What a year. It’s hard to believe that one year ago I had just bought my plane ticket to Chile. I still knew absolutely no Spanish, and I had no idea where my life was headed. As we approach the holiday season, I thought to stop for a moment and reflect on the past year, as well as how I got here in the first place.
The year has been filled with adventure, making new friends, learning a new language, a new culture and most of all – finding my way back to happiness.
I don’t know how long I’d been unhappy. For those of you who know me, you might not have suspected that I was unhappy at all. This was purposeful. First, no one wants to be around an unhappy person. Second, I had so very much to be grateful for. I had a warm, safe place to live, beautiful friends and family who loved me, all the new clothes, nice car and fabulous vacations a person could possibly want. Third, I firmly believed that I just needed to find my way. If the job wasn’t right, I’d find a new one. If the city needed changing, I’d change it.
Even I didn’t know how fundamentally unhappy I’d been.
Then one day I was sitting on my balcony in Viña del Mar, sipping my wine and thinking, “what if I stayed?”. My heart’s exuberant response of “yes!!!” shocked me. Really? Leaving my beautiful life and starting over in a foreign country (in which I still didn’t speak the language and knew no one) was the solution?
But I could not ignore that “yes!!!”. Especially because the history behind that response told me that this was not some whimsical notion. This was not the result of a woman on vacation. This came from a place of deep certainty. This came from a place of having done everything “right” – the right degrees, the right jobs, the right opportunities, the right everything – and still searching for something. In the previous 5 years, I had gone from working in the Pentagon, to deploying to Afghanistan, to being a full-time PhD student, to working gender integration in the Marine Corps. I felt I had literally done it all. I had done everything “right”; I had been “responsible” and gotten all the “rewards” we are taught to strive for and value. Yet, none of it made me happy.
This “yes” also came from a place of having already eschewed all of the “right” things, of having left my really nice, secure job in the Pentagon and becoming a poor PhD student. I gave up the nice clothes and nice cars and nice vacations to read and write and study. I made about $20,000/year. I loved it. I felt freer than I had in years. Then it became clear that I was going to spend another 5-7 years on this degree, that it was going to be extraordinarily painful (for various reasons, some of you know), that it might not even be the project I wanted it to be. Suddenly it seemed like not such a great idea anymore.
I wasn’t sure if I should leave the PhD program. I don’t just quit things.
But I do love to jump. So I chose to do something I hadn’t done in a decade. I chose to travel, just because I could. The original plan was Chile, Germany, Australia. I never intended to stay anywhere. This was always just supposed to be my year off, with the savings I had from my Afghanistan deployment.
And when I’m brave, good things happen.
That has been my mantra for 2017. I offer it to you for 2018: When we are brave, good things happen.
I began the year at a yoga retreat in the hills of North Carolina. I was feeling lost, and definitely wanting to be as far from NYE parties and fancy clothes as humanly possible. My little retreat (complete with snow and ice) was perfect. It offered the tranquility I was seeking. It offered the time and space for me to contemplate – what was missing and what I wanted next.
I discovered that I had done everything I had ever set out to do, and more. All the goals I set in my 20s had been realized. I finally admitted to myself that I am an incredibly strong, capable, smart, determined, good person. Life had thrown a lot my way, especially in the past 5+ years. But I had gotten through all of it – really well, actually.
So I decided to push my capabilities in 2017. I decided to see what I was really capable of, and see what I could do with this next year.
Each time I felt afraid, I remembered this mantra. It became kind of a game. What am I capable of today? Can I figure out how to order coffee in Chile? Can I get change for the micro (bus)? Can I run 5 miles a day, 3 times a week again? Can I make my Marine Corps Reserve career work from afar? Can I really move to a foreign country, all on my own? Can I find a job, a place to live? Can I make friends??
Oh, the payoffs of being brave! You have seen most of them, as I share my stories with you. I always thought of the alternative – I could go home. I could return to D.C., find a job and settle back into my previous life. But I always found the unknown more appealing than the known. I cannot count the number of times I have taken a deep breath, paused, and gone ahead and done the scary thing anyway. And you know what? All those things I was afraid of weren’t usually as bad as I feared. Of course, sometimes they were, but you know what else? That just proved that I could handle it.
I still am not sure what I want next. How long will I stay in Chile? I don’t know. What will I do next? I don’t know. But I’m becoming comfortable with that uncertainty (very Buddhist of me, I know!). I’m becoming comfortable with my ability to figure things out. I don’t know what’s next. I do know that the most important things in my life are my relationships with my family and friends, my health and happiness and feeling like I’m really living.
And I am living. Love and hugs to everyone for a healthy, happy and amazing 2018!! (some of my favorite pictures from the year below)