A number of people called me brave when I quit my marketing career of 11 years to volunteer in India. A handful more said, “I wish I could do that!” when I set off afterwards to travel solo for a year around Southeast Asia and Latin America. Maybe in their eyes, yes, and somewhat in my own, but those weren’t the bravest places I went.
No, that was home.
At age 39 I was a bit late to the whole “quit my job to travel” thing. My career was solid, but my soul was dry. I didn’t want a mortgage, and a corporate job really didn’t suit me, but I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do as an adult. It took me longer than I would’ve liked to figure that out, but at least I eventually did. My three months of volunteering plus an additional 12 of traveling changed me as much as it would any person. You’re just not the same afterwards. I grew accustomed to poverty, resigned myself to mosquito bites, always held tight to my belongings and got used to feeling old around 20-something backpackers who talked about amazing party hostels and 2 for 1 drinks (ok, the 2 for 1 drinks I could get behind). It became my new norm, far from the conference calls and bottomless inbox of my previous life.
I knew at some point I’d have to buy that plane ticket back to LA, and the catalyst was my mom wanting me home for Christmas. No matter how old you are, mom can still pull those strings. A week before I came home I couldn’t sleep. I was anxiety-ridden about being asked, “What’s next?” Because you see, I didn’t know. I was returning home without a plan. Would I go back to the corporate world and get a so-called normal job? No. That much I knew. When I really thought about it, being a location-independent freelancer was what I wanted. Sipping watermelon juice while writing SEO copy or being inspired by a temple for my next travel post or riding a camel as I contemplated marketing strategies- now THAT I could get behind. But how to go about it? I picked up a few consulting gigs during my travels, but not enough to sustain me. Could I afford to search for remote-only jobs and create a patchwork of income? The outlook was unclear, and at 40 that can be a bit unsettling.
But for some strange reason I’m not afraid. I can’t for the life of me tell you why because all signs point to panic mode. My savings is dwindling and I’ve regressed to starving student status. Thankfully I have friends and family with spare rooms and stocked refrigerators. The idea of starting over is both exhilarating and debilitating. Ideas swarm through my head and I keep trying to catch one long enough to figure out what to do with it. In the meantime I housesit for friends and cook meals in exchange for a roof over my head. I sometimes meet old work colleagues for happy hour, listening to stories that begin with, “Oh, listen to the latest bright idea so-and-so had.” I may not know what’s next, but I’m glad it’s not that.
LA can be difficult for those taking the path less traveled. It’s a place where the second question out of someone’s mouth when first meeting you (after “What’s your name?”) is “What do you do?” I don’t blame people in their knee-jerk questioning as it’s totally natural, but it makes you realize how much of a person’s identity is wrapped up in their job. Especially when yours is on hiatus.
For now I’ll keep plugging away on borrowed couches until I make enough money from freelancing to comfortably take off again. I don’t know where I’ll go or when, but I’m ok with that. I finally feel authentic to who I am and brave enough to look those corporate denizens in the eye, own my choices and say, “I don’t know what’s next.”
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