I will always have conflicting feelings about one of the hardest, while contrastingly easiest things I’ve done in re-evaluating my career at 26.
Three years ago, I quit my job to backpack South East Asia before moving to Ireland for a graduate visa and move in with my long-distance boyfriend. In what has to be considered a nomadic pattern, I made the decision quit my second career to do the same thing.
In my time after college, I’ve already lived a few lives: I have worked in television, I have worked with data entry for non-profits, I’ve been a paid photographer, I have been a publicist. I even worked for 7 years as a Bar/Bat Mitzvah dancer, but that’s a story for another time. I have done what I thought I needed to do to live a life I wanted.
My personality type would come close to what some may classify as a workaholic (actually, many people call it workaholism. I even call it that).
I was working two jobs at once for years, but, I was living a life in New York City where I was able to be comfortable, spend my money on what I wanted to, and put a ton in the bank as well. I made a lot of friends, and I kept saying to myself and others: This is the happiest I’ve ever been.
Things were good. Until they weren’t. Which is life, and many things do turn on a dime in reality. I tried to hold on as much as possible, truly. My company got acquired which changes management. It happens. But my friends were falling off like flies, and while my disposition for positivity and an elevated outlook is something I’ve been #blessed with, the mundane minutia that had plagued my past co-workers finally built up for me after a year and a half.
After work, I would go to an event through Instagram, and while I knew I could always say no, an opportunity for free food and drinks with a cool company made it much more difficult to decline. I hit the point where I asked my friend Sam, who had also recently quit her job, at what point are you miserable enough at work that you know you should quit your job?
As soon as the words came out of my mouth, it seemed irresponsible not to hear what projected out of me, and the answer had to be: immediately.
I knew if I was going to visit Australia, I’d need an extended amount of time to do so. And if I was going to do it, I would have to quit my job first. So here we were. Early one morning, post an aggressive summer ritual of running, shower, coffee and journaling (another regimented segment of my day that I had translated to freedom), I decided this was it. I cried. I am not one to let go of my emotions and break down. In fact, I’ve trained myself, out of bad habits and a particular shadow part of myself I’m still working through, to turn off the crying. But this was an emotion that was quite literally unstoppable. It was so powerful, and it was catharsis. After working my ass off at a full time job that was, frankly, extraordinarily unrewarding, I was doing something good for me.
Americans, by culture, are trained to go straight to college, to get a job, stay in that job, and work until you die with two weeks of vacation per year. Deuces. Don’t argue with me. Even if you’re all “peace and love” and have a quaint coffee shop or book shop or bike shop or any shop, and have crawled out of a Folk Thought catalog, and you live life “how you want it!!!”, I am convinced that our American ethos has seeped into your blood. Choices made beyond the grain are looked at strangely. Even if you’re responded to with a “congratulations!”, there’s often, more times than not, a basis of fear. The “congrats” might be followed by: “I could never do that” or something along the lines, but that has become a buzzing. Because I know they could do that. I decided I was just braver.
Even in an age where 17% of millennials are quitting their jobs with nothing lined up, the mindset has tortured me. Whether or not you look at the fact that my grandmother has been a CEO two times over, or that I come from a very comfortable North Eastern bubble (there are still photos out there with my double-popped-collar Lacoste polos with a bow in my hair to match the alligator), but leaving my job physically was a hell of a lot easier, and quicker, than leaving it mentally.
I don’t mean this in any way to talk down to those who are afraid of cutting against the grain, or to project how much I struggled with this with a nice sugar coating of “I’m better than you because of it”: backpacking is surely an experience that is unfathomable to many. Your entire life for X amount of time fits in one bag. There are days on end when you can’t or don’t shower. There are early mornings and nights you go to sleep never knowing what time it is. There are day long bus rides, flights, and rooms shared with people you’ve never met and you probably won’t even speak to, and their snores will keep you up all night and you’ll never be closer to wanting to punch someone or hold a pillow over their face.
However: seeing the world, constantly meeting new people with new stories and with some who will have opposing views about my own culture, will offer the opportunity to open yourself to philosophies that will expand.
