I started this post months ago after I was asked a simple question in two different situations. First, by the founder of BootsnAll in preparation for the 2011 Meet, Plan, Go event and then by Alexis Grant when I was interviewed for her guide on career breaks.
The question was simple but the answer is incredibly complex.
The question was why? Why travel? And why give it all up just to scratch the itch?
In my various attempts to respond to the question (I’ve been asked a hundred more times since those first initial queries), I usually end up providing an answer like this:
Because I just kept wondering is this it?
Is This It?
That answer is the truth, but it’s just the tiny piece of truth that pokes out of the surface. The mass of the truth lies below in the deep waters. That’s the part I’m trying to explain today.
In the first draft of this post, I wrote that I didn’t always have this desire for more. But that’s not the truth. The truth is that this desire has always lived inside of me, as far back as I can remember. But it would sometimes go dormant for months at a time and that made it easy to ignore or dismiss when it did rise to the surface.
And so the trajectory of my life went like this: I was a child, a dreamer, headstrong, and hard to please. Then I was a teenager, both wild and cautious, waiting for life to begin. Then a college student, free and idealistic, and my future was wide open. I could feel the edge of it, my legs dangling over, the possibility of it all.
Then, suddenly, I was an adult with a career that I hadn’t even been looking for. Deep down I knew that this was not the same kind of possibility that I had felt for myself as a college student, this was not the more that I dreamed of as a child.
Yet pursuing my career was thrilling, for a while, the act of proving myself to myself. The act of becoming independent, of earning real money, of striking out on my own and surviving. I was proud of myself. But deep inside there lived a hollow space where the truth lived. The truth was that I had traded in my potential, my desire for more, for the traditional model of success.
In almost no time I was financially stable. Then I was married and owned a home. I’d secured a good job making more money than I had ever dreamed of making in my field. I’d caught up to the carrot at the end of the stick and taken a big, whomping bite.
That was when I realized that the carrot at the end of the stick didn’t fill me up the way I had assumed it would, the way I assumed it filled everyone up. See, while I knew that I had traded in whatever special possibility I had felt for myself when I was younger, I also wholeheartedly believed that reaching that carrot would fill me up. I thought it would be enough. And by this time I had convinced myself that enough was all I could hope for, that I should be happy and grateful to get it. Who was I to want more?
Life began to feel very empty. Not that it wasn’t nice: dinners with friends, fun trips, nice clothes. It was a full life with good people around me. But I couldn’t shake the feeling: shouldn’t there be more?
I knew that the thing tugging inside of me was a yearning to reach my potential, to unlock something that wanted to be set free. I realized that in the years I had been chasing the carrot on the stick I had turned my back on myself. I’d given up the more. I’d lost my sense of possibility.
I don’t even know what the more is. All I know is that more has something to do with traveling and writing. I know it has something to do with stepping away from my cubicle and my dictated schedule and living. It has something to do with expanding the orb that my life rotates in. The more, it is a physical desire, a yearning, the way others must yearn for a child or for someone who is gone.
So I decided to chase the more because I realized that it was the only authentic decision. And then, of course, as I have documented in this blog, came all of the emotional turmoil. The fear, the questioning, the letting go of physical things. The stress, the joy, the exhilaration, the sadness, and sometimes even the longing to want what everyone else seems to want. The longing to be content with the kind of life that I was living and the anger at myself for not wanting it. The anger for making things harder on myself. The guilt for dragging Brian through the mud with me.
A lot of people think of our upcoming travels as a vacation and so their minds quickly conjure up easy days on the beach and carefree evenings roaming through ancient, romantic cities. What they don’t understand is that this is a quest to find what it is I seek. It is a quest to calm this thing inside for more, the thing that makes me burn the candle at both ends, that makes me push and push and push, the relentless and endless desire to find satisfaction with myself and what I will do with my life. My one life. Can anyone understand the implication of that sentence? One life. Just one. Why aren’t we all running like we are on fire toward our wildest dreams?
Brian, who knows me better than anyone, says that I will never be content. But I don’t know if he’s right. I can almost envision a life in which I would be content.
- First of all, it is a life in which I am a writer.
- Second of all, it is a life in which I am around nature, living in the mountains where I can easily hike or run in the forest.
- Third of all, it is a life in which I have close connections to people.
When it gets down to it, that is all I want.
But I feel like I cannot find those things until we do this traveling. I can only explain that this traveling feels like an integral part of the journey on my path to finding more.
And this leads me back to where I started. How to answer why when there is no logical, sensible answer? Why? Because my soul tells me to. Why? Because I just believe that this is the right step.
Maybe after all of that, this explains it best:
Brian said once, as I voiced my frustration at trying to explain the unexplainable “Kim, why do birds migrate? They can’t explain why, they just do. They’re overcome with an urge to go a certain way and they get where they need to go because of it.”