Life is not the way it’s supposed to be, it’s the way it is. How you deal with it is what makes the difference.” – Virginia Satir
“Meg, it’s perfectly normal to feel a little out of sorts. You’ve been overseas for a month on your own. I can’t imagine being gone that long!”
I sighed as I stared into my iPhone at my mom’s face a few thousand miles away. Was this feeling normal? She certainly seemed to have a point. Having been in France for over a month, staying in Paris and traveling to a few other cities, loneliness had managed to creep up on more occasions than expected. For the most part things had been great, but…
“I think it’s just the nights that are the worst. I get back to my apartment in Paris, there’s only French TV, and no one to talk to. I thought it would be easier, but it’s just not what I imagined…”
“Of course it’s not easy, Meg. But you just have a couple more weeks to make it through and then I’ll be there for the remainder of your trip!”
Make it through…
As we hung up, my mom’s final sentence continued to wind through my head, and suddenly caused me to jolt upright. Make it through? What the heck was I doing? I was in France! Europe! And I was complaining?
Had I really thought that while traveling alone, I’d never miss anyone or anything back home? Of course things wouldn’t always be perfect… of course it wouldn’t always be what I expected, but I was pretty darn blessed to be where I was-
And it was time to stop obsessing about it.
With a little freshening up of my make-up and a quick wardrobe adjustment, I was back out on the streets of the small French village of Avignon. The outdoor restaurants set up around the little town in Provence were bustling with patrons, along with servers beckoning passer-bys in. I took one of them up on their offer and sat down to a hot, fresh piece of French quiche. The flaky crust melted in my mouth with each bite, accompanied by a fine Bordeaux wine. A perfect combination for people-watching in the quaint square.
Following dinner, my wandering continued back through the “palace” area, centuries ago home to several popes escaping the chaos of Rome. Lights gleamed off the ornate, sandstone walls and down onto the cobblestone platforms in front of it, creating a perfect ambiance, complete with the moon glowing overhead. I sat down on a bench and continued to take it all in.
Upon my return to the hotel, I texted my mom. “I’m better now. After a dinner and walk around this beautiful city, I’ve been reminded how lucky I am to be here. No more expectations, I’m just going to make the most of whatever comes my way.”
For the rest of the trip, my attitude remained in check: I booked last-minute train tickets to check out a few new cities not on my original itinerary such as Lyon and Amsterdam, I took the metro out to new areas of Paris, as well as returned to my favorite Parisian spots as many times as I wanted — Montmartre (the “artist’s quarter); the lively Bastille neighborhood, the Hotel de Ville – my favorite building. As I reflected on my full two month journey upon flying back to the states with my mom a few weeks later, I had absolutely no regrets, a confidence that I’d left absolutely nothing on the table.
Just as with this year.
During an overnight stay in Belgium early in that trip, a colleague e-mailed me to tell me the 50% chance I had of going back to my old contract in Arizona had officially been taken off the table, leaving my job status completely up in the air. No doubt now that I’d return home with at least a month of unemployment. So what did I do? Worry about it? Nope. Analyze it? Not at all.
Instead, on the train ride home, I made a phone call to inquire about an English Golden Retriever puppy I’d been coveting for the past year and a half, and within a week, the deposit was made. I couldn’t control my job outcome… but I could certainly control my happiness upon my return.
I’d sworn up and down upon moving away two years prior that Wisconsin was not the place for me. I loved the warmth and scenery of Tucson; North Carolina still beckoned me “home,” but upon returning to Madison after my Paris trip, I began to feel a sense of longing to be there. Mostly due to my adorable 3-month old niece who lived close by, but also the proximity of the rest of my family, along with things like my favorite running path, the lakes, the beautiful downtown, and even my townhouse. As my boss at the consulting firm I worked for looked into contracts across the country, I inquired about positions within their Madison corporate office, and within a week, I was offered a job we both considered a great fit for me.
It took me less than 24 hours to accept.
Along with the decision to stay in Madison for the foreseeable future came another determination: that I would stop complaining about the weather when winter came around. So I began to think about ways to tolerate the colder months better – surely warmer running clothes would be a necessity to ensure I could get some fresh air and Vitamin D, but for those snowy, rainy days… how about another room in my house? Within two months, I had a beautifully finished basement, not to mention, a special corner once again dedicated to the piano I hadn’t been able to play for the past two years.
I didn’t stop with the basement. With a commitment to stay in my condo, I decided to redo the entire décor in the same style that had brought so much happiness during my trips overseas the past few years. My living room became dedicated to galleries of travel pictures; my bedroom took on a French country theme complete with paintings I’d bought directly from the artists in Paris. The carpet that had always been my least favorite part of the condo? Gone, in favor of something much prettier and softer. Though I’d spent seven years there now, I suddenly couldn’t get enough of the place.
For some people, such decisions as these would have required a fair amount of analysis. For me, this year, I just went with my heart and what seemed right… and it continued to work again and again.
In August, I ran my first half-marathon in 2.5 years. I held off signing up until a week before, ensuring that my legs felt ready, but that didn’t mean I spent the preceding weeks agonizing over it. If I was ready, I’d know it, and, well, according to my new PR, I guess I was. That I wore a shirt with the saying “run fearless” on the front was no coincidence.
I saw the ocean near Los Angeles for the first time. Out there for a work trip, my traveling partner threw out options for our three hours between meetings and a corporate dinner. “We could go to a Starbucks and work, or, I could show you Newport Beach?”
Random visits to Devil’s Lake with both of my puppies; Trips to Las Vegas, Missouri, Chicago, and North Carolina to see close friends — all planned within a week (sometimes even days) of thinking of them; no looking back, just simply enjoying the moments each of them brought. And a new relationship — one that at times was equal parts happiness and heartache, but left me once more with no regrets, because at each and every point I knew I was all in.
There have been absolutely no guarantees of happiness or positive outcomes this year. No guarantee that the job I took in June would end up fitting me more than any work I’ve ever done, not to mention that the company culture in and of itself would continue to reinforce that notion each and every day. There were no guarantees that my adorable niece, along with the rest of my family, would continue to validate my decision to stay close to them. No guarantee that waking up to another little puppy face every morning would make me question why I waited so long to have two dogs in the first place. And of course, no guarantee that each new trip, each new city would bring lifelong memories and even closer friendships.
That is the lesson of this year.
Once a true Type A personality, I have almost exclusively navigated these last 12 months with my heart, not my head, and with that, have come out a more calm and content person that ever. My decisions, based mostly on what would make me most happy in the short term, have ironically played a large part in teaching me the keys to long-term happiness: namely to trust your gut, and above all else, don’t set expectations or think too hard about anything.
My company has a motto for the sort of uncertainty I encountered in 2015 – for looking at a situation with an indefinite outcome as a positive one, for jumping into the unknown whole-heartedly without worrying or analyzing. They call it “embracing the gray.”
Well, doing so has sure produced a colorful year.
Cheers to 2016!
Wherever you go, go will all your heart.” -Confucious