Photo: Emily Long
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Michelle, and for the last 20-something years, I’ve been living on a series of those moving walkways at the airport. Clearly defined paths have directed me from Point A to an over-analyzed Point B previously identified as the “optimal” next destination. I’ve dutifully followed their direction, lugging my baggage along behind me, thankful for the handy guard rails that keep me in line should a waft of Cinnabon threaten a detour.
Call it burnout, call it inspiration, call it losing my marbles: two weeks ago, I stepped off.
Living in New York, my “consultant” job title never made me unique. Rather, it successfully elicited an uninterested head nod and welcomed conversation change when asked what I did at cocktail parties. Nonetheless, telling people I quit my steady job at a flashy and sought-after consulting firm to take time off, travel the world, and pursue a writing career has made me feel – for the first time in my life – like a cliche. Just what the world needs: another unsatisfiable Millennial searching for fulfillment, armed only with a passport, an iPad, and two decades worth of parents enabling the delusion that I really can be anything I want to be.
Now when people nod, I see confusion in their eyes, not disinterest. I imagine they’re trying to picture me huddled over my laptop in an East Village coffee shop penning the next great American novel, but are instead able to conjure only images of me huddled over a hefty pile of rejection letters. Then again, it’s quite possible that their nods are actually gestures of encouragement and that the only one questioning my sanity is me.
“Wow, that’s exciting!” people say…and quickly follow with, “So what’s your plan?”
I hate this question.
The first few times I was asked this, I tried to earnestly explain that NOT having a plan is the whole point of this experiment. That for the first time in my life, I’m attempting to silence the dominant type-A version of myself that makes plans in five-year increments and instead let the dormant, “laissez les bon temps roulez” version call the shots. I tried to tell them this a period of exploration, that I need the time and space to find, rather than force, the answer.
But that approach, without fail, elicited references to “Eat, Pray, Love” that made me want to gag on my own banality. So now I simply answer, “Well, it ends with me moving back in with my parents, so let’s work backwards from there.” They laugh, and I make a quick getaway for the bar.
At a doctor’s appointment yesterday, I noticed a frame hidden in plain sight. It reads, “I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”
THAT is my plan. So far, I’m failing spectacularly. At best, I manage a few hours at a time before finding myself brainstorming my professional “next steps”. At worst, I lay awake at night vacillating between nagging regret and sheer panic.
Then again, I’ve been to this physician’s office dozens of times, and I was blind to this framed advice until yesterday. That’s got to count for something.
In just two days the first leg of my trip begins, kicking off nearly six months of international and domestic travel, writing, and explaining to my friends that yes, I really cannot afford to meet them for drinks anywhere other than the Trader Joe’s Wine Shop. Navigating new geographic and professional landscapes is going to be an adventure – the ups and downs of which I’ll do my best to document along the way – so be sure to check back for updates!