I was 35 years old when I realized my life was on the fast track to a place called Ah-Hell-NO.
Not to sound ungrateful – I had a pretty good situation. My first book had just been published worldwide, I was living in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, self-employed and acting part-time (a life-long dream), engaged to be married to a man – we’ll call him J – who is probably the best human on the planet and treated me like I shit sunshine and rainbows, had a group of friends that by all accounts were the bees knees, and didn’t want for any material thing. Annoying in its perfection, right? I know. On paper, it wasn’t exactly terrible.
But I was slowly dying inside.
Let’s rewind about 6 years. I graduated university, was chin-deep in student loan debt, and fed up working a decade in the hospitality industry. I needed a change. So J and I moved from our tiny West Coast island to the big city of Toronto with goals of striking it big. Or at least, striking it bigger than Victoria. We both got Monday to Friday jobs, and started to build our life there.
For four months.
It didn’t take long for me to realize the 9-to-5 grind was a terrible fit for me. Not to mention the hour and a half commute to and from work every day in a crowded subway car. I was having meltdowns in the street, crying in the bathroom at lunch, and had to listen to anti-stress apps to fall asleep every night. It was agony.
By this time I had been food blogging for several years. Unsure of my next move, over several cocktails I relayed my trauma to a couple blog friends. Between giggles and an excessive (but typical) number of F-bombs dropped, they encouraged me to start charging for the free help I was giving to members of our community. Namely graphic design, website coding, and social media advice.
I knew nothing about freelancing or running a business. I had zero savings, a butt-load of credit card and student loan debt, no friends in the city, and no back-up plan. So I figured, why not?
I gave my notice and 2 weeks later, I was a free agent. A sloppy pool of terrified. But like I tell coaching clients now, you can feel afraid. I’m scared most of the time. But it doesn’t mean you don’t act. Fear is a mechanism of evolution, to keep us safe and alive. So I thanked that fear for protecting me, and then I big fat did it anyway. I was going to make. this. work. And for all intents and purposes, I did. Financially. But emotionally, something still wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t tell you what it was at the time, but I knew something was off.
I wasn’t happy.
Two years later J and I came back west, this time to Vancouver. I hoped this would be the shift I needed to feel good. A new city more in line with my left-wing values, surrounded by the Pacific ocean and mammoth sized mountains; a new start.
Within a month, my Dad was diagnosed with Cancer. A lot of it. And he died. I spent the next year flying between Vancouver and Kelowna to visit my Mom and Brother, all the while trying to process the loss of my Dad who I’d previously talked with every day. I needed to run my business, write a cookbook, work on the food blog, be there for J, nurture my friendships, pay my bills, meet my own personal and fitness goals, and keep my feet above sinking – my head was already two inches below the surface.
For the next year and a half, I felt the very opposite of good.
There was this relentless need to be enough – enough of an entrepreneur, a writer, a blogger, a photographer, a partner, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a woman. To be funny enough. Clever enough. Sexy enough. Host enough. Friendly enough. Positive enough. Strong enough. Outgoing enough. Working enough… Being “enough” was a ferocious and unforgiving constant in my life. I could never just be.
I realize now that pressure was entirely self-imposed. I felt the expectations others had of me – those were real, and they always asked for more. That, combined with my overachieving need to not only live up to those challenges, but exceed them, forced me to become a machine. In so doing, I compromised my own needs, wants, and desires so considerably, I could hardly recognize myself.
In my mind, that pressure was inescapable.
Until I escaped.
A year and a half ago I made the hardest decision of my life: I left my lovely and wonderful fiance. My partner of 8 years. My best friend. We were good to one another, but not the best for one another. He wanted a more predictable, routine life; I wanted spontaneity and adventure. And there were other incompatibilities as well – interests, lifestyle, energy levels, sexual appetites. Ultimately, I realized no matter how much I wanted it to work, we just didn’t fit. I loved him and he did nothing wrong; choosing to end our relationship and cause him pain in the process, was excruciating. I found an apartment. I moved out. And I tried to remember how to do laundry again for the first time in a very long time.
I started figuring out what I actually like. What I want. And what I don’t.
It wasn’t until I made some mistakes and ended a much shorter and unhealthier relationship with someone else, that the idea to travel – to truly hit refresh – punched me square in the jaw.
I was napping at my Mom’s, reading Wanderlust by Elisabeth Eaves, and had just finished The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. As I drifted off, an idea floated through my mind, as they often do when you’re right on the cusp of sleep. And I had the epiphany that changed everything: I can literally work from anywhere I want.
I’ve always told people I could work from wherever I wanted. But I thought of that in terms of which coffee shop felt right that day. I’d boxed myself into that “expectation mould” so tightly, it never occurred to me to think bigger.
So I got creative. I started to Google. And in the span of that afternoon, came up with a destination short-list, and made my decision: I was going to move to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I don’t speak the language, I’d never been to S.E. Asia, I’d never backpacked before, I’d never traveled alone before, and again, had no backup. So I figured, why not?
I jumped tits over teeth into the deep end, booked my plane ticket, and started making a redundant amount of to-do lists.
The biggest factor that enabled my refresh though, was choosing to sell everything I owned. I spent two months listing all my worldly belongings online. I got rid of everything. From the artificial plants in the bathroom, to the food photography props, to my extensive collection of Anthropologie dresses, to the L shaped sectional that fit perfectly in my 480 square foot living room, to the car I’d loved and wanted since I was a 14 year old girl.
I got my passport and visa in order. Cancelled my cell phone plan. Converted all bills to e-billing. Bought my first proper backpack, along with a few vital supplies. And said “seeyalateralligator” to the people I love most in the world.
And then I got on a plane.
Looking back, I’ve realized I’ve been constantly moving – constantly refreshing – my entire adult life. Moving apartments. Moving cities. Moving jobs. Moving lovers. I’ve hit refresh more than once before I *really* hit refresh and started over in Thailand 6 weeks ago. But this is the first time I’ve done it intentionally, giving me the true change I really needed – it’s given me space.
It’s been hard as hell. I’ve cried every day since I’ve been gone. Or rather, come back, to myself. For the first time in a very, very long time I can tell you what I really want. I’m identifying feelings that previously didn’t have names. I know without a doubt that sex, and adventure, and travel, and passion, and honesty, and belly laughs are non-negotiable for me. They simply must be.
I continue to run my business from Thailand. I’m passionate about reinventing brand storytelling for small businesses, and I get to collaborate with entrepreneurs and organizations to convey their authenticity through design, copywriting, and consulting. I Skype with my friends and family and can be more present now, than I ever was. I’m working out e’ry day. I’m drinking (less). I got a new tattoo – a BIG tattoo. I’m meditating. I’m laughing. And I’m writing my ass off, telling the stories I ache to tell without the pressure of being enough.
I am enough, as is.
And while I know all those things, there’s still one thing that’s unclear right now, after hitting refresh: I don’t know where I’m headed. Or even which track I’m on – though I’m pretty sure Ah-Hell-No is in the other direction.
I’m 37, a solo traveler, and the only “shoulds” in my vocabulary are coffee, breath, and kindness. That, and whiskey.
Other than that, I’m designing my life as I go.
I’m here. And that’s all I need to be.