By 3 p.m, the babies had been crying for hours. The moment one stopped shouting, another started, and their desperate yelling made me want to join them. From the other room, the air smelled like poop. I lay facedown in my pajamas on my boyfriend’s bed with a pillow over my head, a fluffy Maltese at my feet, and my open laptop strewn on the floor where I had just thrown it. The closed blinds blocked out the summer sunlight, which made the Craigslist jobs page on my computer — and all my failures — glow even brighter.
Not long after graduating college, I started crashing at my boyfriends’ house while I looked for a job, which usually meant trolling Craigslist during the day while his mother ran a daycare service in the living room. I felt alone, desperate, inept, and confused. After spending all those years as a straight A student, why on earth couldn’t I get my act together? I applied for everything from an Oscar Meyer Weiner mobile driver to a research assistant at a magazine. My strength at that point had become rejection. Admittedly, I didn’t really want these jobs anyway, but I was hungry for anything that would make me feel like less of a loser, and nothing says winner like driving the Oscar Meyer Weiner mobile.
In case you think I’m kidding, here’s an actual snapshot from my cover letter to Oscar Meyer:
I mean, COME ON, ketchup with hot dog fans – why didn’t they choose me?
After receiving rejection upon rejection and spending too many days in daycare, I knew that I needed to do something differently because I wasn’t getting the results I desired. To make matters worse, I already knew what I wanted, but because it was so different than what my posse was into (and what my parents dreamed I’d do), I honestly felt like it was dumb.
I wanted adventure, excitement, fun. I wanted to explore the world. Back in 1999, when that song “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen” came out, I made a list of things I really wanted to accomplish in my lifetime, and it included, “give a speech at my high school graduation, move to New York City, learn to speak fluent Spanish, and circumvent the globe.”
One morning after waking up (again) to the stench of soiled diapers, it was like the lightening of God struck me in the crotch. I leapt from bed and with one finger raised to the sky I decided to listen to the insane voice in my head I could no longer ignore: I would move to South America. It felt crazy: I was very good at doing exactly what was expected of me and terrible at doing the unexpected (I got straight As, remember?). At that point, though, the only thing that seemed crazier to me was continuing to live the way I was living. Deep down, I felt like I was slowly dying a Maltese-hugging, poopy-diaper-smelling, Craigslist-reject death. And this, I assure you, is no way to live.
To fast forward, I ended up living in South America for two whole years where I did things like hiking the deepest canyon in the world, volunteering for two non-profits, dancing tango, and working as a translator at a horseback riding ranch. I learned to speak Spanish fluently, and lo and behold the experience even jumpstarted my career in travel journalism. The worst thing that happened was I gained about 15 pounds from eating way too many empanadas, and I ended a long-term relationship (which was shitty relationship anyway).
On Making Bold Decisions
Let me clarify something: I am not encouraging you to move to South America, neither am I encouraging you to travel at all. What I’m really talking about here is making an empowered choice. Ending an unfulfilling marriage is an empowered choice. Moving to another city is an empowered choice. Losing 100 pounds is an empowered choice. Whatever that choice is, it has two motivators: either killing off something that isn’t working or really going after something you want. In the same move, it can actually be both. This moment is about recognizing the crappy lifestyle that you somehow drifted into, grabbing it by the balls, and saying, “we’re headed this way now.”
Welcome to the rabbit hole my friend! Oh and just a warning, when you intend to change just one thing, often there are other things that intrinsically go along with it. So don’t be surprised when you intend to lose 100 pounds and you lose your best friend, or you choose to exit a marriage and you lose the good favor of a family member.
Oh and an additional heads up, when you choose to end something, people will say things like, “I feel like you are just trying to escape from something,” or, “what are you running from?” There’s probably some bitter grossness in their tone that might make you feel bad about your choice, but the truth is they’re right. Fuck yes you are escaping, escaping with your life. So, you can listen to naysayers, but it better be as you sprint down a steep hill in the opposite direction with their judgmental tone becoming a faint echo as you get farther and farther away. The choice to initiate something and the choice to end something are equal forces for good.
