It has been a little over two weeks since I left my job. In that time, Al and I have packed up our apartment, moved almost all that we own into a little dusty crawl space at my in-laws house, and said temporary goodbyes to our friends (we will be back to see them at the end of the month before we head out for good). We drove the 1,062 miles from Chicago to my parents home in Jacksonville, Florida with our two kitties and giant travel backpacks nestled safely in the back seat.
We are spending the limbo period between moving out of our home and leaving for our big adventure here, soaking up time with my family and doing our best to integrate the cats into their new temporary home, while trying to process everything that has just happened, and finalizing plans for everything that is to come.
The ‘processing everything that just happened’ part is where I am having a little bit of difficulty. I am notoriously horrible with change, and have one of those conflicting personalities where I crave adventure and the comforts of home to an almost equal level. It still has not fully hit me yet what we have done, how severely we have uprooted ourselves, and how abruptly we have ended the life we were so used to in Chicago. I still occasionally get the nagging feeling that I have made a crazy decision.
Recently, I was talking with my best friend about why we struggle so much with certain decisions we make, like my decision to prioritize travel and the unknown over stability and a great life in Chicago, even though it is something I know with absolute certainty that I want to do. I chose to do this. I planned for this. I want to do this. Why does it still feel like such a risk? After hours of discussion (we talk a lot) we came up with what I call our ‘breaking the wheel‘ theory.
The theory goes like this:
We all go through a lot of changes in life.
All of these type of major life changes fall on ‘the wheel’ of life. The trajectory that many of us are set on: 18 years of schooling, followed by some version of a advanced schooling, a job or several (and if you’re lucky, a career), marriage, a home, possibly kids, and retirement. There are variations within the wheel, but it’s a relatively predictable path that many of us follow, myself being no different.
I do want to stop here to clarify; I am not making the argument that there is anything wrong with following this path, or that it doesn’t present its own set of difficulties. I am just suggesting that it may not necessarily a one-size-fits all life, and providing my own personal explanation for why it can sometimes feel difficult for people (like myself) when you have a desire to do something outside of this type of lifestyle.
When I left my childhood home at 18 to go to college, it was difficult and I was homesick, but in my mind, it was the only option. When my four years of college at Indiana University were up, I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine a life where I didn’t live in the same house as my best friends, or just a mile away from the beautiful college campus full of Indiana limestone buildings. Bloomington had become my home. I knew what was expected of me. I was comfortable, and I didn’t want to leave.
But, I had to leave. My four years were up, college was over, it was time to go, the wheel was turning. I spent the next year fumbling my way around various jobs that weren’t a good fit (including being a horribly under-qualified English teacher in Thailand) until I finally found ‘the one’ that would stick for the next 6 years.
I never doubted my decision to look for jobs, to move out of Bloomington, to leave college behind, move to Chicago, or change jobs once my contract ended. I didn’t have a choice. Life or other circumstances were pushing me along the tracks, making my decisions for me, whether I liked it or not. If something went wrong (and it often did), it wasn’t totally my fault. Had the wheel not forced me to move on from those situations, I might never have left them.
It is somewhat easier to accept and deal with a drastic change when it is forced, because you have no other option, as opposed to making an active and intentional decision towards change when it has an unknown outcome, especially when you are leaving a comfortable situation by choice.
Our decision to quit our jobs to travel the world is not on the wheel (although many could make an argument that it is becoming popular enough to work its way on there). I could have stayed in my previous job, or found a new one, and then kept going until retirement. There are many things besides travel that are not on the wheel. For example, deciding not to go to college and do something else, dedicating your life to becoming a formula one race car driver, or starting a farm animal sanctuary, just to name a few.
It is my theory as to why so many of us find ourselves feeling stuck. After we’ve hit the majority of life points on the wheel before retirement, there is rarely anything forcing us to move to the next stage, to make a change, or to take a leap. So instead, we coast. We go through the motions of life. Life is no longer pulling us along, and we are just riding out the momentum, spinning along and running out the clock.
However, if we do decide to break the wheel and go rogue, we are agreeing to accept full responsibility for what comes next. If things end up going poorly, or if our decision to do this sets our lives down a series of unfortunate and negative circumstances, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
I somehow had the disillusioned belief that if I stay on the wheel, I am safe. Nothing can hurt me. And if anything goes wrong, it is not my fault, because I followed the rules and did all the things I believed I was supposed to do by signing some non-existent life contract, to ensure a good life.
Of course, I realize that none of this is true. I am no safer staying on the track I think I am ‘supposed’ to be on, than on the track that I set for myself. It is simply waking up and realizing that you don’t have to live the life you thought you were supposed to. You are allowed to change your circumstance, change your mind, make a different decision, or take a scary leap and see what happens. If things don’t go the way I thought they would, thats okay. If they do work out, even better.
Breaking the wheel isn’t just about making huge life altering decisions like the one we have coming up, but deciding that I am not okay with taking a backseat in my own life, and instead making active decisions towards achieving my goals and building the life I want (where I don’t dread Mondays, obviously). Breaking the wheel is easier said than done, but it will be a good reminder for me on this journey.
Plus, if it’s a good enough motto for Daenerys Targaryen, it’s good enough for me.