Why I’m staying in California and the irony of “wanting a career” after lots of travel

Travel comes easily to me so much so that I often joke, you can parachute me out of a plane to an unknown land and I’ll do more than survive. I’ll thrive; I’ll meet new folks, eat the food and I’ll learn the basics of the language to communicate. After my crazy stint of buying a one way ticket and packing a 65 liter backpack  with the goal and success to make it from Tanzania to Cape town, South Africa, I can pretty much do anything. (I need to remind myself this, in times of doubt). I’m comfortable traveling. I don’t need a plan. I love arriving to a place and seeing what happens- meeting locals, tasting the local flavors , learning about a and seeing life unfold before me.  

Lamb kebabs with roasted tomatoes in Istanbul

Lamb kebabs with roasted tomatoes in Istanbul

For the average American, traveling just to travel and see the world isn’t the norm or (always) culturally accepted. When I was planning my adventure in Africa, I got a kick out of telling people my plans; to see Africa with my own eyes for an undefined amount of time. Reactions were varied but usually there was the wide-eyed  expression followed by, “Wait, so you’re just going without studying, working or volunteering?” To which I’d give a simple, yes. But the constant questioning of my plan meant I had to reassure myself what I was doing and why. Was it ok? Can I just travel to travel? Well, I’ll tell you. Of course I could and of course YOU CAN too. We’ve been trained to have a “purpose” when we do things in life ensuring it will help us somehow or someway, usually in regards to a career. What about satisfying curiosities about the world that no class, book or photo can provide? What about personal growth and learning more about yourself?

Riding an ostrich in Oudtshoorn, South Africa

Riding an ostrich in Oudtshoorn, South Africa 2005

But I get it. I know that it’s not easy to go against the norm even though I’ve been defying convention whenever I can.  We’re taught the ropes of what is the “norm” or should I say, the societal expectation- graduate high school, college, good job, settle down, find a partner, own a home, have some kids, etc- and it’s not only in the United States where this is the norm. In many cultures and countries, success is based on status and income, not a measure of happiness or fulfillment. I butted heads on the daily with my dad; an immigrant from Chile who made sacrifices for himself and for my brother and I, so we could have a piece of the American dream. A dream that says you can be anything you want to be if you believe in yourself and work hard. Sometimes damn hard. A better life equaled a college education with a degree in financially successful- doctor, lawyer or business woman- because money gives you stability, which you know guarantees happiness (cue sarcasm). I saw him struggle. I saw him work hard. I witnessed the stress to make ends meet take a toll. I questioned, what’s it all worth? Because of his actions, I lived a relatively comfortable life- always a roof over my head, food on the table, clothes to keep me warm, ballet classes, trips to see my abuelita every year in Santa Barbara and the occasional vacation.  He encouraged us to be anything we wanted to be, though he always  hoped assumed it would be in the realm of a moneymaking profession.

Good Morning Grand Canyon!

Go forth. Live this life. And that’s exactly what I set out for myself. Breathing the Grand Canyon!

 It’s only natural money seemed to be the answer for him; money meant he wouldn’t have to run in the rat race or like a dog chasing his tail but I also innately knew there was more to the cookie cutter life we’ve been trained to believe. Maybe it’s partly because I had balance between my parents, witnessing my mom taking opportunities and creative endeavors that satisfied her soul rather than how much money she’d accrue in her bank account.

In the end, they raised a wise, thoughtful, go-getter, adventurous daughter who didn’t/doesn’t fall for status but instead who listens to her heart and accomplishes her dreams. Money has never been my driving force because I learned young money can’t make you happy.  In fact, money won’t make you happy. 

But you know what money can do for you?

Provide you financial freedom in how you want to live your life.

So what gives? You ready?

I’m about to spill the internal dialogue of an experienced traveler and expat of what’s been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of years.

I want to combine my passions of contributing to the greater good, my love of travel, and living a simplistic lifestyle focused on experiences that sustain me.  I also want a partner in crime and to build upon the next chapter in my life.

I want financial freedom.

I want to be self-reliant and completely independent. I’ve always been good at saving money but I have relied on my folks for a place to crash land while I line up my next job between stints abroad. I’m grateful. Very grateful. But I also know that starting over and returning home, takes a toll both on my folks and myself. There are only so many times I can do this before it just doesn’t make any sense. It’s not sustainable.

 I have visions of having homes in various parts of the world and earning passive income but for right now, I’m ready for what my young twenty something self would have never thought I’d say:

  I want a salary job I love with benefits and all that jazz.

I know the grass isn’t greener. I want the experience because I haven’t done it. I haven’t had it. And like anything in life, experience is worth its weight in gold. I have to try it, learn from it, do it, to learn more about myself and what I want and more importantly, don’t want. 

 I said it. Whew.

 It may seem strange to some that I want to carve out a career for myself and create more structure and stability in my life.  Lately, I’ve been getting from extended family “so where you going next?,” to which the answer is, “Nowhere. I’m staying in the Bay Area.” I’ve done what most never will do- trade comforts for the unknown and do it again a few years later by packing my bags to live in an unknown land never having set foot in Spain. Only to realize that my 5 years of Spanish from middle/high school wasn’t up to par with the Andaluz accent and manner of speaking. What scares me, no, intimidates me is a “career.” The very thing that most people in the Western world don’t think twice about, it’s what’s expected and what they do; regardless if it fills their heart and soul or if it is just a means to end. 

