I can’t count the amount of times in the last few months I’ve said how exhausted and frustrated I am. Or how many evenings I’ve grumbled as I caught 20 minutes of alone time in the parking lot of the restaurant where I work evenings and weekends – after I spend 8+ hours a day sipping coffee and typing furiously at an office job – about how I’ve begun to feel like I’m not actually living my life. Lately I’ve been feeling pretty trapped; trapped financially (though what 20-something who went to college in the US isn’t?), trapped by my past choices (to do things like backpack through Europe) and trapped by new dreams I’ve been working towards (have I mentioned I’m moving to Italy in 2016?).
Is this a necessity, though? I built my life for more than half a year upon the belief that it was, and was losing myself in the process.
In the mean time a spectacular autumn – with warm weekends perfect for hiking, evenings great for patio drinks on St Anthony Main and afternoons calling out for bike rides along the colorful Mississippi – came and went, without me for the most part.
I made it to Duluth one weekend, the first since July, and I felt like I was stealing something from another part of my life the whole time. I remember driving down Summit Ave in St Paul on a rare evening off and enjoying the trees with such magnificent colors, such golden light filtering through to my skin, and thinking, “Wow. This is why I moved home.”
In fact, I gave up a steady job, incredible roommates, California’s endless summertime adventures and so much more when I moved back to Minnesota. But for the last 8 months, I’ve been commuting and working, not really living.
So I did something crazy: I quit my day job. One I had been convinced was a dream job, a place I could see and feel myself growing.
It was my friends and family who pushed me to the “it doesn’t have to be like this” realization. Either by their looks of profound horror when I described a typical week of 4 weekdays leaving the house at 7:15 and coming home at 10:00 as well as weekend evenings at the restaurant, or a gentle question of “Are you sure you won’t make enough only waitressing to make this week?” I was exhausted and ashamed of how many things I said I wanted to do, or planned to do which I’d fallen through on in the last few months. I was convinced that this was the only way, and if I wanted to save more I needed to take more and more shifts at the restaurant.
It was in the middle of all of this when over dinner my uncle did the math which proved I would, in fact, make enough money by only waitressing – more money, actually – and take back at least 20 hours of my week.
I argued though that I couldn’t possibly give up a “real” job, a profession I went to college for, or make my resume look any more chaotic than it already does. No, staying until August when I was planning on moving to Italy makes a lot more sense. Then he broke apart my world view with the statement I knew to be true, but wasn’t admitting to myself: “If you’re moving to Europe and want to write, you’re destroying your resume anyway. Just own it and get on with doing what you really want to do.” He reminded me that we don’t actually owe our jobs any more than our best effort while on the job, for the hours we’re paid for. We don’t have to stay with them, even if it’s an inconvenient time of the year to quit. Even if you know how helpful you are to the team. It’s just a job.
I’ve advocated many times to do the thing that scares you most. But in truth, I’m not sure I’ve ever nailed down what scares me most. Even buying a one way plane ticket to Europe wasn’t that scary to me. But when I realized I could – and should – quit this job, I was utterly terrified. In a paralyzing way. I remember clutching my glass of wine, looking back and forth between my mom and uncle, begging “What? Really? What?”
When all of this happened, I had just been saying to an acquaintance that I felt ready to jump off my next cliff in life. And I really meant it. But be careful what you ask for, because just a few days later, I stood at the edge of this unspeakable precipice, looking up, down, backwards yelling “no – no I didn’t mean this kind of cliff!”
But then I did it. And I can’t believe how happy and free it has made me.
One of the hardest things for me to nail down in this decision was that I know there are seasons in one’s life where hard work needs to get done. But there are other times when I need to pull the rip chord and take a new direction. I wouldn’t take away the experiences of the last year, no matter how thin they wore me.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in this time, including that I work really well in cycles: a period of serious, hard work, followed by a period of seriously fun play. This is not a 9-5, typical American job. And I realized while I was on the road that I don’t need a typical American job to pay my bills and live my life. While I was traveling, I kept thinking about how I wanted to create an entirely new kind of life, to be creative and take risks and build something that allowed me to do all of the things that are most important to me. I know that there will be seasons of hard work in this life, but they don’t need to consume me. There are other ways.
And there is so much other work to do! Work which I’d never accomplish without taking this big step. I’m getting certified to Teach English as a Foreign Language, I’m working on the draft of a novel and a memoir, and I’m saving money to move to Italy at the end of the summer. Plus, now I have time to see my friends, explore my home for the next few months, and – god forbid – read a book or two.
It was hard and terrifying, and I still do the math nearly every day to prove to myself that it’s actually working (and it is, it really is!). I’m so proud of the professional career I’ve built. It’s been so exciting to see the payoffs of my efforts professionally. But I know that there are more important things to me, and adventures I want more than whatever will happen behind the desk of someone else’s office.
My own laptop upon my own kitchen table has more possibility for me right now.