I was explicitly forbidden to run. I was not allowed to just throw in the towel and hit the escape key. I had to have a plan, or at least enough determined passion and enthusiasm to placate my parents.
Because the truth is, a part of me definitely is running away. I’m running away from this feeling of claustrophobia. Like I was stuck moving from a tiny apartment to a tiny office to a tiny yoga studio or tiny spin class. And as I walked this route day after day, weaving through the mass of Manhattanites seemingly on an endless mission to whatever was happening next, I too became a callous New Yorker. My already small tolerance for patience dwindled to nothing, “chill” became an adjective reserved only for weather, and my calendar began looking more like a game of Tetris than a real human being’s schedule.
Until finally one day I stepped off the path, looked around, and realized I had no idea what I was sprinting toward. I knew who I was sprinting with of course — I was racing alongside the same upper-middle class, well-educated peers I’d been on the conveyor belt with my whole life. They were the kids I studied with after soccer practice in high school (and then in college), the ones who pushed me to take on the extra course load and attend the recruiting events, and the ones who, when I looked over my shoulder, were sitting on the spin bike right beside me. Yet where were we going? And was I even happy on this stressful-as-all-hell ride?
Well, of course you already know that answer (unless you haven’t read this yet).
So I abandoned the predictable, left the “shoulds” behind and started planning this trip with a greater goal in mind. I’ve leapt, and tried my best to ignore the feeling that my stomach is now lodged in my throat, because while I’m surely running away from all that I felt shackled by in New York, I’m doing so with a purpose.
I redid my resume, crafted a new cover letter, and answered six essay questions in 24 hours. When my friend, a freelance writer who I attended journalism school with, read my application to lead experiential education gap semester programs, she barely had any edits. She only asked why I hadn’t talked about doing this sooner.
“You are perfect for this,” she smiled.
The easy answer to her question, which I’ve alluded to above, was that I was scared out of my mind to run away. So I get this one job, then what? What’s the path for experiential education trip leaders? Where does that put me two, five, ten years from now? Can I really make a career out of this?
I paced around her apartment, waving the application, and talking myself down a spiral of doubt.
Until she flipped all my questioning around.
“What if you stop thinking of this as running away? And instead think of this as a step toward something?” she asked.
In that instance, my world turned upside down. I put the application down, made my final edits, and hit submit.
I’ve realized, thanks to a few other very special people, that this question I’ve been grappling with — am I running away or running toward? — doesn’t have to be an either or. The “or” can be an “and.” Because the real truth is, I’m undeniably doing both.