5 years ago I made what, at the time, seemed a terribly difficult decision. At the tender age of 25, I had been preparing to leave the sheltered Canadian province of Newfoundland and go traveling overseas with the unequivocal love of my life. Unfortunately, one month prior to departure an ill-timed and particularly heart-wrenching break-up left me with an awkward choice: Should I still board that plane, even though ‘we’ had become just ‘I’? Or should I abandon plans and allow my limping heart time to heal before hurling it halfway across the world, over an ocean and into foreign lands and potentially disastrous situations?
In the end, it just seemed easier to go. Flights had been booked, visas arranged; momentum was behind me and it would have taken more effort to cancel plans rather than just follow through with them. Still, I deliberated the choice up until the very last moment, having approximately 4 panic attacks in the remaining interim. But in the end, I did board that plane.
Making the decision may have been challenging as all hell but actually leaving my home and job to begin traveling with a broken heart actually turned out to be one of the easier things I’ve done. It was sure as shit the most rewarding. So many of the most treasured things I now have in my life and memory were born of that choice. Funny thing is, to this day I don’t know if I’d have had the balls to plan that trip on my own. You would think a messy break-up would make it more challenging to leave. . .instead, falling in love and subsequently having my heart broken proved to be the catalyst that got the ball rolling.
Travelling has been kind (and at times sadistic) enough to teach me a number of valuable lessons throughout the years, the very first of which came from that initial departure and the events leading up to it. I learned that once you’ve made a decision and have the momentum behind you, what you ‘must’ do becomes remarkably clear. Unfortunately, that can act against you as well. Inertia is a powerful force, and that’s as true for an object in a state of stagnation as it is for one in motion. I’d seen evidence of that in my earlier years, long before I ever set foot on foreign soil.
See, when we stay in one place, whether geographically or socially, it’s easy to forget that most everything we do is a choice. Particularly as we grow older we can mistakenly believe that any choices we ever had have been made and are set. Done. Unchangeable. We have our career, which can define much of our life even outside of work hours. We have our friends, likely to be part of larger cliques, and their tastes can define our own or at least shape the possibilities we have for social interaction. We have our home – the social standards of our country, town, or even neighbourhood can define our politics, culture and habits in such a subtle way that we may not even be aware of it.
So if/when discontent sets in, where should we look? What is it possible to change?
If the life we are living has been the product of continuous, uninterrupted momentum, we can dangerously feel the answer is ‘nothing’. We can feel that having children means travel isn’t a possibility for us, no matter how fiercely wanderlust is sounding its call. That having little financial stability means a career or location change isn’t up for discussion. That being 10 years into a marriage turned sour means you should stick around for the next decade, even if it’s likely to be spent in argument, heartache or abuse.
Never mind that other people the whole world round have been in and gotten out of these very situations, and ones far worse. Never mind that we can likely find evidence of that, should we care to go looking for it, should we even think to do so. Their advice will not work in our situation. ‘They’ are not ‘we’.
At the end of my 20’s, while working in Cologne, Germany, this is where I found myself. My first several years of living nomadically had treated me well and given me much, but now discontent had set in once more. I was no longer happy with tattooing, but didn’t feel I could leave it. I had invested too much in it; almost a decade of my life. Too much time. Too much effort. Too much heart. This was my career and it was, largely, what defined me.
Never mind that when I dreamt at night, it was of other things. I’d escape into fantastic reveries of all the goals I ached to begin work towards achieving, the adventures I longed to have. . .then wake up the following morning and guiltily slink into work to set up my inks, avoiding eye contact with my machines lest they know I’d been cheating on them. Again.
See, I had a relationship with tattooing and it wasn’t just some booty call I could take or leave as I pleased. I couldn’t take off for 4 or 5 months to, say, vagabond around India by motorbike or set off on a long term placement to volunteer somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. This was a full on ‘fuck-no-one-else-ever’ marriage. It demanded my full attention and devotion, often at the detriment of everything else in my life.
And I still loved it. But, at the same time, it had become poisonous to me. I was doing nothing but work, and I felt consistently burned out as a result. I was constantly cancelling plans with people to keep up with the workload, opting to spend another hour in a basement with my pencils polishing up a drawing rather than fulfill an obligation to meet a lover for a meal out. I didn’t feel I had time even to think; as a result, I couldn’t decide how I felt about anything – my job, my station in life, myself.
