Tribute to the Outback, Part 3
We went to the Outback exactly 1 year ago. I didn’t know what to expect. I was filled with fear, anticipation, and unease. We spent 6 months living in a pop up camper trailer, 1 hour’s drive on a dirt road away from the closest town, 6 hours away from the closest city and supermarket, and $50 worth of data away from contact to the outside world. We had a pool and each other and that’s about it. I was pushed to the limit on more than one occasion and surrounded by people going through the same extreme emotions. Tensions were high, voices were raised, tears were shed, and relationships were tested. We were thrown into a life we knew nothing about and were stripped from the comforts we’d previously taken for granted, forced to accept a new reality. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out where this is going… Inevitably, those 6 trying months lead to a lifetime worth of personal growth and self realization.
The transformation I went through in the outback is hard to put into words. In fact, I’ve been trying to write about it ever since our time there came to an end, but nothing has felt right. Hell, this doesn’t even feel right. I don’t know how to explain the boredom and the stillness and the immense amount of nothing without sounding like I’m complaining. I don’t know how to express the amount of stress and pressure we felt in our new roles without sounding weak and lazy. I don’t know how to talk about my achievements without sounding like I’m bragging. But most of all, I don’t know the words to describe the incredible change we went through without sounding… well, weird. I’m hoping that the 7 months we’ve now spent away from the Gorge has given me the perspective I need to finally put pen to paper, or more realistically, fingers to keyboard.
Part 3: Commitment
The first few years of being an adult are hard. I grew up with a picture in my head of what I wanted my life to look like. I had a timeline of when I wanted milestones to happen. I even had a mental checklist of qualities I wanted in a husband. I was one of those people. I was Katherine Heigle in The Ugly Truth, or literally any other movie she's ever been in. The first thing on my life’s to do list was get a good job and settle into an interesting and lucrative career. So I graduated from college, backpacked around Europe, as you do, and then set out on the job hunt. I was 21, had no idea what I wanted to do and my psychology degree made me certifiably unqualified for any job (I was a terrible psychology student). This is where my road to the perfect life started getting a little rocky. It was the first time things weren’t really going according to plan and I realized that it might be harder to get to that white picket fence than I previously thought. But I believed that if I stuck to my plan and my checklists and my timeline, I would get there….eventually. So I networked my way into a great internship with an awesome company (thanks, mom!) and knew right away that it was the perfect place to start my career. I felt like I was on track and checking all the right boxes. And then my best friend went on a trip we had originally planned to do together. I was jealous, but my timeline didn’t leave much room for travel and I didn’t want to sacrifice my job for something that, at the time, didn’t seem to have much return on investment. So I sucked it up and went out with her to celebrate her last weekend in the States before she embarked on her 3 month trip through Australia, New Zealand, and South East Asia. We met some older guys who worked at Google (which made them instantly wise and all-knowing to my naive, 21 year old self) who wanted to know what who we were and what we did. When we told them my friend was going on the trip of a lifetime on Monday and I was staying behind to go to work, they shook their heads. They told me work would always be there, but your twenties are fleeting and they had no shame in telling me I was making a mistake. That was on Friday. On Monday, palms sweaty and a stomach full of butterflies, I marched up to my boss’s desk and explained how “an opportunity had come up for me to do a 5 week trip through South East Asia, and if it were at all possible, I would very much like to take my vacation time as well as some unpaid leave to go.” He didn’t even hesitate before saying yes. I couldn’t believe it! Well, actually I had been grossly underpaid as an intern (who wasn’t?) so I think it was a way of making up for the months of all but free labor I’d provided. Regardless, I went home and booked my flights that day.
It wasn’t long before my departure date arrived and before I knew it I was riding in tuk-tuks, bartering with locals, dancing on beaches, scuba diving off islands… I had more fun in those 5 weeks than I thought possible. Going back to San Francisco, back to work, and back to everyday life felt a little mundane after everything I’d done, but I came home to a promotion, eventually saved enough money to move into an apartment in the city, and really started enjoying life there. I was back on track and ready to check more boxes off my to do list. No matter how much I was loving my life in San Francisco, however, a seed of a thought in the back of my mind was growing. I kept thinking of my time in Asia, how truly and purely happy I’d been there, and I started to crave those raw experiences. I’d been bit by the travel bug and my symptoms weren’t going away. Before long, we’d planned another trip, three months in South America. Not long after that, but a while after my friends stopped traveling, I decided to move to Australia. I quit my job and tried to convince people, namely myself, that I was free spirited and would simply see where the wind blew me. I don’t think I was fooling anyone. I was excited to be taking the road less traveled, but terrified of getting lost. I could see my travel plans pulling me further from my timeline and checklists. The image of my future that I’d always maintained was getting dimmer in the distance and I was scared, because I didn’t know what to put in its place. I felt this fear and insecurity and stress, and yet I kept choosing this lifestyle. I kept wandering further from home.
For years, my heart and my head were in two different places and I was balancing two different realities. There was a voice in my head telling me to get back to the road I know, to follow the plan, and yet I kept making decisions that took me further and further away from what I thought I wanted. When confronted with the choice of settling down or traveling, I bought the ticket every time. I found myself living in Australia, on the adventure of a lifetime, daydreaming about having a 9-5 job. I knew someday I’d cherish these free spirited years and I knew I was falling deeply in love with my boyfriend, so my heart was full. I so badly wanted to embrace this experience, but somewhere along the way I began to feel haunted by the life I could have lived. I worried that if I ventured too far from the path I’d always known, I wouldn’t be able to find my way back. I’d be lost and all of the things I’d wanted so badly would be lost too, at the end of the road I didn’t take. So I always kept one eye looking back. I never got comfortable in my free spirited life and constantly tried to add structure, justifying my choices by finding new ways back to the same old road. I agonized over whether I should follow my heart or listen to the voice in my head.
It took too long for me to realize that my problem wasn’t with my head or my heart, my problem was with commitment. I was making decisions and following through with them, but I wasn’t fully committed to them. There I was, traveling around Australia, working in the outback, saving for more trips, and still I wasn’t fully committed to this lifestyle because I couldn’t bring myself to let go of the person I used to want to be. I was so committed to a fantasy I wasn’t even sure I wanted anymore, that I couldn’t bring myself to commit to something new, something different, something real. This unintentional lack of commitment stole from me. It took hours and days and weeks where I should have been immersed in happiness, excitement, and relaxation, but instead my head was filled with doubt. It wasn’t until I stopped looking back, stopped trying to find a way home, that my head and my heart finally felt aligned. I decided to commit to the decisions I’d made. I owed it to myself, and to my relationship, to fully embrace the moment and stop straddling two versions of who I wanted to be. This new found commitment has brought me the peace I’d been searching for all those years. It’s brought me comfort and confidence. And it’s brought me happiness, because for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, I’m all in.
Turns out I’ve been thinking of commitment all wrong. Commitment isn’t necessarily a long term thing. It’s not a promise you keep forever. It’s not a marriage or a job you have to see through until the end, even though you’re miserable. It’s a promise to the present, to give everything you’ve got to the moment. Wherever you are, be fully there. Commit to the little decisions you make every day. And for the big decisions, commit to giving them your best shot. Sometimes that means putting things off until you’re ready to give it your all; sometimes that means jumping in head first. For years, I was dipping my toe in the water until one day, I just jumped in and I haven’t tried to get back to that old road since.