I write a lot about taking big leaps.
I've written about feeling the fear and doing it anyway, having faith, trusting your gut, choosing freedom and adventure and aliveness.
As it turns out, taking a big leap isn't a one-and-done kind of thing. Leaps of faith can be chosen time and time again. Big choices are always available to be made. There is always a way out. There are always more options than you might think there are.
I learned this recently.
Truth is, returning to the U.S. after 16 months of solo world travel was rough. I've written about this a bit in my weekly newsletters, but I really struggled in those first few months. I hardly remember my first few days back in Connecticut — but what I do clearly remember is sobbing violently in the front seat of my sister's Rav4 that I borrowed to take to Target while she was at work one day. I do remember being so ashamed of sleeping on friend's couches that I could barely reach out to accept the towels I was being given to shower with. I do remember feeling out of place, painfully self-conscious, more than just jet-lagged, embarrassed.
It was awful.
I felt so confused and shaken — how did I go from being ridiculously happy, happier than I'd ever been, to completely downtrodden and hopeless? Hadn't I just been living life on the other side of the world, taking adventures and doing new things and feeling independent and exhilarated? Suddenly I was back in my hometown, without a job or a car or a home or a plan.
I knew I'd be returning at some point. I knew my visa for Australia was only for one year, I knew I didn't have tons of money to keep traveling with, I knew staying with my parents for a period of time was inevitable.
The thing is, I assumed a plan would appear. I had trust that the Universe would pull through — after all, hadn't it done that for the past year and a half? I felt almost zero anxiety about what would happen next — I just had faith that the next step would materialize.
And then my plane was landing in New York, the ground growing closer and my fear growing stronger.
I left Australia with a distinct sense of I'm-not-meant-to-be-leaving-here-yet. I told everyone this. It didn't seem real. It felt wrong, deep in my bones. And yet, my flight was scheduled for the very last possible day that I could legally stay in the country, and so I had to leave. Full of tears and a stomachache, I flew to Kuala Lumpur, and then Jakarta, and then Jogjakarta. I finally arrived at 5AM in a hostel in the middle of the jungle, no wifi, no hot water, only squat toilets.
The culture shock was real.
I meant to stay for a couple of days, but with Eid-al-Fitr going on and trains and buses being fully booked, I ended up being stuck there for an entire week. But, trusting, I just let go and sunk in to that special little place in the middle of Indonesia. I found The Alchemist on the community bookshelf and read it on the little futon in two days. I made good friends. We took a group photo. I shared a motorbike rental with a British man and we drove everywhere together. (Particularly the restaurant down the road that had wifi.) I went to a UNESCO World Heritage Site at sunrise. I took an Indonesian cooking class. I immersed myself in this very non-Australian world.
From there I experienced my worst Asian bus ride ever and climbed a volcano and took a ferry to Bali. In Bali I learned how much I disliked Bali. Compared to Java, it was touristic and fake and lacked culture. The coffee was terrible and I didn't drink it and so I got migraines by 3PM every day and puked more times than I can count. I made my way to the more rustic interior of the island where I proceeded to get a bacterial infection from the food or water and shivered and shook and vomited and cried on the top bunk of a hostel for a week straight. It poured almost the whole time I was there and goodness, did I hate Bali.
Before I got on the plane in Sydney, I was forced to buy a plane ticket on the spot at the counter, unaware that one needed an outbound ticket from Indonesia within the month of a tourist visa in order to board the plane. (Which I think is more just dependent on which ticket agent you get, and how committed they are to following the rules.) And so I spontaneously purchased a ticket for a month later to the cheapest destination, just to get out of the country — Singapore.
So despite my quite-serious illness, I stayed in Indonesia for a full month. I was running out of money and couldn't leave soon enough. I planned to stay two nights in Singapore with a friend of my sister's, and then fly to L.A. via the Philippines.
Singapore was anticlimactic (though I did eat at a Michelin Star-rated food cart which was pretty cool, and got to take a real shower which was heavenly) and I just wanted to go home.
Finally, in late-July, I left Singapore. I had a quick layover in the Philippines and landed in L.A. for a few days with a dear friend. I then left L.A., had a 12 hour layover in Minnesota which meant I got to see another dear friend, and then I was flying to New York.
After sixteen months. Home. (Or was it?)
I landed at JFK in the evening and after all the time zones I'd been through, I had no idea what time it felt like. It was dark and rainy and chilly. In the last hour of my flight, I watched the ground looming below me. The closer and closer it came, the more and more I started panicking.