One day, were waiting for our lunch to finish cooking when myself, two Danish guys, a British guy and a Finnish girl were having conversations about our education systems. Dutchy mentioned that many Danish people don’t go to University until they know what they want to study, because otherwise, the money is a waste. Why learn about the geography of volcanos if I was never going to touch the subject in my future career? (I did take a class on geography which obviously is doing me no good as I sit in a cafe writing this with a four course meal I just took pictures of.) Why party and barely get by passing a class when you’re spending so much money to learn and set up a life for yourself? (I never didn’t pass a class, but I did fail a French test which I’ll never forget and also blame my teacher for teaching us out of a book.) I went to the University of Massachusetts, fondly known to the internet as Zoomass. I felt I was well versed enough to broach both topics of talking to being a professional as well as drinking five nights a week my senior year because our friends didn’t want to miss one moment singing along with two older men who performed at our bar every Wednesday night to play every 90’s and early 2000’s throwbacks.
I believe you are allowed to be yourself wholly much more abroad than you are in a structured life of a 9-5 in one city. Your ideas will be heard, and you’ll soak in what others have to say too because strangely enough, it probably aligns with your ideas, they might just have taken another route to get to the same thought. But there’s a depth to these conversations. Everyone wants to know your opinions on your president and you have to be embarrassed for your entire country. In one day of meeting someone, plus a bag of Goon (think Franzia but sweeter), and you may find yourself having a conversation from what your tattoo means to your thoughts on abortion and your purpose in what you’re looking for in your life. Worst case scenario, you never see them again. All these people are searching for something. I wasn’t a runaway. I was just finding myself a different way; one that a lot of other people outside my bubble have taken the route of.
Most of my conversations serpent-ed their way to my ingrained fear of being unemployed when I got home. I chose to give up a salary and a 401k to put real life on pause. To rationalize, I had now seen three weeks more of the world than anyone at home had in that amount of time. I met people who were figuring out their lives alongside mine, who were able to teach me something about the world and ultimately about myself. It wasn’t running away. It was running toward something I wasn’t physically going to be able to find in New York. I let go. I let days pass in the sun and wrote. I took pictures and laughed. I wasn’t bolted down to my seat in a panic trying to juggle six hotel accounts, endless emails, an Instagram feed and god forbid my mental health.
I stopped living the life that made made me cry literal tears of happiness once I decided to leave. There has been immense clarity in lessening the kung-foo grip I had on the world to succeed in every facet from work to relationships to going out and purely just getting it all done.
The thing about money is that it’s always going to be there if you need to find it. The thing about your 20’s is they kind of fucking suck but you’re figuring out who you are as a goddamn human being. The thing about life is that it’s really short. You don’t need me to tell you that, but it’s a lot more fun if you’re behind the steering wheel instead of something else driving you.
Getting acclimated back into a world of high pace, high energy that is the heartbeat of New York City after being stripped of its grasp on my soul completely, has been, in a word, whirlwind.
Not a day has gone by that I haven’t opened my laptop to look for a job. I had a job interview two days after I touched down at home. That part of me, and New York, will not stop. I’ve just learned to grab the bull by the horns and ride until it calms itself instead of getting jerked around and thrown off.
On my last tour de Liza, I was on a Greyhound tour in Germany where I met a group of Americans around my age. We made small talk and I learned, by American standards, that they were all doing a hell of a lot better in their careers than I was (really probably anyone’s standards since they were making money, and I was not). When I mentioned that I wasn’t working at the time, a comment shrouded in self pitying embarrassment, Danielle, the wife of a Navy Seal, with a home and a pool, told me that regardless of whatever situations we both had, we were both on the same bus. I think that’s one of the most profound things anyone has ever told me. It was a statement that just brings you straight back into reality. Out of your head and in the very moment that you’re in.
As happy as I truly am with the decision I made, I will always have a sharp thought that will jump to the front of my mind in a “what are you DOING?!" moment from time to time. But, I have to hope that when you let go of control, that’s when life finds you. I finally have time to figure out what it is I want to do without the panic of needing a job. Just wanting one.
As I finished writing the first draft of this, I got an e-mail from a pick-up and drop-off laundry service that my laundry was $60.