Back in April of this year I decided to leave my job of six years to embark on a dream of extended travel. This has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself, but it was one that did not come easily. That’s putting it mildly. It’s actually a decision that only came after excruciating battles with myself and my fears. For those who may be facing their own internal struggles with dreams that seem to great here’s how I overcame the war with myself to follow my heart.
The dream of setting off for a few months to see the world is one that became pervasive in my life over the past few years, but it’s actually been a lifetime in the making. I’ve always had a deep curiosity about the world and an intense desire to see it for myself.
On a weekly basis while growing up I would check out library books about other countries and relished the time in my favorite class, Geography, to learn about other cultures. I am incredibly grateful to my middle school geography teacher, Ms. Popa, for organizing an EF Tours student trip to Europe when I was 13. It was my first time out of the country, and we visited London, Paris, and Barcelona. That trip changed my life. It showed me that it was actually possible to travel to these places I’d read about, and I wanted to do more of it.
When I was in college I did a month-long study abroad program through AIFS at Collège International de Cannes. This was such a wonderful opportunity to experience a place for an extended amount of time. It taught me about how other countries view life and the enjoyment of it. I learned about how easy it is in Europe to hop on a train and be whisked away to an amazing location.
My study abroad experience made me want to see the world in more of this extended, in-depth way. As I approached graduation I looked into ways to do this after completing my college career. To take off on that well-worn backpacker trail across Europe.
Despite my dreams and research it didn’t happen. It wasn’t something I could afford at the time, and I thought I needed to follow the next logical step in my life and go to grad school and then get a job.
During that time I got so frustrated with not being able to get out into the world that I stopped watching the Travel Channel and House Hunters International. Why would I want to watch Samantha Brown explore the wonders of Greece when I couldn’t do the same myself?
After getting a full-time job and vacation days I started thinking seriously again about places I wanted to visit. I used the opportunity that I had to leave the country when I could and see other parts of the U.S. I thoroughly enjoyed these trips, but they only whet my appetite and made me want to see even more.
As I was visiting more places and meeting more people I started getting invitations to visit various countries. Friends in Paris, journalists in Tajikistan, acquaintances in Australia. More of the world was opening up, and I started to get stressed about how I was going to see it all.
One night in the course of conversation with my dad I started talking about travel opportunities for the upcoming summer. In the course of trying to come up with a plan I jokingly and flippantly said, “How am I supposed to go to all these places…unless I leave my job?”
Psssh, what an outrageous statement.
After I hung up the phone, however, the thought stayed with me for the rest of the night, and a new question arose: Why not?
Why couldn’t I go off and see the world in the manner I wanted, at my own pace, setting an itinerary for myself? Why couldn’t I shake up my own life and set a course for new opportunities? Why did that have to seem so outrageous?
Why not? Well for one thing it seemed like that time in my life had passed. I had turned 30, and the idea of leaving everything behind to travel seemed like something to do in your 20s but not for a woman in her 30s.
That was one of the most daunting things about facing my 30th birthday: thinking about the things I hadn’t done in my not-so-wild 20s. Things I couldn’t do now because in my head the fun is supposed to stop. By 30 you’re supposed to have gotten that out of your system and start getting your act together to settle down.
But then I thought, who says your 30s can’t be a time for adventure? Why am I dictating my life based on what an arbitrary “they” has to say? (Now I’m starting to sound like DJ Khaled.)
The more I thought about it the more it seemed like this was probably the most opportune time in my life to do something like this. Unlike in my 20s in my 30s I had actually saved money for my travels so that I could do a big trip. I was unmarried with no kids, and while there were no obvious prospects on the horizon I didn’t know what the next few years would hold. It seemed like a good time to take advantage of not being tied to anyone and really live my life for me.
The next answer to “Why not?” was my job. This wasn’t just any ole run of the mill, clock in 9-to-5 job. It was literally my dream job. I majored in sports management and got my MBA in sports marketing. I was working in the NFL, which had been my goal since I was 18. I had worked so hard to get to this point, so why would I be foolish enough to give it up?
I enjoyed what I was doing, but I had been thinking about living in a different city and exploring some other growth areas in my career. Maybe this would actually be a good time to hit pause and reset before making a career move.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being ungrateful. I had a great job and a good life, so why wasn’t that enough? Once your dream comes true what happens next? It took a long time for me to realize that desiring personal growth doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive with gratitude for what you already have.
The major thing holding me back was fear, the big f-word that stops so many of us from following our hearts. I was afraid of how leaving my job would affect my reputation. I thought if I did something like this I would be seen as flaky and irresponsible. I was especially concerned about how this could affect a job search in the future. I didn’t want to come off as being unreliable.
The thing I was most afraid of was the actual act of resigning. That moment of walking into my boss’s office to say I’m leaving. I didn’t know what the response would be, so I just didn’t do it. For over a year.
With all these thoughts swirling around in my head I decided to get some outside advice. I started reading blog posts and articles from other people who had taken career breaks. It was encouraging to see that other people had done it and survived!
I listened to a podcast called Keep Your Daydream about people who have stepped out of the box to pursue travel adventures. One of the guests shared a Nelson Mandela quote saying, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” Wow. Operating out of hope instead of fear means changing your whole way of thinking. For me it meant a new way of looking at my life decisions. But could I actually do it?
I was starting to feel more urgency to pursue my dream, but I still wasn’t sure. I wanted to know if I would be killing my career. I met with some trusted industry colleagues to see if I was really crazy for even considering this. The feedback I got was all positive. Everyone was so encouraging and made me so excited about the possibility of going that it started to seem too good to be true. I couldn’t really go through with something like this, could I?
I went back and forth in fits and starts for over a year. I thought I would get up the courage to do it but just couldn’t let myself follow through. Then earlier this year I had a conversation with my dad that really shook me up.
This idea, this dream, this vision had become a constant in my life. It was such an intense feeling that I carried with me every day. And yet…I knew I wouldn’t actually do it. I didn’t have the guts. I was just not that kind of girl who could do something so bold. It seemed too rebellious, and I always followed the rules. Embarking on a great adventure was something for other people to do; something cool to read about, but not possible for me. I always did exactly what was expected.
At that point I broke down crying. I knew my dream was actually dying. I hated myself for not being the type of person who could go after what I want.
In the moment when I felt my worst something inside me switched. I couldn’t let this be my forever reality. I knew that if I didn’t pursue something I felt so deeply because I was afraid, it would set a horrible precedent for the rest of my life. What else would I give up out of fear? I didn’t want to be a person who’s afraid to live. I knew that I had to move forward.
Once I made my decision the next thing to do was actually go through with it. Yikes!