This time last year.
It’s been a recurring thought in my head the last few months.
This time last year I was arriving in Armenia.
This time last year I was living in a small village in Tajikistan.
This time last year I was watching the sunset over the Yangykala Canyon in Turkmenistan.
But now, that thought is shifting.
Now, I’m thinking of how it was almost two years ago that I hopped on a one-way flight to Finland.
It was almost two years ago that I ran the Tallinn Marathon.
It was almost two years ago that I first arrived in Russia and pushed myself through a miserable homestay experience.
Sometimes it all feels like just yesterday, but sometimes it feels like it never even happened. Sometimes I struggle to find the memories and I look back through my pictures and I wonder why I didn’t take more to help me remember. I relive a lot of my journey by re-reading my blog posts but there is a lot I never shared here. A lot I never even wrote in my journal. And I’m struggling to remember.
While two years ago, I was preparing to leave, this time last year the end was in sight. I was exhausted from constant travel and worried about my dwindling bank account and finding a job again. I was longing for the comforts of home, but unsure of how well I would be able to adjust. I was holding out hope that I would land a fabulous new job that perfectly combined my past experience with my passion for travel.
I’m not sure that anything about coming home really went as I expected.
I have settled back into life in Chicago but it’s not really the life I envisioned. The city has changed or I have changed – probably a little of both. I have no good group of friends here anymore, no regular social life, no plans on any given Friday night. I seek out interesting events that I attend on my own, hoping to find some like-minded people, and I exchange a few business cards and call it a night. I look at my typical week and I realize I could be living the exact same life in any major city in the country – or world. I wonder why I was so anxious to return and I think maybe I would be better off in Seattle or Boston or Tbilisi or Yerevan. I think maybe it’s time to really, truly start over even though I’m long past my twenties and approaching my forties, which in my head feels too late to start from scratch.
I think about my career path and the fact that I still can’t let go of the idea that I need a career path. I think about trying to make a living working for myself through writing and social media advising but then I stop and ask myself whether that is sustainable for more than a couple years. What would I do next? Besides, I enjoy having a steady paycheck and good health insurance too much to give that up right now.
So I write on the side and I do some social media advising on the side. It’s ironic because when I decided to turn down what I once thought was my dream job, I told myself it was partially because it paid so little that I would end up spending all my time pursuing freelance work just to make ends meet. And I ended up with a job that pays twice as much and I’m still spending most of my free time on freelance projects. I guess the difference is that I’m doing so by choice, for my personal enjoyment and extra cash, rather than out of necessity. There’s something about doing something because you have to that sucks the fun out of it.
I don’t know where I’m goin’
But I sure know where I’ve been…
Though I keep searching for an answer
I never seem to find what I’m lookin’ for…
I was at a street fest last weekend, listening to a band that covers all of the old eighties hair bands. And as I sand along to this Whitesnake song, I felt like I was singing about my life the last couple years.
I don’t know where I am going and I still haven’t found the answers I’ve been seeking. I still haven’t had that ah-ha moment when it all comes together and I realize what my passion is, what my purpose is. I have written about that a lot over the last year because I read about so many others figuring it all out and I’m a bit envious that I haven’t yet.
At the same time, my fears about the future have vanished. I may not know what direction I am headed, but I am increasingly confident that I am moving in the right direction. While last year at this time I was terrified and questioning whether it was all worth it, I now know 100% that it was.
I have enjoyed experiences that most people don’t even dream about. I traveled the length of the Trans-Siberian Railway and took a ferry across the Black Sea. I toured a former Soviet bunker and visited Chernobyl. I watched the sun set from the top of a 9th century minaret and camped aside the ruined walls of an ancient Silk Road city. I took a pilgrimage to an underground mosque in the middle of a Kazakhstan desert and I spent a month living in the mountains in Tajikistan.
I have been interviewed on TV, radio and online about my trip. I have written for more than a dozen websites and I have become a regular contributor to Viator.com, writing about Chicago, Russia and the Baltics. My blog has appeared on lists of top travel blogs and gets more than 5,000 visitors and more than 10,000 page views each month. Next week I will be speaking about my travels in the Caucasus and in September I’ll be teaching a class on how to use Twitter. I could never have imagined any of this two years ago.
While I strained my relationships back home, I learned who my real friends are and stopped wasting my time on those who don’t really care. I built new friendships with people who truly understand and support me, despite being separated by oceans and connecting primarily online. I experienced some heartbreak, but I also opened my heart for the first time in years and realized that I can love again; it’s just a matter of finding the right guy at the right time.
More than anything, I am probably more comfortable with who I am than ever before. After decades of trying to be an extrovert, I have finally accepted my inner introvert. I relish my nights home alone and I don’t care if someone thinks I am weird for staying in on a Friday night. I am no longer intimidated by the idea of attending an event solo and I don’t feel self-conscious sitting at a bar by myself. I’m not religious, but I have a greater faith in the idea that things happen for a reason and that everything will work out in the end.
So where am I two years after I first quit my job to travel the world?
After everything, I think I’m right where I’m supposed to be. And I’m optimistic about the future, excited to discover what comes next.