I had a good gig at a non-profit organization, but yet I was still itching for a change. And so the job search began. I applied for various jobs in random cities. “Oh, I’ve heard Austin is cool,” “I’ve read Charlotte is a top 10 place for young professionals” and “I’ve always loved New York City,” I told myself.
I was lost. I wasn’t sure what my interests were, not sure of passions, and I had no idea why I was applying for jobs from Charlotte, North Carolina to Sydney, Australia. After a bit of reflection, I realized that I was lacking a sense of adventure, and I was struggling to find a sense of purpose and fulfillment. I was not in love with the life I was living, and a new job in a new city wasn’t going to change that. I needed to look within.
In previous years, I researched opportunities abroad, including volunteer work in Costa Rica, the Peace Corps, a Foreign Services Officer and an English teacher in Thailand. All seemed to be pretty decent ways to explore cultures and areas across the world while also engaging in meaningful work. Each time I started planning the logistics, I talked myself out of it. I was afraid of being different, afraid of stepping off the “safe” path, afraid that the pay wasn’t sufficient or quite simply afraid I might regret it.
On a summer morning in 2015, I decided it was no longer acceptable to be afraid. In college, I heard stories of people backpacking Europe on their summer breaks. Post-college, the idea would pop back into my head, but I never pursued it. “I need a paid job that allows me to travel,” I reminded myself. But on that summer morning, an article caught my attention while scrolling my newsfeed, and within two seconds, I had a new direction for my life. Backpacking through Europe was the perfect solution to the adventure and change I was seeking. More importantly, the break from my normalcy and routine would help me visualize a plan for my future, both personally and professionally.
My head was in the clouds. I had to tell someone my new plan. I shared the idea with a co-worker, who had become a close friend over the years, and to my surprise she was eager to join. Later that night, we dreamed of our big adventure over a bottle of wine. It became all the more real: WE WERE GOING TO BACKPACK EUROPE!
While I was fantasizing of a life across the pond, I was also missing my family, three and a half hours away in Louisville, Kentucky. I wanted to be part of Sunday night dinners again. I wanted to attend a basketball game with my dad on a weekday, have a girls’ day shopping with my mom and sister or grab a drink with my brother after work. I had been away from my family for seven years, and I knew I would be in a better place mentally if I spent more time with them.
While walking along the river with two girlfriends one fall evening, I made another two-second decision. Within three weeks, I had moved out of my Columbus, Ohio apartment and started a new job in Louisville. During my interview, I was honest about my desire to travel. They asked why I didn’t get a temporary job instead. That certainly would have been easier, but I wanted to work towards a career, grow as a professional and learn new skills. I did not want traveling to ever set me back professionally.
In my interview, I promised to work my butt off if they hired me. And for 10 months, I sure kept that promise. I was a team member they could count on. I volunteered for more projects, I showed initiative, I asked for additional responsibilities, I worked on Saturdays and I stayed late in the evenings. I was not going to let them down. As a result, I developed an admiration for my colleagues, and I took a lot of pride in my work. While I was part of the team for less than a year, I felt that I made a significant contribution to the company’s short and long term success.
Fast forward to November 2016, and I am returning from the trip of a lifetime. I recently stumbled upon the following quote, which accurately describes my three month adventure: “Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.”
When I left for my trip, all the negativity and distractions from my daily life went away. I was left with ample time to reflect on my values, my priorities and what is important to me. I acquired new skills and new interests along the way, and improved upon ones I had previously developed. My trip will never be seen as “work experience” on a resume, but the strengths and skills acquired are ones that people read about in leadership books, but rarely put into practice. I began living like the person I had always wanted to be. A person who values integrity, respect and curiosity.
Above all, my European trip taught me the importance of believing in yourself. You must always do what is best for you. There isn’t a right way to live your life. It is too short to not be madly in love with it. So, dare to be different. Be courageous. Take the leap. Trust yourself – both your heart and your brain. And above all, go after what is important to you. Your soul will thank you.