The Bold Process
I’ve made a lot of bold decisions in my life, and they’ve been painful, but necessary. As scary as they were, each choice set me free from the regret of never knowing what it would feel like to be in alignment with my truest desires. When I look back on that time after college, I can’t imagine who I’d be right now if I just chose to settle on some whatever job came my way in order to feed my ego with the feeling of importance that comes with being chosen. I feel my throat swell up every time I think about what it would be like now to still be living with that repressed desire to travel and constantly living with, “what if?”
Any who, I’d like to share with you the 10 steps I take every time I make a bold decision in case you are in a position right now to do something BIG.
Here they are:
Step 1: Listen for the call
Step 2: Ask the questions
Step 3: Have a total melt down
Step 4: Seek support
Step 5: Repeat steps one through four until you reach the moment of must
Step 6: Choose, then decide
Step 7: Create accountability
Step 8: Make the plan, resolve fear
Step 9: Accept perfectly ready doesn’t exist
Step 10: Go time!
How the process works
When you’re ready for something in your life to change, if you reach for another self-help book you may as well eat a box of doughnuts instead – doing so is just as effective. At this moment, you need to hear more of your own voice, not the voice of others. So sure, read that book, but don’t look for all of the answers and validation inside of it.
If necessary, wake up an hour earlier to have extra time to yourself to meditate on, and journal about, what you’d like your life to look like. If things are unclear, repeatedly ask yourself, “what do I want? What do I really really want?” Then, sit in silence. Now that you’ve really begun to tinker, expect a total melt down that could come in the form of a pillow-punching rampage where you throw all of your old swim trophies in the trashcan and then get wasted. It could also look like crying at Walmart, the bank, a party, or during a movie such as Children of the Corn.
Once everything in your brain has gone cattywampus, seek help. I started by getting a life coach, who I still work with when I make bold moves … and even when I am not. Join a support group. Call your “yes” friend. If you don’t have a yes friend, join a group of people who are doing what you want to do and start connecting with them. I joined travel groups before I even started traveling and I could hardly believe their excitement level when I told them I was moving to South America versus I was getting it handed to me left and right by other people in my world at that time when I told them what I wanted.
Once you are clear on your bold move, eventually your “moment of must” will arrive. Listen to the must, do not ignore it. If it says, “I have to get out of this god forsaken town,” or “I can not spend one more day in this soul-sucking job,” it’s time NOW to take action. If a building were on fire, would you just sit there waiting and wondering what you should do?
Now comes your moment: it’s time to be bold, choose what you want to do, then decide once and for all that you are going to do it. When you resolve to do something, the easiest part is not following through, so it is 100 percent essential to put something into place that will hold you accountable. I am not talking about announcing it to the world through Facebook (which I think is an easy way to fail). We’re talking about something tangible. If you are moving to South America, buy your plane ticket three months in advance. Give your one month notice to your landlord, or let them know you will move x amount of months from now. Tell your boss you will leave the company. Write a $1,500 check to the KKK, then give it to a friend and tell them to cash it if you don’t follow through by x date. Whatever it is you gotta do to make it so you don’t back out, do it, but it must have actionable consequences that will affect you. I know it sounds harsh, but that is the only way to commit, or else you will stay stuck in the land of must.
After fully committing, you’ll probably freak out again, that’s okay, keep pushing forward. Make a step-by-step plan and write down all of the uncertain things that scare you, then go about answering each one. The thing that can keep us planted exactly where we are is fear of the unknown, but you’ll run out of excuses when you can create as much certainty as you can. Much to your chagrin, though, even if you plan like a boss there still will be plenty of unknown factors. There will be lots of muck, lots of imperfect order, lots of doubt. Is now the right time? Am I really making the right choice? Am I as prepared as I can be?
When you catch yourself in a moment of uncertainty, remember this:
1. You have the capacity to handle ANYTHING that comes your way.
2. Things will deviate from the plan, but it’s not a reason to give up.
3. Of course you don’t know what you are doing – you’ve never done this before!
4. Challenges are an opportunity to think creatively about how you will go about it. If it seems impossible, consider new and different ways to do what you want. Don’t just take the back door, climb through the upstairs window.
5. You have your own back.
Finally if you are unsure, ask yourself this: one year down the track when you look back on your life at this time, how do you want to remember responding? Now, do that.