A grad school professor once wrote on one of my graded papers “There’s no better time than the present”, referring to an idea I had proposed in my paper. While I never did pursue that particular idea, his words left a lasting impression on me. To this day I still try to live by them. Or at the very least remind myself that I should live more from this mindset.
In my youth, I held a deep need for security and safety. It was a consistent theme in my life. But over time (along with lots of painful lessons) I’ve learned to break free from that prison to take more risks, and by extent, live more fully. A prime example of this took place during a very unpredictable time in my career as I faced challenges I wasn’t sure were in the best interest of my happiness. Taking advantage of a rough unemployment period, I decided to spend three months in Italy. Full of uncertainty and devoid of any security? Yes. 100%. But I felt that in the end the rewards would be far greater than the risks.
My gut had been speaking to me about it for a while, but it seemed impractical to throw caution to the wind in a seemingly irresponsible way. But at the same time, the routine was getting to me and I was dissatisfied with how my career was going. Not to mention that I also had an unsettling feeling that my days at my job were numbered. Sure enough, I was let go a few months later. Following a short period of self-sabotaging thoughts and denial of the reality that was my life, I reconnected with the Italy idea. And I really liked it. And soon it became a desire so deep that I could not part with it until I made it happen. So, one fine spring day I shared a cryptic yet meaningful quote on my Facebook page:
“Make decisions in your life to impress only two people: your five-year-old self and your 85-year-old self.”
This was the turning point in which I decided to embark on this journey. I remembered also my professor’s words, and thought, “what better time than now during a gap period in my career to do something completely against what I’m “supposed” to be doing: devoting my waking hours to networking and sending out resumes until I find another job.” Well, I had been doing exactly that and had become completely fed up and depleted. I craved an out-of-the-ordinary kind of experience. I believed in my heart that going abroad for a while could serve as an opportunity for self-reflection, gaining clarity and hitting the reset button. So, what did I gain from this decision that seemed more irresponsible than anything else?
Change of pace, change of everything
The thing that was killing me prior to plunging into the unknown was routine. I get bored easily and quickly if I find that my day to day is becoming too monotonous. I needed a break from it all and Italy did not disappoint. Going from the hustle and bustle of New York City and corporate America to becoming an au pair for three Italian school children certainly made things interesting. Rather than burning out from working late in a midtown Manhattan office, I was picking up Isabella from school, taking Carlo to tennis, and helping Alessandro with his English homework. Instead of having the usual takeout from Seamless and eating alone in my Brooklyn apartment, I was learning how to prepare handmade pasta with my host family. I traded in the daily stress that comes with morning rush hour and crowded subways for Italian lessons at a language school in Rome. It was different. It was a breath of fresh air. It was fulfilling. It widened my perspective and curiosity about the world.
An opportunity to better know myself
I had high hopes that this experience would afford me time to do some figuring out about what was next for me (career-wise) upon returning to New York. But it did more than that. Yes, I gained some of the clarity I was seeking, but it also taught me more about deep-seated values I never really knew I had. I was able to make connections in ways that I hadn’t been able to while stuck in the daily grind. I gained a clearer understanding of what matters most to me in life and bringing those things into greater focus is allowing me to stay committed to them today.
Lifelong friendships and family
Not only did I meet new people, I made new friends and I gained an “adoptive” family. I also met my now significant other. I experienced human connection in ways that had been lost in the day-to-day “I just have to get from point A to point B” way of living that eventually becomes the norm in a city like New York. The children I cared for as an au pair will forever be “my Italian kids” whom I love very much. The laughs I shared and the warmth I was welcomed with by strangers is forever etched in my heart.
Were there challenges along the way? Absolutely. But more than a leap of faith into the unknown, this decision turned out to be an investment in myself. It taught me to live from a place of curiosity and an openness to infinite possibilities, and to listen more intently to my gut. Because if there is one thing I am certain of is that the world is in fact filled with endless, rewarding possibilities. And there’s never a better time than the present to do what makes you happy.