Another Year

When I started this blog almost five years ago (back in April 2008) I had this sort of myopic view of what I was attempting to do.  I was a manager at a Fortune 500 company, just past my 30th birthday, and in a fit of dissatisfaction with the nearly perfect life I had worked so hard to create, I decided to blow it all up and do the things I really wanted to do, consequences be damned, and see if that, that one change, could make me happy.

It didn’t make me happy.  It gave me happy moments, it changed my life, but it didn’t bless me with a new personality or a full frontal lobotomy.  I didn’t get happy, I got something else.  A life, maybe?  A clue?  An idea about what was important, what I want to do and how I really tick?  I can’t even blame it all on travel or changing my career (although I highly recommend both for the obvious and not-so-obvious reasons) but I also had a kid.  As much as changing your career can be a karmic kick in the butt, having a child and more importantly, falling in love with your child, in the way that feels exactly like the first big love of your life, except it’s completely one-sided and selfless, that really shifts your perspective.  For me, the last few years have been about love, balance, meaning, all the things I was missing as a young professional, but I had no idea what they were called or where to look for them.  So in 2008 I started looking.  We moved to Spain for three months, and that was all it took.  You can’t unsee, you can’t unseek, you can’t not know.  This was the little thing that was holding me back all these years:  my life will not fall apart if I do things differently.

Anyway, it took me a stupidly long time to realize that but then it unlocked all these other things.  I broke up with my mother in 2009.  Healthiest thing I’ve ever done, and if you are one of the unlucky ones with a dysfunctional parent, you’ll know what I mean.  I started my writing career.  I gave myself permission to try and fail at everything, so I did just that.  I wrote crappy pitches to glossy magazines, I tried (and failed) to get myself hired at Lonely Planet (thank god), I wrote some wonderfully awful short stories that did not get me placed in a prestigious writing program, I scraped by making a living, I wrote a blog, I took pictures, and I thought about what kind of writer I wanted to be…

I did a lot of thinking.

I’ve changed directions many times.  I’m probably more shaped by opportunities that found me than the other way around, but eventually I figured it out: big projects.  I wanted to spend a few years delving into a subject and I’ve gotten to do that, both as the writer of the documentary that’s coming out next year, and for the book that I’m working on now for Gotham/Penguin.

What was slowly forming through this process and the point of all of this is a very simple thing.  I am happy when I have meaningful work, the kind of creative/technical/research-driven work that takes all my proclivities towards excel spreadsheets and obsessive reading and funnels it into free-flowing creative work that lets me write or take pictures or make videos.  My happiness is a moving target that only slows down when I’m spending my days doing things I think, for whatever it’s worth, are important.

Travel gave me that.  It was a life coach for the low, low price of two years of my life, all my savings and my former career in software.  Cheap.

Oh but that’s not it, and this year I feel the shift so deep in my bones it hurts.  The other big piece is about having a family, being a mother to my son, understanding for the first time how much we need to hug and connect and laugh as human beings, because I’m raising a little human who’s teaching me this.  We slowed down our travel this year, splitting the year between Beijing, Beirut, and Thailand, but even still, we ended up traveling to seven countries and more than an around-the-world amount of flights.

Now I’m in my third trimester with our second child, setting up a home in Mexico, with our dogs, our toddler and of course, Drew, and my life is shifting harder, faster.  I used to think this blog was about taking a leap and changing my career, but now five years in, I don’t know that person anymore.  I leapt, I dove, I landed, and I kept going.  I have so many friends who have returned home, done with travel, but we’re still at it.  Why?  I think it’s because of that other piece, the meaning piece and finding things that are important that keeps me here because I don’t know how to do it back home.  I broke my life down and rebuilt it, but within the context of another country.  I don’t know how to live in the US and not buy stuff or swim in the tide of opinions about ‘what’s important’ — a tide I avoid overseas because I’m not local, I’m not held to anyone’s standards.  I keep traveling because I love these places but I can also have the life I want, without compromise or judgement.  I’ve found being an outsider so deliciously easy, I’m loathe to ever return.

So where do I go in 2013?  Back around full circle.  The baby will be here this winter, we’ll be a family of four, plus our two dogs, a semi-permanent home in Mexico, with half the year traveling in Taiwan.  I watched Christmas pass this year and felt a little lonely, and I know it’s time to have something of roots, especially for the kids, just not in the US.  I’m still seeking, trying to figure out the same things: love, balance, and meaning and every piece seems to get me a little closer.  If I try to imagine five years from now, I can’t, so that’s a good thing, I think.  I suspect my aspirations are greater than my ability to envision them, and that’s never bad (imagine if I had gotten my goal of being an executive by 40? Oh so sad for the person I was…).

