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Thoughts From 37,000 Feet Above Earth

Voluntourist A_Broad: Guatemala

Thoughts From 37,000 Feet Above Earth


I'm off to one heck of a start on this little journey to Central America. I thought I'd already learned my lesson about luggage weight during recent trips abroad. I made a concerted effort to cut back this time. I didn't even bring any vitamins. And in my defense, a fifty pound weight limit hardly seems fair. I've carried more than that on my back and up a mountain. I can't be the only person who needs more than fifty pounds worth of sunscreen in Guatemala. Nonetheless, a mere half hour before takeoff time, there I squatted, toiletries splayed out all over the floor of American Airline's check-in area, trying to pad my conditioner tubes with bathing suit tops. I was asked to transfer my liquids into the backpack I planned to carry on board. They offered to check it (for an extra $40) so their staff could fling it onto a conveyor belt where it will likely be pulverized to smithereens by its smarter, more durable new friends. 

While it may have bothered most (and it's still kind of bothering me, since I'm writing about it from an airplane between silent prayers for my skin serums), I'm not going to let it drag me down. Not today! At least I made it onto the plane in the first place. I've been known to get held up. And I'm feeling about as hopeful as ever as I soar 37,000 feet above the Atlantic Coast. 

It's a wonder how I even got here. The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur. I made the somewhat-unexpected-yet-extremely-liberating decision to quit a steady, stable, well-paying job. To be a freelance travel writer.  Does that not seem completely doable and lucid?  Even if it doesn't, don't tell me. I can't take it back now. I handed in my letter. I experienced the exquisite high that comes from taking a leap of faith. The deed is done. I have no choice left but to make things happen.

I've spent the last decade a respected and sought-after Executive Assistant. I can practically get Obama on the telephone. I'm a master at organizing, ordering, streamlining and planning. I set important people up for success. And I do so without them ever realizing how much they need me. I'm like that quacky professor in The Wizard of Oz, manically pushing buttons and pulling levers to ensure whoever matters shines bright like a diamond. It's a noble profession, indeed. But it's hardly gratifying. That's probably why it pays well. 

As for my own success? I guess I always had a different definition for myself.  Success meant having fun. Success meant sleeping. Success meant eating and traveling and living and loving and breathing. I didn't choose to define myself by my day job. Which made it all-the-more easy to quit it in pursuit of my passion.  Which pays abysmally. But now and finally, success means going where my heart is. And my heart has always been here. Here on this plane, flying high on its way to a distant country.  Here in a worn out airplane seat with a lightweight laptop flashing its pondering cursor back at me. Here in transit. Here alone. Above all else: here. My success is right here. I just had to free up the space for it. 

If you told twenty-year-old me that quitting your job was a thing to be applauded, I'd call you a liar. Life has a pretty calculable set of steps when you grow up in a small town in the smallest state of Rhode Island. It goes like this: do well in school, participate in after school activities that look good on your college applications, apply to college, go to college, do well in college, participate in extracurricular activities that look good on your resume, graduate, write your resume, send out your resume,  get a job at the first office that will have you, be thankful you have a job because of the giant recession that just blindsided the economy, gain job experience in the field you were lucky enough to get employed in, contribute to your 401K, save money, buy a car, buy property, get engaged, get married, buy more property, have kids, contribute way more to your 401K...... the end?

Maybe I'm exaggerating just a little bit, but that pretty much sums up my preconceived knowledge of life at twenty. And so I stuck my feet in the carefully laid placeholders lining my path to greatness. 

Too bad I've never been one for grace.  

As it turns out, your feet get pretty good at doing their own thing when you're not looking. Mine have been unknowingly following my gut (which is rarely logical and always searching for snacks). Missed opportunities, I now see, were chances gained. Breakups, evictions (okay my landlord wouldn't re-sign my lease but it was extremely traumatizing), meltdowns, mishaps and all-out-wipeouts were not for naught. They got me here. They got me onto this plane. On my way back to Central America where the warmth of the culture, coffee and sunshine will restore my faith in myself and the precarious decisions I've made. 

When 32-year-old me quit my career, I expected a little bit more of a backlash; Some sort of "what are you crazy?" echo emanating from my family and friends. I figured they'd stick the final nail in the coffin of my weirdness and file me away in the morgue. The general response, however, gives me more hope for humanity than I ever thought possible. 

"Good for you!," they exclaimed. "It takes courage!" People were actually applauding me for quitting my job. Americans, at that. 

Does it take courage? Maybe a little bit. I don't know the exact amount of courage it takes to cut yourself off at the knees for a seemingly intangible goal. But it definitely takes wine.  And a healthy amount of crazy. Which I have covered. 

Another common response I get is "I'm so jealous!" "I wish I could do that!" 

Oh but you can. The thing that nobody tells you is this: you can do anything you want to do. It's called free will. The question is what you're willing to give up for it. It might be a house, a paycheck, a partner or a liver... but you can do whatever the hell you please.  Just don't throw away your kids. That would be bad. Success doesn't have to look a certain way. It's more of a feeling, actually. Your choices should be made to validate you. Only you. Every decision you've ever made led you to today. Thank yourself for that. This is the only version of you that matters. Until your feet carry you out of your comfy little cocoon and into the great unknown. And that's where the real fun happens. 

But maybe wait a few months to see how things fare for me first. Because I could be completely wrong. 

For now... I fly. Toward my own definition of success. Toward Central America. Toward surfing and volunteering and living and writing.  With my passion, my backpack full of exploded toiletries, and this crappy little laptop.