I did, however, eventually find the time to ask myself a couple questions – was I happy with this life? The course I was on, and its likely path? Was this the momentum I wanted behind me, the life I wanted for the next decade of my life?
No, it wasn’t. So I left.
Which was both so much easier and so much more difficult than it sounds. Because I was still trapped in that pattern of thought that I had to stay that course. That the life I had was the result of choices I’d already made and changing trajectory now meant abandoning and disrespecting everything that had come before. Which is a hard thing to get past. I would struggle to write, in anything resembling a reasonable amount of words, how I finally did.
I came across a great little quote on a blog entitled Marc and Angle Hack Life. It wasn’t the main inspiration that led me to the final decision but it does rather beautifully and simply sum up the philosophy that got me there – “Keep doing what you’re doing, and you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” I didn’t like what I was getting any longer. I wanted to get different things. So I decided I needed to start doing different things.
Even given that logic, leaving a career I’d invested 10 years of my life in on account of malaise was still a difficult decision to make peace with. I find it odd that I have so many conversations with people who are extremely discontent with their lot, yet so few with people recounting their decision to change their situation that wasn’t preluded by something above and beyond ‘It was no longer making me happy.’ Despite that being a perfectly acceptable reason to stop doing something. One of the best reasons, really.
Now, I have met people who’ve fallen into change. People who lost their jobs and later found it to be the greatest thing that ever happened to them, or who changed career to be with the love of their life. But people who quietly decided that they were not happy doing what they were doing, could possibly be happier doing something else, and decided to give it a shot? Not so much. Change is harder when your hand isn’t forced.
By 30, most people are accustomed to a certain lifestyle that takes a certain amount of funds, and leaving a steady source of income is risky. And scary. But not scary enough to make a big thing out of it, to feel the change is justified. Because no one made you do it. It was a choice. Which means the responsibility, should you fail, is on you entirely.
Which is terrifying for most of us and likely why we tend to stick with what we know, keep our heads down, and just push on. Soldier through it, and ignore the hole that doing so seems to rip in our heads and hearts. It’s okay. We’ve dealt with it this long, and can probably continue to do so. As Aaron Alexovich wrote in his comic Serenity Rose, ‘Better to be manageably miserable than a flaming bonfire of spectacular failure, right?’
. . .Right?
Your choice is yours. For my money, I say fuck manageable misery. Life’s too goddamn short. I may yet fall flat on my face but you know what? I’ve done that before. Multiple times. And you know what happened? Fucking nothing. Well, nothing irreparable anyway. I’m still alive. The world still turns.
Each time I’ve fallen flat on my ass, I’ve simply picked myself up, dusted myself off and (admittedly after questioning everything and possibly sobbing a little) tried again, with the wisdom that only failing entirely can give you. The wisdom that no matter how deep a hole you manage to dig yourself, there’s always a way out. And again, when you feel you’ve no choice but to do so, things tend to become remarkably clear.
I’m still in the early stages of this most recent shift in my lifestyle, but I’m already seeing the ‘things I’m getting’ change as the ’things I’m doing’ do. Admittedly, dysentery wasn’t really the thing I was hoping to get in trade. . .But, hey, it was different. I can’t deny it that.
And I’ve gotten other different things, too. Cool things. Perspectives and healthier habits and renewed and strengthened friendships. I jog instead of smoke. I act instead of worry. I sleep better at night and feel more awake throughout the day. I’ve also gained an interest and enthusiasm for my own life that it had been lacking for far too long – I am excited for what comes next.
So what does come next? With all of this newfound freedom and inspiring liberty surrounding me, on which lifelong goal shall I next focus my energy?
. . .Well, on moving to Melbourne, Australia to train with an MMA camp in an attempt to get in a professional cage fight before my 31st birthday.
*Photos of Krys tattooing, of her machine, and of her trying to look badass are all courtesy of the talented Jared Reid. All tattoo photos are of her own work.
*Shout-out to Steph Snow over at Bare Knuckle Writer for her much-appreciated aid in helping me edit and polish up a post that was important to me.
*And, while I’m at it, a belated shout-out to Peter Philips over at Tech For Progress, without whose tech advice the photos on this site would not look so spiffy. . . or would possibly take me so long to arrange that I might just have given up on them entirely by now.