When I was 26, I had an epiphany and realized that every year, life gets better. This has more or less been true for me since I was 18, with a brief exception of a few months during my 25th year of life, when I went through a post-college-graduation crisis while being temporarily trapped in a mind-numbing, low-paying, cold-calling sales job. Luckily I survived that challenging time, realized the full truth of the timeworn expression “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” also realized that crises of life are easier to deal with if you look at them as scenes from a movie and refuse to take them too seriously, and got back to the trend of life-getting-better-every-year.
Another epiphany I had at some point while approaching the 30 Year Milestone is that life rarely turns out according to plan. (Yes, I know this is fairly common knowledge among other people, but it took me awhile to realize it myself.) Life loves to throw surprises at you, sometimes just every now and then, and sometimes with the incessant speed of an automated batting machine spitting out baseballs. Thanks to a few of those unexpected surprises, my life has turned out nothing like I planned, but instead, extraordinarily, incredibly, delightfully much better. When I was little, my original plan was to get married at age 20 and have lots of babies right away so I would be a young and cool mom. I could never make up my mind about what kind of career I wanted to pursue (I went through wildly diverse and consistently short-lived phases of author, pilot, interior designer, flight attendant, photographer, travel writer, auditor, to name a few) so I never had a clear vision of my professional future. But when I was 19, I went to Europe for the first time – backpacking through France for 2 weeks – and after that, my life and dreams would never be the same.
The travel bug bit me, and he must have taken a seriously big bite, because he turned me into a hardcore addict. Ever since, if I don’t leave the country at least once a year, I suffer. I love my country and I love coming home to it, but my soul isn’t at peace unless I get to step on a plane and fly away every so often. So, during the remainder of my college years, even as a dirt-poor student, I managed to finagle ways to leave the country every year: a semester studying abroad in the south of Spain, a one-month stint as an English teacher in a summer camp in Belgium, a two month internship at the US embassy in Guatemala. I also settled on a field of study during that time. Still mostly clueless as to what I wanted to do, the only thing I had figured out was that I wanted to get paid to travel. So I got a degree in international business. I studied hard and worked hard and slept little, working three jobs and going to school full time. It was stressful and exhausting, but it was a good time … college was fun and social, and classes got more interesting the closer we got to graduation.
Then, I graduated and went through the “paying my dues” stage for a couple years, with jobs that I either didn’t like or paid just enough to cover my bills, or both, and I couldn’t imagine at that point that my professional life would ever get any better. But then, out of the blue, it did. When I was 26, I got my first dream job, working as a regional account manager for an international marketing company. The job responsibilities required me to travel to the Caribbean every two weeks. I’ll always remember the euphoria of receiving the job offer letter from that company, and the excitement of my first trips to the islands.
Although that job didn’t turn out to be utopia, since along with the tropical travel it also involved (believe it or not!) high stress and long work hours, but it was still the coolest job I knew of, and I would have been content to stay there for five years or so. But then, once again out of the blue, an even better opportunity fell into my lap. This one came in the form of a phone call from a recruiter, referred to me by a previous employer. The job they offered me, which I accepted and have had for almost four years now, pays me to travel the globe developing international business for a company in the hair care industry. This job isn’t utopia either, but I’ll skip over the negatives and say that, overall, I’m extraordinarily blessed to have it. I have a great boss, fun coworkers, wonderful clients, and I’ve gotten to see and experience so many amazing places and things because of this job, from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to the breathtaking vistas of Machu Picchu, to the spectacular views of Victoria’s Peak in Hong Kong, the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the islands of Fiji, the vast diversity of Australia, the pristine elegance of Singapore, the sea breezes of Puerto Rico and the gracious hospitality of Korea.
Along the way, I’ve met so many marvelous people and had countless unexpected adventures. I would say that I’m living my dream, except I never dreamed of anything as amazing as this. When I think about life as I know it now, at age 31, and think back to that dark, anxious time of age 25, I want to send consolation and hope to anyone who is going through a similar dark tunnel. There really is light, joy and happiness at the end of the tunnel. Life can and will get better, you just have to keep walking … and enjoy the journey!