Why not create opportunities,  just in case Source: tumblr.com

I have no regrets.  All the uncertainties make this worthwhile. 
Source: tumblr.com

 The fascinating thing about reading these travel blogs is most of the travelers and writers are in their mid-thirties or forties who’ve had the careers. Some have owned homes. They’ve lived the societal expectations until the little voice was too nagging and they got up the courage to take a leap of faith and see the world. It’s inspiring. It’s exciting to hear their stories and read their realizations and dreams they didn’t believe were possible unfold for them. The more I read, the more it makes me grateful I’ve already lived this. I followed my heart at 19 to study abroad, which made me realize a trip to Africa was possible at 22 and a few days after my 24th birthday I was hopping on a plane to live out my dream to see more of Africa and then at 27 to move to a land that beckoned my name for years and I still don’t understand why.

 

I’ve lived many a travel adventure all before hitting the magical thirty mark- a time of transitions, reflections and new focuses on what I want this decade to be for me. I have a feeling that if I didn’t have these amazing travel experiences early on, I too, would have felt a lot of self-doubt and a lot of pressure to hold tight to whatever career I would have built for myself. I have noticed a shift in my invincibility and what I want for myself since stepping on the plane with one-way ticket to Dar-es Salaam in 2007. Today, I’m even more mindful about my decisions (and effects), their impact on myself and close friends and family. What I could not have imagined wanting for myself at 24, a nest to call home, has definitely become a priority for me as I want to create a sustainable lifestyle that means being self-reliant. I can only be a migratory bird for so long, relying on the landing strip known as my parent’s home, in between time abroad while I configure my next steps for myself. It’s not easy making the transition and I’m certainly grateful for their support as I focus on what comes next for myself and take opportunities as they come.  If it’s anyone whose putting pressure on me, it’s me. I can be my own worst enemy expecting great things from myself in such little time.

 Travel has taught me immensely about myself. I find it fascinating that I often enjoy and thrive off uncertainty and the unexpected while abroad but when it’s on my own turf, it can be anxiety producing. Traveling or living abroad breeds a different set of uncertainties but usually there’s often an expiration date to help in times of difficulty and the goals are distinct. At home, the responsibilities are different and there’s this overwhelming feeling of “oh shit, I need to figure out this “real world” thing. This sentiment is what kept me on the road in Africa when the challenges I faced would have sent most people packing their bags for the next flight home.  I know I’m not the only traveler who’s experienced this, which is reassuring but doesn’t make finding the solutions necessarily easier.

 So now I spend my days balancing working on personal projects that have accumulated over the years, exploring the Bay and beyond with friends and crafting creative and concise cover letters to organizations that are in line with my values and goals that will provide me new experiences and perspective within my chosen career field (inspired by my time in Africa). I don’t have all the answers and I’m not exactly sure what life has in store for me but I know when things align, I’ll be counting my blessings and giving thanks for being patient.  All I can do is continue to listen to my heart and intuition because it’s the only thing that has been consistent and ALWAYS accurate.

Can you relate to wanting to create a “career” or more stability in your life after plenty of travel? Have you experienced what I’m experiencing?

Do you have any advice? 

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11 thoughts on “Why I’m staying in California and the irony of “wanting a career” after lots of travel

  1. I can definitely relate! However, sometimes I think it’s not just the stability of a career, but the stability of a community that we seek. Traveling is wonderful, but it’s also exhausting. The idea of making new friends over and over again, especially when you not only travel, but create a life somewhere else. Trying to create that familiar environment is possible, but it takes effort. At some point, we all yearn for a place that we can make our own. Plus, as I get older, I want more responsibility; I want to get more out of my day job!

    • Yes. Agreed. I didn’t touch upon the community aspect but it’s something I longed for and you’re right about making new friends is exhausting abroad. I knew if I stayed another year I would have found my community in Basque Country (of course, I met foodies/advocates at the tail end of my time there) but I also knew the longer I stay in a place, the more rooted I may become making the decision to return or stay more difficult.

      Traveling is tiring and living abroad isn’t always roses. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who longs to have a nest and enjoy their job while still finding ways to travel.

      New challenge- having the career, the community and my nest!

  2. Very thoughtful Lauren. You’ve already lived a fuller life than most people ever get to do. I’m sure it will all unfold in a good way.

  3. I’m glad you’re following your heart! As Sarah said, it hasn’t led you wrong so far, so continue to follow it. In the end, that’s really the best thing all of us can do.

    • Hi mike,
      Thanks for reading!
      Yes. It’s true. We can only follow our heart and I’m grateful I’m surrounded by folks who have learned young to follow their heart! I’ve met plenty who have been led on by money or others aspirations. We’re further along than many!

    • Thanks for reading Cat. You certainly have made a life for yourself in Spain and you keep finding more inspiration, projects and wonderful people to ground you in Sevilla!

  4. This was great, Lauren! Go for what your heart is calling you to do, it hasn’t led you wrong so far, which is a pretty good indication that you are on your true path. Enjoy the ride! Xx

    • Thanks Sarah!
      I’m enjoying the ride and listening to my soul! It’s quite an interesting transitional journey but I know I’ll look back and be grateful for how everything has unfolded!

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