I have never told you why I decided to travel round the world. I told you my fears about the how and the what but never the why. Then, in the last two weeks, two bloggers wrote about whether travel could cure a thirty-something midlife crisis and the jump off the precipice of everyday life into extended travel because of that looming age. I decided it was time for me to spill the beans. You see, the reason I decided to travel the world was because, one year ago today, I turned 30.
Patrick had different reasons --- he always does --- because, for him, turning 30 was no big deal. I, however, felt the crush of the dreams that I had not fulfilled and the weight of responsibility against my shoulders. By 30, I was supposed to have figured out my life and found a career that would intellectually satisfy and stimulate me. I was supposed to be a "grown up," comfortable with who I was and where I was heading. Instead, despite a successful career, I knew nothing about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do with the next years of my life.
I needed to unplug. I had already planned to quit my job at a law firm to work for a judge for one year and, after that, we would travel for a year. I hoped that by leaving the United States, I would gain some perspective and have some fun. Traveling long term would be the ultimate thumb to the nose to those who said that 30 meant responsibility. So, three months and one day after my birthday, we left. As our plane left Hartsfield International Airport, I crossed my fingers, hoping that the sacrifice of leaving our dogs behind would result in a happier, healthier us.
I was wrong. In the first few weeks, I was awed and overwhelmed by Australia and New Zealand . But, quickly, that question returned to haunt me: ultimately, what am I doing with my life and, when this trip is over, what then? Problems did not disappear because we left our homes, our jobs, and our lives in the United States. If anything, my problems were amplified because more money was leaving our bank accounts than entering and I had no concrete solution to utilize my skills in a work environment. We were still the same people, tied to the same responsibilities, whether we were in Atlanta or Asia.
Travel was not the answer.
The cure to my thirty-something malaise was something else altogether. The cure was freeing myself from expectations. Expectations were the lace web that manacled my wrists to my chosen career. There were my family's expectations, my peers' expectations, and the expectations of society at large, who dictated that college followed by law school followed by Big Law was the right choice for a smart girl.
Worst of all, there were my own expectations, ones that I had built up since I was eight years old when I learned that writers rarely made money but lawyers could write and make money at the same time. By the time I was fifteen, I had built myself a house of glassed-in dreams, based on high rise living and cushy offices, dreams fulfilled by the time I was 25. A year ago, I understood Matt's complaint that his "soul is aching for more --- for enrichment that conference calls and trips to Home Depot cannot fulfill." I thought that was what my soul was aching for, too.
Traveling dissolved all the expectations I had built for myself because, other than Patrick, no one knew me on the road. I had already dropped out of my career and had changed my bar license to "inactive." I answered to no one and took the time to discover what I love and what keeps me going every day. It turned out that all I needed was a healthy dose of perspective, something I could have gotten in Atlanta just as easily as in Australia.
A good friend of mine graduated from law school in the top of her class, with great predictions for her legal future. Instead, she met a guy and had two kids and now stays at home with them. People don't understand, she says, how she could have given up a dream career to stay at home but, once she had her kids, her perspective shifted. In a way, that's what happened to me. I stopped worrying about what everyone else wanted ---- and especially what I thought I once wanted ---- and started worrying about what I want now. I stopped caring about the 15 year old girl inside of me and started caring about the 31 year old woman who stands in my shoes.