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.