Last year, I quit my comfortable magazine job in Hong Kong and went rogue. What followed was a bit of a cliché.
I ran away to Kathmandu, where I embarked on a week-long trek with friends from college. Then to Australia, where I spent a few weeks and worked briefly for accommodation on a stargazing camp and farm just outside of Perth. It was not for me, as it turns out. To New Zealand, which I traversed across for a month by way of an old van I shared with someone I’d met on the plane. To Florence, from where I’d planned to begin my indefinite Euro-trip. To Vancouver, where I fell in love and spent a summer manically learning how to crochet for Etsy. To Porto, where I joined a group of liked-minded strangers on a month-long remote co-living and working program called Unsettled. To Marrakech, whose energy was so intoxicating I started an e-commerce business selling handmade goods, which leads me here, back to Vancouver, where I am writing this sentence.
I have recounted my travels in the obnoxious, self-indulgent way that I have not because I believe my experiences are any more uniquely life-changing than anyone else’s (because they certainly are not; if anything I am the living cliché of an entitled millennial entering a pre-30 crisis), but because you should know this is how everywhere I was. How laughably absurd and scattered my life has been. So, one year has passed. I’m sitting here now, my mind clear and bright from this morning’s coffee, I look back and think: what the fuck?
I imagine it rather like being on a bumper car: from the moment you get on, you’ve agreed— and God knows why— to surrender. You will attempt to drive but you’ve subjected yourself to mess, disorder, entropy. You’re thrust from one corner to another, swivelling so wildly out of control that by the end of it your head is just spinning from the havoc you’ve inflicted upon yourself. Yet you manage to laugh at yourself in that hysterical, breathless way that you do. And what fun!
There are times when I question my choices (what am I doing? Why am I here?), but also, I think: I don’t want to live any other way. And: this is exactly where I am supposed to be. I belong here, to this time and place.
It is weird the way life unravels. Everything fun and meaningful that has come out of life so far has been unplanned. Ironically, I was taught to plan ahead. Always be one step ahead. What’s the next best thing? What about your five-year, 10-year plan? This makes sense if what you want (money, lots and lots of it; children, many of them) requires it. And that is perfectly alright if that is in fact what you want. Otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense at all.
If there is one thing I learned from this “year off,” it is that what I want from life doesn’t require it. That by surrendering — not resign, but surrender — life has a way of surprising you in ways you didn’t know it ever could. And I would never proclaim to be a life guru of any sort, because, well, because I haven’t brushed my hair and I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow, let alone in life (you can stop reading now if you can’t trust someone who doesn’t brush her hair in the morning). But it is this not knowing, and being comfortable with not knowing, that thrusts you off the carousel. The one that goes round and round and round. And comes back around again. The one that never stops until you fade and fall off. That is what makes it all so interesting, being thrown off the ride to see what happens next and what you decide to do with it.
Planting yourself in worlds unfamiliar to you is not simply about “traveling," and what a vague, vacuous word that is. Yes, there is the obvious experiencing of places, people and cultures. And yes, throughout the year, I have encountered countless new and unknown situations. Yet what fascinated me was that in all these said new and unknown situations, I also encountered new and unknown versions of myself. Versions that I had no idea existed. Indeed, there is so much we do not know about ourselves: not only what we are capable of but who we are capable of being, and so much of it manifests only when we are traveling.
It can be terrifying discovering new (and not necessarily improved) versions of ourselves. Perhaps that is why we have this terrible habit of pinning ourselves down to a word. “I’m kind,” “I’m a writer,” “I’m an introvert,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It is very limiting; there are times when I am not kind, not a writer and not an introvert.
I like to think that we are sponges— and to be very specific— a kind of memory foam: everywhere we go, we are invariably moulding to the world we’re in, shape-shifting, adapting, learning. Constantly evolving and meeting these new, unexpected versions of ourselves for the very first time.
For instance: did I know that I, a certified hoarder, could live out of a backpack for months? Or that I would ever come across as a “strong, independent woman,” the same woman who couldn’t trust herself to safely get from point A to point B? Did I know I was capable of living in a van with someone I’d only recently met? More importantly, did I know that I would feel more connected to her than to so many I’d grown up with, and that I would come to miss the simplicity of that life every day— even without a shower or toilet? Did I know I would take a chance on someone simply because it felt right and fall into a relationship, even when I’d declared I was resorting to spinsterhood? Did I know that my prolonged writer’s block would beget a crochet frenzy, and that I would be knitting like a madwoman on display at cafes and on subway platforms? Did I know I would be sitting around doing nothing in Marrakech one day and on a whim decide to start a business the next? I didn’t, and I still don’t.
And am I doing okay? Yes, I am. My savings account is dwindling as we speak, but I am okay, more than I could ever hope to be.
So my “year off” is ending. I am not where I thought I would be. I am sitting here, in Vancouver, very caffeinated and starting an e-commerce business I hope to sustain for a long time. A business that facilitates being thrust into different pockets of the world, learning things, collecting things, making things. One that restores novelty to the everyday, that encourages a life led simply but significantly.
And what a luxury that is. What a year it has been.