d been afraid of a world that wasn’t so scary after all. If I quit my job, hopped on a plane, and felt my way through my future, maybe everything would actually turn out just fine. In the days that followed it felt as though a force had cracked me open, releasing a great pressure in my chest.
I returned home and immediately put in my notice to quit. And the course of my future changed before my eyes.
Riding the Wave
I remember setting foot in San Francisco for the first time after I returned, when arriving downtown felt unreal. For my whole life I’d taken everything here so seriously, and now walking through it’s streets without my previous attachments it almost felt like I was a phantom walking through a city that I was no longer a part of.
Past Avalon, maybe she was there, maybe I’d run into her? She’d be getting a cappuccino from Blue Bottle on 5th Street and I’d see her and pause to watch, looking in dismay at her ignorance. Didn’t she know that there’s so much else happening in the world right now?
It’s been a weird few months. For a time I felt sure that throwing away all I had worked for was the correct decision. My former aspirations to a generic “success” lost their glossy sheen, as if they weren’t ever my own goals, but instead passed from above into my unquestioning hands.This wave of certainty that washed over me carried me until just recently.
Now, on days that my imagination is bountiful and daydreams run wild in my mind, the future seems bright and the possibilities endless. On other days, my stomach curls into the deepest corner of my gut, and fear dances in my throat: all my dreams are equally possible and yet so far from coming to fruition. I am paralyzed by choices. I no longer have a job. It’s my choice, of course, but it doesn’t make the vast emptiness of my future any less real.
I have a ticket to Mexico in one hand; the other is clenched in determination. For the first time in my life, my future is unwritten. I don’t expect the world to hand me happiness or success, but I do hope to use my brain as a guide and heart as a compass and make decisions that are all my own.