If you were to ask me a year ago if I thought that I would have had one of the most whirl win, incredible experiences of my lifetime, I would have been skeptical. A year ago, I had become the very person that I swore I would never be. I became the stereotypical American, overworking themselves, dragging myself into work every day, working for the “so-called man,” barely getting paid, yet pushing myself, day in and day out, and not seeing a return on my investment.
I guess you could say that I sort of fell into that job. Like my peers, I graduated during the height of the Great Recession in 2011. I graduated with so many hopes and dreams of a bright future. I did everything right. I worked hard for four years of college, wrote twelve page papers, did debates, discussed theories and rhetoric. I interned at MetLife, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and Teen Voices Magazine.
I worked two on campus jobs, I worked at the local figure-skating rink, and even did a stint during the summer at the local movie theater. And when I graduated college, it looked promising when I slowly began to get interviews. But with each interview, came a no. It was no after no after no. Each time I received a no, it was as if a little piece of my soul had been stolen.
With almost $20,000 hanging over my head, and desperate for at least some source of income, I started taking any job that I could get. I worked part time at the local science center, I worked at Victoria’s Secret. I even participated in two political campaigns, and later found myself registered with a temp agency. This went on for the better part of two years, and I didn’t see things getting any better. I did not see a light at the end of the tunnel. All I was faced with was failure as I drowned in despair.
When we were young, millennials, we always got participation trophies, no matter what place we fell in, coaches never wanted us to feel bad. The other day, I was going through a number of old certificates, and found certificates from the science fair, the school safety patrol, swimming, figure-skating and a number of other activities I participated in growing up. We were told from a very young age that we could be anything we wanted to be when we grew up. We were told that if we went to college and got a good education, that our opportunities would be limitless and the possibilities endless.
Finally, after years of agonizing job hunting, I was offered a position that paid $40,000 a year. For me, I was sold. I had loans to pay back, a car to pay for. I didn’t question anything. I was just so excited that someone recognized my potential and wanted to hire me. I accepted the position, despite the fact that I was contractually obligated to stay for 18 months, otherwise, I owed the company money.
I slowly began to immerse myself in this new position. It wasn’t long, however, before the job started to take a toll on me. I was being yelled at by volunteers, yelled at by my bosses. I had to deal with a condescending person in the workplace, the very first time that I had ever had to deal with somebody like that. I had to deal with a lady with a Queen Bee like mentality. I was a salaried employee. I constantly put my blood, sweat and tears into the position, worked overtime, worked weekends. I was always the first in, usually around 5:30 a.m. and the last to leave, usually around 9:30 at night.
I felt myself slowly begin to suffer from job burnout. I was no longer smiling as much. I did not see my friends as often. I was drinking and partying more, and had even taken up smoking for a time. I swear that all the grey hairs I now have can be attributed entirely to that one job position. I grew depressed, and my self-esteem dropped and my work ethic slowed.
It was at that point that I knew that I had to make a very important, very difficult decision. See, to me, Life’s too short to be anything but happy. So the day that my contract ended, I resigned from my job, packed my bags, and a month later, was on a plane to Macerata, Italy to participate in a cultural exchange program.
I needed time off from work. I needed to find myself again. I needed to enjoy the simple pleasures of life again, and that is why I choose Italy as my destination. Their people have such a way of life that is to be envied by the rest of us. I needed to find my voice again. I was inspired to do this trip by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, and Sarah Hepola. It was the craziest, loneliest thing that I have ever done, but it was also the best, most amazing thing that I have ever done.
I spent two months teaching overseas, and spent my weekends traveling and eating my way through Italy. I traveled to Bologna and Perugia, I visited Capri, the Amalfi Coast, Napoli, Milano, and Verona. I returned to the United States with more stories than I can count. I got lost more times than I can name, I butchered my Italian in multiple conversations, but I also made some lifelong friendships. And here is why I think that every woman should travel alone at least once in their life:
A sense of independence: if I got lost, if something went wrong, I could not just call home to have my parents bail me out. After all, what would they be able to do from thousands of miles away? I would just have to figure it out.
Alone doesn’t mean lonely: occasionally, I traveled with people I met in the hostels. But for the most part, I traveled to different cities by myself, I dined by myself. Most of all, I learned to enjoy my own company. I enjoyed the peace and quiet, and moving at my own pace, on my schedule, going where I wanted, when I wanted.
I returned to the U.S. proud of what I had accomplished. See, the thing I share with Liz Gilbert, Cheryl and Sarah is our reckless sense of adventure and the grandiosity to believe that we could make such a journey to begin with, when people were ready to convince us we could not. I was asked multiple times why I took the trip. To many people, they could not fathom the idea of a female traveling by herself through a foreign country. And many people could not stomach the idea of why I left a fulltime job with benefits to practically jump off a cliff into relative uncertainty.
I never want to lose myself again, the way I did when I spent 18 months investing in a job that did not ignite me, that I was not passionate about. I think what I like most about me is that I am young and dumb, stupid enough to believe that I can take such wild adventures. Sometimes, in life, it is so easy to get discouraged, but when I am feeling down and out and defeated, I try to tell myself this: that the greatest trip of my life came because I did not get the things I wanted.