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Taking the Plunge: My 25th Year in Synopsis

A year ago, on my 24th birthday, I thought of my life as completely put together. I had a 9–5 (8–6:30, more like) great job, a place all to myself, and with my undergrad degree in hand, knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I saw my best friends every weekend, did the same fitness classes four times a week, and listened to the same French radio station every morning. I’d always wanted to speak better French. I was living in Toronto, a city I had sort of wanted to leave for a little while. I’d always loved the outdoors too much to stay there for as long as I did. I remember riding the TTC home on my birthday, after watching a movie with a friend. It had been a good day. I was leaving to Peru to hike the Macchu Picchu in two weeks. I was happy.

I didn’t have a clue, but there was an enormous storm brewing inside of me.

At my age and in this time, many of us that are lucky to have graduated from school a couple of years prior, start to face some kind of existential dread. This dread manifests in different ways in different people, depending on how risk averse they might be, and a number of other factors. There’s no denying its prevalence though- I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation with someone about what they do for work, when they eventually sigh and stare off into the distance, saying “I’m not sure if it’s what I really want to do with my life though…”

We are the Lost Generation. You could argue some of these problems stem from a sense of entitlement, but does that mean we deserve to be unhappy? I don’t think so.

A lot has happened over the last year. I won’t detail every little bit of it, but here is a synopsis: a year ago, I was on the cusp of a full-blown “existential dread meltdown”. I had an incredible time in Peru that affirmed my love for the outdoors, came back to Toronto and had a really difficult time at work, developed debilitating migraines, quit my job in December, spent a month in Dubai with my parents, packed up all my stuff in Toronto, took a crash course in French, travelled for three months to six amazing countries, moved across the country to Vancouver, and started working at an overnight summer camp in pretty much the wilderness. I am figuring out what I want to do for a career and making the most of being on the West Coast, loving every second of it. It has been the longest year of my life, and while in many ways I am the happiest I have been in a while, it has certainly not been easy. Today, on the eve of my 25th birthday, I decided to take a stab at finally answering this slippery little question: taking the plunge to figure out what makes you happy- is it actually worth it?! Here are five honest anecdotal stories from the last year that will help me answer this… some shorter than others.

#1 There is No “How”… or, Crying in a KFC Parking Lot.

I remember every detail of when I decided to quit my job. It was raining heavily and I was driving home from work, talking to my friend who lives in Vancouver on bluetooth. I was crying. I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing, and I wanted to change my life. It wasn’t the people, it wasn’t any one circumstance. It was me not feeling fulfilled and all that other millennial hodgepodge. I felt completely helpless and lost.

There is a KFC on Mount Pleasant and Balliol street in Midtown Toronto. Still on the phone, I walk in there and uncharacteristically order a bucket of chicken and a large Dr. Pepper drink. I have snot all over my face and I am heaving. I don’t have the courage to make this decision. I want to try something new with my life, and I want to finally move to Vancouver and be closer to the outdoors, but how? Where do I start? And what if I can’t figure out my career after throwing away this perfect life? It all sounds so stupid and frivolous, but I can’t get the thought of doing all this out of my head.

As I get back into my car and slurp on my medicinal-tasting drink, a weird calm sets in. I have to write the resignation letter when I get home. I need to print it. Then I need to book the meeting. Three simple steps. There is no magical “how”. You just do it.

I’d read that in that bright orange Mark Manson book everyone was always carrying around on the subway. The words held no practicality to me up until that difficult moment in my life. We’re always scared shitless trying to figure out how to overcome our fears and take the plunge, but unfortunately, or fortunately, there is no actual way. You just kinda stumble in the direction you want to go, and before you know it, one second of reality is morphing into the next, and then you are where you thought you’d never be. You’re scared the whole way through. That’s what I didn’t expect. I was scared when I quit, I was scared when I was travelling, I was scared when I was moving… but after I committed, after I decided there was no turning back, everything just happened. It is harrowingly clicheed, but my fear led to undoubtedly some of the best experiences of my life. There is no magic formula, and what that means is that anyone can do it.

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Trip to Peru, which was the turning point for me last year

#2 People are Amazing… or, Ma’am, I’ll Need You To Put Some Pants On.

I scooped up my hard-earned savings and travelled to Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, France and Portugal between March and June and blogged about it all here. Everywhere I went, people told me I was the luckiest person on the planet, and I became hyper-aware of it. I got to scuba dive into the clear blue sea off of Gili island and swim with sea turtles. I wandered the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, where Tomb Raider was filmed. I got to spend two days in a sacred Buddhist mountain town in Japan with my best friend. I wandered the streets of Paris until dawn. It was ridiculous. It felt like someone else’s life.

And yet somehow, when I think back on my travels, the first thing I always remember is that the people I met- every single place I went- were freaking amazing.

It’s not that I didn’t think this before I travelled, but something about being all by yourself and in uncomfortable territory makes you appreciate every little act of kindness, and hilarity, and warmth so much more. There was the French bakery owner that brought all of his hiking equipment to work to lend me and hand-drew me a trail map because I was so ill-prepared for my hike in Annecy. There were the Portuguese innkeepers that insisted on making me free breakfast and paying for my bus fare for god-knows-what reason. There were sunsets spent with new friends that I felt like I’d known forever, on rooftops in Lisbon and on beaches in Bali, on wine and off topic, in twos and in fours and with ups and downs… sometimes I’ll catch a whiff of something and I can almost feel a friend from the UK, or Boston, or the Philippines standing right next to me.