I wasn't ready to be landing in New York. I wasn't ready to give up the sky. I didn't know when my next flight would be. I had no other adventure planned. As the plane abruptly landed on the tarmac, I cried. This wasn't right.
Here's where the Target-crying and the inability-to-accept-the-towels came to be. I fell apart. The re-entry felt debilitating. Those few months, the end of U.S. summer into the early fall, were some of my hardest.
Every day, every hour, practically every minute, I was panicking. I'd torture myself, going around in circles about what to do next. I thought of everything and I thought of nothing. I'd feel like I was getting clear about a next step and then the next minute it would all dissolve. I started running to try and stave off my anxieties. I was a mess.
I felt like I knew what was meant to happen next. Here's what was logical: I'd stay at my parents' house for a little bit, I'd have reunion after reunion, I'd bask in my post-travel glory, I'd write up a storm, I'd find a lovely job in a beautiful city, I'd move away to Portland or L.A. or Durham and sign the lease on a cute little apartment where I'd entertain new friends and fall in love.
It makes me laugh now.
I clung tight to a completely narrow view of my life. Those were my only mental options. I battered my poor heart forcing it to accept these limited possibilities. Day after day, I wondered when this plan was going to fall into place. (Was the Universe even listening? Looking back, I realize that I wasn't as completely hopeless as I thought I was. I re-visit this post and see how I was making little pockets of space in my heart to let the light in.)
And then my therapist said, "And of course, there are the things you can't even imagine happening yet."
I softened at that. Oh. There were? I resisted this. If I couldn't picture it in my head, then they'd never be able to happen. Right?
And this is where that big idea of believing-that-there-can-be-more comes in. This is where trust plays a major role. This is where you can know that there is always more.
Because one day, I suddenly thought, Wait — who said I can't travel again?
Literally, just like that. It occurred to me, this big idea that hadn't occurred to me before, that I hadn't been able to conjure in my mind. Little by little, I let the idea creep into my consciousness.
What if I travel again? What if I'm not limited to these 50 states? Who says I can't do that? Why am I holding so tight to this belief that adventure is over and now I have to settle down and live here?
Things changed quickly from there. I wrote to Georgie and joked that I wanted to come back to Sydney. I described a dream scenario: I'd return and stay on a tourist visa until I found a job that would sponsor me to stay in the country and then I could just be their neighbor forever.
She thought it was a brilliant idea.
And then I actually kept thinking about it. And I mentioned it to some other friends in Sydney. And then I told my therapist. And then I got this message from Georgie:
Say the word and we'll make it happen.
A few weeks earlier I'd said to my therapist, "Why can't I just have a magic 8 ball that will tell me what to do?" And she said, "Soon you'll have your magic 8 ball answer. It probably won't be from an actual magic 8 ball, but it'll be clear. Just have trust."
And goodness if that isn't what exactly happens with big leaps. Things aren't clear until.....they are. You have the trust that a magic 8 ball answer will come and then it does. And even if it's a bit foggy, and the answer isn't totally in focus, you have the faith and leap anyway.
Because that's what being alive is. And that's what being kind to yourself is.
When I turned 30 in 2017, I decided that I was going to consciously choose to be kinder to myself, over and over again. Which is certainly not easy. But as I was torturing myself over what to do, to-go-or-not-to-go, I suddenly remembered my months-ago plan:
What if I could be kind to myself in this situation? What if I could let myself off the hook a bit here? What if I could stop putting so much damn pressure on myself? So what if going back to Sydney doesn't work out perfectly? So what if it's a huge mistake? (Which I don't really believe in anyway.) What if I could choose to be kind to myself in this moment, make the best decision for right now, and then know that the Universe always has my back and no matter what, I'll be okay?
Bam, like that, it happened. I was on my way out the door for a walk through the woods when that thought occurred to me and by the time I was back inside, I'd made up my mind.
I was going back to Australia.
I leave February 19th on a one-way ticket. I don't know how long I'll stay. I'm going back to stay with the same family, on that same dear street, with all my favorite people. (I'll get to hang with Ruby again!) Maybe I'll stay three months, maybe more. Right now I'm choosing trust.
But I choose trust. I choose big leaps. I choose kindness. I choose freedom and adventure and independence and not giving any fucks about things that don't matter. I choose bravery. I choose love. I choose to be alive.
Again, and again, and again.