It was a Friday night in Cleveland. I had plans to attend a networking event in which I knew no one, but was fairly confident that I would leave with new friends and professional contacts; for whatever reason, that’s always the way it seemed to work. I parked my car, ran across the street to the hotel where the event was being held, and took a deep breath right before I entered. Staying true to form, I was awkwardly nervous in those first few seconds right before I actually entered the event. My hand was on the handle to the door leading in, and all I wanted to do was run away to my comfortable home and my precious little cat and watch The Office. But as always, I fought the feeling and walked in with pretend confidence.
Like I said, I usually am pretty comfortable in going to an event alone, whether it be a networking event, volunteer event, or whatever else, and never usually seem to have a problem going up to people and introducing myself. Well, as I found out, that is not always the case. I felt uncomfortable and completely awkward for the duration of the event, and did not feel like I really connected with anyone.
Until I met Sarah.
Now, I was introduced to this woman through a mutual friend, and we immediately started chatting. She had lived in Manhattan for quite a few years before moving back to Cleveland to try and experience that “slower pace of life” that seems to always be stamped on Midwest towns. You know, cities that have garden clubs, revolve around minivans and peewee soccer games, and folks who consider going out to eat at Applebee’s fine dining (no hate on Cleveland or Applebee’s here, as I truly love both, and that two for twenty menu is a killer). But you get what I’m saying. So Sarah and I were in conversation for quite a while for two reasons. Reason number one: I was truly enchanted with her life in New York and felt hypnotized with what she was telling me; all the crazy stories and unbelievable moments that made up her real life for 10 years in the Big Apple. Reason number two: I knew this was the only person I would probably talk to all night, so I was holding onto this conversation like Jack on the iceberg.
I started telling her about my life and about what I ultimately wanted. How I wanted to travel the world (big surprise, right?) and would do absolutely everything in my power to make my dream a reality. Whether it be teaching English as a second language, looking into Workaway.com, or becoming a nanny in an exotic and foreign country, I confessed to her that I had explored every avenue possible and couldn’t wait to see what life had in store for me.
After giving her practically my entire life biography, and two glasses of wine later, she told me that she felt the same exact way that I did when she was my age. She was not old by any means, in her early to mid- thirties at most, but she went on to explain that her trade off for living in Manhattan for so long was that her time to have a family was over. “Everything in life is a trade off. Your life never turns out the way you plan”, she said, and then with those parting words, she left.
But her words didn’t.
Signal the avalanche of thoughts that started coming my way after that surprisingly awakening statement.
Is everything in life really a trade off? Do we have to negotiate what we want with the realization that we will have to give up something equally as important? Do we really have to pick? And who says that choosing to go down one road of life completely blockades you from ever getting onto another road if you so choose? Why can’t we switch highways of life if we want to?
Although I am well aware that we have to be mindful with our decisions and how they may or may not affect us in the long run (because frankly you can’t go running around like a frat boy when you are in your 40s if you plan on still having a family of your own), but at the same time, we should not be afraid to make scary decisions in life now, in the present, just because we think that we are not going to get something later in life that we may want down the road.
In my own little world, I have put traveling as a top priority. Traveling has trumped all else, and it will for probably quite a bit of time. Until I get it out of my system you could say, or maybe until I actually have seen enough of the world that I can say that I am ready to settle down and not be so…nomadic. But for right now, it’s all I want and it’s all I really need to keep me happy. Eventually though, years and year and YEARS down the line (please don’t take my emphasis lightly), I think I eventually do want to have a family of my own, or at least a family a little larger than just my cat and I. Not now, not next year, and most likely not for the next ten years, but maybe eventually.
So should I be afraid of wanting to travel because I may be turning my back on all the other great things life has to offer? Should I ignore this pull in my heart that is just screaming at me to explore every continent, country and culture? Should I brush away every single dream I have ever had and instead embrace the fact that it’s a strong possibility that I will be a crazy cat lady for the rest of my life?
Of course, the only answer to all of this is a strong resilient NO. And if that is not your answer, well, I feel a tiny bit sorry for you. Because your life is not meant to be lived with the idea of what you might want in 15 years from now. Yes, planning ahead is important…open up your 401k, start investing your money, build up credit, you know, plan ahead in THAT way. But do not, I repeat DO NOT, shelf what you want because you think it may lock doors that you want to open in the future. Seriously. Do what makes you happy right now, not what makes your 45, 65, or 95 year old self happy.
Never believe that life is a trade off. You will have everything you’ve ever wanted in ways you can’t even imagine right now. If you believe that you need to trade off one thing for another, then really the only thing you are trading off is actually living your life.
I walked away from that networking event with having not exactly upheld the “networking” aspect of it, but nonetheless, I think I took away something more important than email addresses and LinkedIn contacts. Right there, in the somewhat shady, deserted parking garage of downtown Cleveland, I promised myself that I would never trade off anything that I wanted, because it’s a fabulous and glamorous thing to want it all, and even beyond that, to actually purse it.
I’m going to beat the system–I’m trading in the idea of “the trade off” for the idea of “the take off”; the take off to anywhere.