A couple times when I’ve said that I’m taking a year off work, people have asked if I’m ‘doing the Cheryl Strayed Wild ’, or if this is my ‘Eat, Pray, Love thing’. I get what they’re saying and I'm a big fan of both writers, but the difference is that they were both in extreme situations where leaving was the only option to make it better. I never felt like I didn’t have a choice; I just came to the realization that I had an opportunity in front of me and I chose to take it.
My life was actually pretty good, it just wasn’t exactly heading in the direction I wanted to take it. I figured it would be better to be proactive in straightening it out now before I found myself stuck in a place where it was too late to change. What I think a lot of people, myself included, forget is that you can pretty much do whatever you want as long as you’re not hurting anyone. When you get to the place where people are depending on you and you still need to leave, that’s when it becomes a bonafide midlife crisis.
My rock bottom is almost embarrassing to share, because it wasn’t really that bad, and I don’t want to trivialize other people's more serious issues. This past spring, I was trying to sell my old Hyundai Elantra on Craigslist, and one morning a lady called with questions about my car. My dad helped me buy that car 10 years earlier and I'm not at all a car person, so I started feeling overwhelmed by her grilling me like I worked at a car dealership. It got to the point where she was close to being condescending, saying it was cute that I didn’t know much about cars, and asking if I had a dad or a husband who could tell her if it was a 4-cylinder or a 6-cylinder engine. I told her I’d find out and call her back, which I never did, and I was really annoyed after we hung up.
It was a Saturday, and my friend Bri and I had made plans to go tea tasting in Northwest Portland. Just as she came to pick me up, I realized I’d left my debit card at the ATM that morning, and I completely lost it. I hardly ever cried so I had no idea where it was coming from and Bri was probably even more confused than I was, but she drove me back to the bank to look for it and listened patiently while I explained what had happened with the lady from Craigslist. She suggested cancelling my dinner plans with the guy I was seeing at the time, who responded ‘You can be pretty dramatic sometimes, can’t you?’ [I’m not including that part to be mean-spirited; it just seems really funny now.]
I really think that everyone should be encouraged to take a year off, because it's so easy to get tunnel vision with what's on the plate in front of you that you completely forget about the big picture. I knew this trip would be fun and that I'd regret it if I passed it up, but I didn't know how good it would be for me until I was about 2 weeks in.
By then, the distractions of my normal life had started to fade out and with no set agenda, I could take on each day by figuring out what I wanted to do instead of what I had to do. When you have the freedom to do whatever you want every day, it becomes obvious that that's the important stuff, and the best part is that I still have plenty of time to figure out how to permanently include those things in my routine when I go back to the real world. I've also found having room to make mistakes is necessary, because it alleviates the pressure of being the best at everything. I don't claim to be a writer, photographer, surfer, cook, or yogi, but I can write, take pictures, surf, cook, and do yoga just for the sake of learning something new or improving a skill.
Since I started this post with an Eat, Pray, Love reference, I'll end by talking about an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert I heard one time that really stuck with me. She was saying how important it is to foster creativity, and how she was once asked if she was concerned that she was encouraging everyone to make art, because someday the world will be filled with bad art. She was basically horrified at the idea that people would stop making art because they believed that right was reserved for the elite few, and that the process of being artistic is more important than the end result. You can hear the full interview here.