• johnschengber

01: A bit of background

A couple of my friends have said they're proud of me for 'actually doing it.' This startled me, not because I was miffed that my friends could doubt my steadfastness, but because I had been starting to doubt it myself.

'Actually doing it' means backing up the big game I have been talking, for the past year, about plans to leave my job, leave the people I love, and go on a big quest of a trip. It means living up to my reckless and incessant out-loud dreaming; it means pulling the cord, pushing off, 'actually doing it.'

Starting the moment I took my first job, right out of college, I promised myself that I would spend little more than two years in a job that I enjoyed but didn't love, in a city that was far but not far enough. With that same promise came my favorite method of self-accountability - tying up others into your responsibility so that you aren't the only one liable. I told parents and career mentors about a five year plan that very intentionally had a big gap in the middle with room for a big trip. Relationships I entered all had a dark and looming question mark in sight, if not a definitive end-date. Everything from gym memberships to financial planning was predicated in some way upon the vague idea that I would be going somewhere, for quite some time, far off the straight and narrow. It was easy to believe for a while.

But as it turns out, I found a group of friends - in the city that I did not expect to enjoy - that made my office job pleasant if not boisterous, made my run-down row home a scene straight from Friends, made everything that I had originally been trying to escape something to cherish. Then, on top of all of that, I found a girl, and fell in love with her. Everything seemed to fit right in.

To keep the dream alive, I attempted to wrap my loved ones right up into the plan. My closest boys became my dream travel partners, and as we all grew restless in our jobs, it started to look like we would all quit together and go to some far-off region of the world for 6 months or more. I talked fancifully with my girlfriend about the hypotheticals, like her getting an assignment to whatever major city was nearest to my destination. My dad and younger sister were even close to coming.

As the time to leave our jobs neared, my friends instinctively grabbed hold of certainty - some taking brilliant next steps that are objectively much better for the resume, others realizing that the job (and life) we had was pretty damn good after all and that a radical transformation in life wasn't really needed. The discussion with my girlfriend to rendezvous abroad never got off the ground, my dad couldn't leave his practice at this time of the year, and my sister understandably couldn't swing a last minute airplane ticket.

That's why, on the eve of my departure and me still 'actually doing it', I am alone. When my friends say they are proud of me, they are jealous, they are surprised, most often I just want to say "me too." For, while part of me is about to get on a plane and do something that I have been dreaming of doing, part of me will be left at home with friends and family.

Perhaps this could all be chalked up to some melodrama - since, after all, I am only going for two months, and several of my friends will be joining me later on - but truthfully I think this deserves all the fear it has fostered. This is the wonderful reality of travel, transformation, youth, etc., if you're doing it right. The best experiences traverse the spectrum of emotions, and dive deeply within them. Momentum can be borne of joy and sorrow, youthful conviction and crippling self-doubt.

That's what I am telling myself to assuage the many conflicting feelings bubbling up when I stare at my one-way ticket to Myanmar, departing in two days. I tell myself it's okay that 'actually doing it' has made me both happier and sadder. The most beautiful things always will.

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