Welcome to the 401st post!
I was keeping such a close eye on when to post up a special 400th piece that I don’t know how this one slipped by. That said, I think yesterday’s Canada Day write up was a very apropos, grounding sort of post to have gotten that honour.
So while this is technically the 401st post, I’m happy to have this be the inaugurating first step into the next hundred. Because after all 400 is a landmark, but how do you go on from there knowing that each step is going to be far more humble?
This is a philosoraptor topic that I’ve been pondering on for quite some time. I’ve reached some high water marks in my lifetime – many more than I thought possible. Every time the wave rolls back, however, I get a bad case of the withdrawals.
The first time I felt this quite so acutely was after I came back from my study abroad trip in Australia, 2011. I’d spent years preparing to go, proceeded to have the best time of my life, and then came home entirely deflated. Not only was I feeling empty because I missed the Land Down Under, but also because I’d accomplished the most distant, far-reaching goal I had at the time.
How do you go on from there?
The answer: I needed a new goal.
My short term goal was to go to Vancouver the next year, but that was just to tide me over for The Big One. What I really wanted now? To teach English abroad. Then, I reasoned, I’d never have to come home: I could keep monkey bar-ing across Asia and travel indefinitely. That was a plan with no slump at the end, right?
Well, that didn’t quite work out as you all well know. I stayed for two years before calling it quits and returning to Canada for some homestyle restoration. Only when I got home, I realized I was stuck in that same old conundrum of 2011.
Ricky and I formulated a dozen plans, including moving to Australia, New Zealand, California, Vancouver, and Toronto (the latter of which was just about so certain that I wrote about it in my 300th post as our surefire path to the future). The plethora of choices – each with their long lists of pros and cons – was overwhelming. But we knew we needed a direction. In the end, visas dictated our best bet was to go to the UK where Ricky could complete a teaching certification that would allow him to not only teach ESL, but be a teacher at a high school in any country.
And so it seemed we had purpose again.
I’m still going to try to get into the UK, kicking and screaming if I have to, but one thing’s for sure: once Ricky finishes his certification, the UK is no longer an option for us. Thus, we’re both asking ourselves, once more, “What now?”
Again, we’ve scrambled together some plans.
So far we have Vietnam, Cambodia, and Japan on our list. Farther into the future, we’d really like to move to Australia and New Zealand. Ricky’s set on teaching, and while I’m good to do ESL for a while, I’m also aiming towards getting an agent to do illustrations for books, considering a sideline career in massage therapy or possibly osteopathy, and never giving up hope that an opportunity for travel writing could one day be an option.
But the truth is none of those specifics matter.
I’ve been feeling a lot more grounded lately and I’ve finally come to realize that it’s because all that matters is that we have plans.
Because once you’re holding your guiding star in your hands, suddenly the way forward isn’t so clear anymore. At least that’s been my problem.
It straight up sucks to be directionless, purposeless. It’s necessary to set goals you can achieve since castles in the sky also tend to make you feel like there’s no point, but no one really talks about the downer after the liberating high. Rationally speaking, it’s only natural to go downhill after reaching the top, but it can make you feel even worse. After all why do you feel like you’re in the dumps after completing the best thing in your life? You should celebrate! Feel on top of the world!
Whatever your feelings are for Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love), she has a great TedTalk on finding center. To paraphrase, she says great success and great failure both throw you to opposite extremes of your emotional spectrum. As such, either one (yes, even the extreme good) throws you off balance. What you need to do is find your center again. From there, you gain back the perspective that allows you to go forward with purpose once more.
In the last year, a lot of my goals have fallen away. Namely, my nearly lifelong ambition to become a writer. I used to think that I could be happy working a day job and pursuing a career in writing. If Stephen King could do it with all the odds stacked against him in his early days, surely I could truck on as well and get there eventually. “Nose + grindstone + me = success” was my formula to get me into the future.
I’m not going to cross writing off the list forever, but I’ve been doing a lot of rethinking since leaving Korea. I’ve tried to get that writing career to take flight, but the industry is nothing like I thought it would be. And the kind of day jobs I saw myself surviving off of are not financially sustainable options – especially because I’m making travel a priority. Call it a quarter life crisis if you will, but I’m completely reevaluating what I think I want, and what I know I need, and defining my path forwards based on the answers I’m discovering.
I thought I wanted to be a writer, but I’m not so sure anymore.
I thought I could do ESL indefinitely, but it’s not what I thought it would be.
I thought I’d be able to work any job for the pay check, but I’m learning my limits.
So what now?
Very simply, I’m making plans – many of them. I’m staying flexible. And most importantly, I’m looking farther into the future than ever before.
I can’t say I’ll never find myself in the slump between great dreams again, but I’m trying to give myself perspective. On either side, there is a mountain: behind, one recently descended; ahead one yet to be scaled. Where you are at this point is a valley.
It’s nice to rest, but it’s only there as long as you stay put. When you decide to keep going, it takes a single step. Then another. And another. Eventually you’re at the next peak.
One thing I’ve learned though is that I far prefer having something to look forward to than the actual moment of triumph. Not so much that I’d sabotage my achievements, but rather that for every goal I have, I’m aiming to accompany it with Plans B-Z to keep me going once I cross it off the checklist.
Now, I’m terrible at following my own advice, but I’m earnestly trying to stay positive if only because I never want to end up in the dark place I got to back in Korea again. So this is one of my many attempts to make sense of this crazy world and adopt a point of view more zen than a yogi aligning chakras on a surfboard.
And so, with this 1st step achieved past the 400 mark, I’ve begun my humble way out of the valley and onto the next peak at 500. Hopefully my life in the interim will have come as far from here as it has in the last hundred posts.
“The best is yet to come,” as the quote goes.
And keeping that in mind is how to keep going.
So how about you guys – do you have any tried and true ways to get yourself past the slumps and onto the next adventure?