This January, I had a bad job interview. I performed the best I could, but they’d kept me in a room, coming in groups of two or three at a time, grilling me on why I wanted and was qualified for an entry-level customer service job for two straight hours. I’ve been employed in some way or another for the last ten years, and I graduated with honors last year. I couldn’t just say, “I need a better job than I have now, and frankly this is going to be a cakewalk for me.” Some of them said I was underqualified; some of them said I was overqualified. No one really seemed to have a real sense of what they were doing; HR was out for the day, so it was all sales managers. I was so upset and confused afterward that I sat in Merchandise Mart crying for a half hour before working up the courage to get on the train.
I was upset partially because my boyfriend — who’s four years younger than me, and graduated at the same time but had a fraction at best of my work experience to boast — had practically cakewalked into a similar job two months earlier, while I was still unemployed. The interview made me feel hopeless; there were no jobs open that I actually wanted, and I was working so hard to get a job I’d hate only to be grilled, then told for one reason or another that I wasn’t good enough for an entry-level job.
It was that night, after I’d written half-hearted thank you notes imploring the interviewers again for the job, that I broke down and said, “I swear to god, if I could I’d just sell all my things and travel.” Then Michael asked me, “Why not?” I had gotten a legal settlement that I was planning on trying to save, but why let it go to rent while I try to find a job that’d make me miserable instead of spending it on something I wanted?
I started making very ambitious plans. I was going to travel from Seattle to Los Angeles in April and May; go through Kentucky, Tennessee, and into North Carolina in June and July; go to New York and Pennsylvania in September, spend October and November around the Gulf of Mexico, and take a short trip to southern Florida in December. I sold many of my larger possessions, bought a touring bike, made a budget, planned out my routes, and left…
…And two weeks in, I was so exhausted and scared all the time that I realized I had to go home. Seattle was a bust, and while I met some really fantastic people in Portland and had a good time, it became clear very quickly that I didn’t have an adequate budget to accommodate for all my expenses. I was so scared of going broke that I was breaking down crying every day, and exposing myself to a constant stream of new people was more than I was capable of handling. I’d been diagnosed with PTSD months earlier, and before I left, I’d spent a year battling myself just to get out of my apartment and sometimes even just to get out of my bed. I thought that a go-big-or-go-home approach might shock my system out of recluse, but it just made the problem worse: When I got home, I was so bereft of any kind of plan that I completely fell apart. I had weeks when I was so overwhelmed by all the things that I could or should do that I couldn’t make a choice and wound up having panic attacks for hours. I had weeks when I didn’t get fresh air.
I don’t know what made me think that a grand adventure was going to be the right thing for me. I’m a homebody, and even when I’m in optimal emotional health, I don’t really like being around new people — or people, period — for too long. “Go to amazing places and meet amazing people and do amazing things!” is so often the definition we’re given for “seizing the day” or “making the most of your life.” Maybe this has to do with the American frontier narrative; maybe this has to do with the human urge for conquest. But maybe not everyone feels it. Maybe not everyone is missing out if they don’t pursue it.
I scrambled to get my life together. I got into therapy and got a better psychiatrist than I’d been seeing. I signed up with a great gym and started taking martial arts classes. I let go of the desperate urge to “do something” all the time and embraced the idea that relaxing, working at a slower pace, spending time with my boyfriend and my mom, building my career, paying my bills, and training for a marathon is well more than enough to constitute “living fully.” I might never see all the places I’d like to in my life: As long as I’m happy, that’s fine.
[Photo of a woman reading a map via Shutterstock]