The funny thing is that I’m still the same person as before in so many ways.  I still over-book myself with work, I’m still driven, I’m still big-hearted and too easy to adopt what Drew calls “stray dogs” into our lives (“but Drew, I can help them!”).  I still get really mad at the idea of injustice and even more mad when it’s happening to me (naturally).  I still have to feel like what I’m doing is important, in some way, or I disappear into myself.  But my shoulders are relaxed, I don’t have flashes of panic or gut-pangs as I’m having fun, where I suddenly remember the dreaded whatever-thing-at-work.  I get to be a stay-at-home mom and have a career at the same time, with my stay-at-home husband and partner.  My life is 90% about love, which is the best part of small children, you can say whatever you want, but the job involves a lot of cuddles, sweet moments and laughing.

It’s a good place to be, probably the best place I’ve ever been in my life.  2013, Mexico, a new baby, and more…  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

65 Comments

  1. Beautiful post. A life you choose is like driving a car, shifting up, shifting down, testing out different speeds and landscapes to find what’s right for you.

    I left a fun and secure travel job in Boston for the unknown in Asia nearly a decade ago, and have really enjoyed the ride. In a few years we’ll be moving to my husband’s home country (UK) and that’ll be an adjustment: of priorities, of culture and chocolate consumption (the weather there brings the most insane chocolate cravings). But it won’t be forever, just for a few years, for my UK passport and to get closer to extended family before they pass away. Eventually it’ll be the US for similar reasons, but in between, the whole world awaits.

  2. Not sure which quote hits home for me more, Christine:

    “You can’t unsee, you can’t unseek, you can’t not know. This was the little thing that was holding me back all these years: my life will not fall apart if I do things differently.”

    or…

    “I don’t know how to live in the US and not buy stuff or swim in the tide of opinions about ‘what’s important’ — a tide I avoid overseas because I’m not local, I’m not held to anyone’s standards.”

    The first (one simply cannot “unsee” nor “not know”), oh so true.

    And the second, yup – I’ve traveled 30+ years but only recently lived permanently abroad (for more than a year now) and… While living ever as a “foreigner” does have it’s down-side- ah but it’s ever so FREEING to not be held to some stereotypic cultural “standard”!

  3. Clearly spending the past five years honing your craft as a writer were well spent. I think one of the best things we can do when we put words on a page and publish them for the world to see is to put ones down that mean something to others as well. Reading this post, I feel maybe I am the you from five years ago that you have shed. That makes me excited to see where I’ll find myself five years from now; I hope I can look back on this post at that time see my own reflection. Certainly I see hints of that in it now, so thank you for that.

  4. Three sentences in this post really hit home for me; you put into words the rumblings in my head, so thank you for that. You’re an incredible writer with an amazing story. One of these days it’ll be one of your posts that makes me take a gigantic leap of faith in myself, I’m sure of it. Cheers.

  5. Such a beautiful and inspiring post, Christine! I can relate to this piece of writing in so many ways. I just had a discussion with my boss today about my future and what kind of person I want to be. I have dreams, big dreams that scare me a lot. But I know they’re worth fighting for. Maybe you will never fully comprehend how this post resonates to me, but it does. Thanks for this!

  6. Gutsy Christine! This 9-5er is cheering you and your tribe on from the cheap seats all the way!!! Keeping going and please keep writting!;0)

  7. Tracy A. Williams

    Thank you for a beautiful from-the-heart post. I, too, don’t know how to live in the U.S. anymore. And, by the way, can’t believe it’s already been a year since we had the Beijing bon voyage dinner at Miguel’s. So glad you made it back to CM for more Miguel’s and chat! :)

  8. Christine, it is interesting to follow the life of someone who has become “home-less” by choice, rather than background (because of moving around all the time as a child and even as an adult). Right now you have tiny children and they follow happily. They will certainly grow up to be flexible–you have to, when you move a lot. And multilingual, I hope!
    Best of luck for the future.

  9. Truly beautiful, gutsy writing from the heart. It’s amazing to know the path you’ve been on & the best part is that you’ve appreciated it. You see how life could be different, but you’re not letting it. Sadly, it’s easy not to appreciate the best things in life.

    And I’ll tell you one thing about being home, we’ve got a great community around us, but we’re still sort of outsiders, and I hope that doesn’t change.

  10. I’m with you about life in the US. We’ve only been doing this for almost 2 years, but I can’t imagine being able to return to the US. I don’t want to fall back into those traps. I don’t want to give up the freedoms I now have (i.e., ooh, let’s switch continents next week!). Sometimes I think my biggest fear is that I’ll end up having to try to make things work in the States the way I want them, and I’m not convinced that would work.

  11. Very stirring and inspiring post. You were so right to say 2 years is a small price to pay for happiness and fulfilment most people never find. Happiness and fulfilment some people never even start to look for.
    I relate to a lot in this post and hope to relate to a lot more at the end of 2013. My family is just begining our travel lifestyle. We have been met with some rather large obstacles while working to make our travel adventure a reality. This post gave me more fuel to keep breaking down barriers. Thank you.

  12. Emily Bugbee

    Prospero Ano Nuevo! Buena suerte con todo que viene en 2013!

  13. You’ve captured the moment well. We’ve also come full circle since leaving our old lives in 2009, but we’ve decided to return home an establish roots in the mountains of BC. Life sure is interesting when you choose to pay attention!