There is one story in particular I want to share- and that is of NJ, Linus, and Louis. NJ, Linus, and I had signed up for a surfing class in Bali, and after quite a bit of wiping out had impromptu decided to grab a bite close to the beach. I could dare you to find three people less like each other. We did not look, talk, or act anything like each other, and as we stumbled to the nearest restaurants, I found myself wondering what we would talk about. As we sat down and ordered lunch, I found myself opening up to them. I’m usually pretty reserved when I first meet someone, but ten minutes in we were joking and doing silly impressions. The waitress had to come over and nudge me- modest girl who grew up in the Middle East- to put my pants on… I was still in my bikini. I was so completely wrapped up in conversation with this shy, blond boy from Sweden and this exuberant diplomat from Jakarta, that I didn’t even have pants on. I bit back my laughter.

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(From left) Me, NJ, Louis & Linus at random beach shack in Bali

Ten hours of eating and laughing later (and with one new Aussie friend, Louis!) I forced myself to go home because I had an early flight the next morning. It completely flipped the concept of what first impressions meant to me in my head… they don’t matter anymore. Those three were definitely some of the loveliest people I have ever met in my life. It gave me the confidence to move to a new city where I know very few people, and walk up to people and talk to them. People are freaking amazing, everywhere. Really. If you want to try living elsewhere or travelling somewhere, and you’re nervous, I cannot promise that you won’t get diarrhea or be bitten by a diseased mosquito but I can at least promise this.

#3 Every Little Bit Counts… or, Which Croissant Did You Want Again?

I get doe-eyed and stupid whenever anyone speaks French. I am enamoured by the language. In December when I quit my job, I met the kindest French man through a language exchange website, and four times a week for an hour we would practice both English and French. Since I was so keen on finally becoming fluent in the language, this began taking over my life. I would watch French movies, listen to French podcasts, the whole deal. By the time I landed in Charles de Gaulle airport on May 9, 2018, I was ready.

I will only speak French, I told myself over and over. Obviously, and as I alluded to in #1, I was scared shitless.

There were a lot of mishaps, but I did stick to my word even when it was skin-crawlingly embarrassing. If someone switched to English, I’d stick to my guns and even pretend I couldn’t speak English (ugh). Parisians can be unforgiving, but they can also be very, very warm. I very quickly fell in love with the French people and culture. I preyed on cafe-owners who spoke poor English and chose to eat long lunches there, and they’d often join me, grilling meat and sipping their coffees and putting me at ease despite my terrible speaking abilities. What happened is, little by little, I started to improve. Soon, fewer people chose to switch to English with me, especially as I left Paris and travelled south. I was often struck with anxiety when I started up a conversation, and would sometimes do stupid things like order the wrong thing (I once struggled so much to point out a croissant to a bakery owner that she impatiently clicked her tongue and gave me three croissants… her loss, and I ate all of them).

As someone who was raised to always try and be a perfectionist, learning French was incredibly daunting because no matter what, I was never good enough. Interestingly enough, this taught me a really important life lesson. When you knock out all expectations from under you, every little bit of progress gives you a sense of achievement. When you truly realize perfection is impossible, the process becomes the reward in and of itself. I know I will probably never be fluent in French, but I still harass every French person I meet in Vancouver because I simply fell in love with the imperfection and the thrill of my new hobby… little by little. I’ll remember this as I try and figure out what I want to do for a career.

#4 There Is Such a Thing As Being Excited Every Morning.

At the summer camp I work at now, we all run down to the flag pole at 7:15 every morning. The flag pole is right by the beach, and we all look out onto the beautiful Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains, all of which is glittering in the sunshine. The air smells incredible. As I look left and right and sing our Good Morning Camp song, I wonder if these people know how happy I am to be there.

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My home for now, on the Sunshine Coast BC

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Wedgemount Lake, BC with some awesome people

There is a charge of electricity that rushes my body every time I am outdoors. I remember being upset for days after going hiking in Ontario with a friend of mine who grew up in BC, who mentioned casually that nothing out there even compared to the type of nature you can find on the West Coast. I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like to be able to get into my car and just drive an hour or two to be in the big ol’ mountains. At that time, I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever been upset about. Now I know that there are things that make each of us tick, and we’re not respecting ourselves by ignoring those thoughts.

When we’re figuring out what to do for our careers, very simplistically we can either go with 1) following our interests 2) following what we’re good at 3) following the money or our trained skills, or some combination of these. The tricky thing is there is no right answer. All I can say is decide which of these is your internal compass, and then give yourself the time and resources to figure it out. Take as much pressure off yourself as you can while you make the decision. I’m still figuring it out, so this might be the dumbest advice ever. Ask me on my 26th birthday.

#5 Don’t Run From the Cougar… or, Don’t Run From the Cougar.

This is metaphorical and literal. Never turn your back and run from the thing. Make yourself as big as you can and face it. That’s all I have to say about that.

If you’re still with me through all this long-winded nonsense… taking the plunge to figure out what makes you happy- is it actually worth it?!

Even with the fear, even with the unfamiliarity, even when things aren’t perfect, and even when there is a freaking cougar staring you in the face… yes. It always is. Just one gal’s opinion after the longest, best year of her life.


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