  14. What an inspiring post! I can tell it’s going to be one of those posts that will stay with me for a long time.

  15. I hear you Christine, especially when you write: ” I keep traveling because I love these places but I can also have the life I want, without compromise or judgement. I’ve found being an outsider so deliciously easy, I’m loathe to ever return.”
    I was lonely too during this Christmas despite having a wonderful husband here with me. My family is in Australia. To express my thoughts, I actually “borrowed” a quote from Danzy Senna that you might relate to:

    http://marinachetner.com/2012/12/25/seasons-sentiments-from-la/

    All the very best for the New Year to you and your family, and soon to be bub!
    xx

  16. I really enjoyed your post. We have lived in the same home for 24 years. Thirty years in California. Raised 2 kids. In 2 weeks my hubbie and I are moving out of our home, visiting family in Fla., and then moving to Puerto Vallarta. We have been going there 4-5 times a year for 8 years now, bought a condo in Nuevo Vallarta 5 years ago. The cost of living is soo much lower in PV and we prefer MX culture. We have been receiving nothing but dismay from others about our move. Thank you for the encouragement that we aren’t that strange after all.

  17. I can’t even tell you how much I love this post. I swear, you are me, perhaps five years in the future. Or I am a past version of you? I work at a fortune 500 company (as a video editor, no less) and am planning my escape (Fall 2013. Starting in Italy… beyond that, no clue). I broke up with my dysfunctional mother (and father) several years ago and mostly, I live to travel and loathe the marketing machine that drives the United States…
    Crazy.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Can’t wait to see your upcoming Doc.

  18. Christine, you were my first inspiration 3 years ago when I found your blog when we were in the infant stages of our own break-through, and couldn’t believe you had literally lived around the corner from us before you started your travels. Now, here we are, 2 weeks away from leaving on our family travels and you continue to inspire. I love reading about your journey and so appreciate your raw, honest reflections. I love the sentiment about having an easier time living the life you want to live because you’re a traveler and are always on the fringes. I think this is what attracts me to travel too. It’s not the sites necessarily that get me. It’s the benefits of fringe. We can be free to live as our family in our way, with no pressures (albeit self-perpetuated) from the culture around us. I can’t wait to get started!!

  19. I think this is my favorite post so far :)

    You’re discovering some of the things about motherhood that I’m barely discovering after 5 kids :) Mine came so fast, sometimes I think I didn’t have time to enjoy the ride.

    Enjoy Mexico! I love that country.

  20. Having also dropped my corporate job (six years ago) to actually get to know my son (then two), I completely relate to your life path. What a fabulous story. Enjoy your time in Mexico !

  21. Great post! The part where you say you wouldn’t know how to be back in the states resonates with me so deeply. I am so afraid if I ever return I will turn back into who I was there.

    Good luck on your exciting new year!

  22. “I’ve found being an outsider so deliciously easy, I’m loathe to ever return.”

    Insightful! I’ve started to feel this, but I didn’t quite know what it was until your phrase helped put it into focus.

    Yes, being an outsider is easy. At first being an outsider was hard. I like to feel smart and useful, and being completely outside of my box made me feel stupid and useless. That was hard to get used to. But now I find myself enjoying the sort of social immunity that being an outsider offers.

  23. “my life will not fall apart if I do things differently” I love this, all the best for the New Year!

  24. Pingback: Year End, Beginning Again | Wilderness, found

  25. Great, honest post Christine. This line hit my throat:
    “I don’t know how to live in the US and not buy stuff or swim in the tide of opinions about ‘what’s important’ — a tide I avoid overseas because I’m not local, I’m not held to anyone’s standards.”

    Now that I stay in the US a month and travel a month…I fight SO hard to be and stay different and not get back in that stream.

  26. Very inspiring story. It always made me want to try my best limit. Inspired by her writing, yes, i will quit my job, less than three month. And for the future, can we just smile and take a little risk. Be positive :)

  27. Penny Mercier

    Fearless, brilliant blogging, Christine! All good things in the New Year to you, Drew, Cole and your new baby.

  28. Lydia Nichole

    Thank you for this post and thank you for your blog. You inspire me.

  29. Life is full of Gives and takes, it just gets defined after the Actions we make! This is all I understood and felt in your beautiful experiences which you got from Traveling. Your Kid looks so cute and I am so curious to see the new toddler. Best of luck for your future life and traveling , Christine! Thanks

  30. This is one of the best things i’ve read in a long time! Very inspirational!

  31. Such good perspective and reflection. I’m challenged by your willingness to take the leap, to try and fail, to be shaped by where you find yourself. I really hope that you continue as your family grows, to seek and find what matters most. Wishing you all the best in 2013.

  32. This was so beautiful and so inspiring. Wishing you so much love and blessings for the whole family from DC.

  33. Hey Christine, just wanted to say bravo, I loved this post so very much, especially the part about creating boundaries in order to give yourself the space to live as you wish and be happy. I’ve said it before, but you guys are such an inspiration and I’m really excited for what 2013 holds for you.

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