This post is an extended version of the post that appeared in Huffington Post.
I was fearless and thirsty for adventure. I was searching for something. I didn’t know then what that was, but my constant curiosity was moving me towards new ventures, new places, and new people. I was happy with what I have experienced and I enjoyed the little moments in life but continued to have this anxious feeling of excitement about the future. I sensed that there is much more to life than I have come to realize yet, so I quit my successful corporate career to travel the world for one year and find out what living life is really all about….
I was born in Poland but my travel wanderlust took me all over the world and I came to call USA my second home and the Hispanic community my second family. After graduating from college, I spent over a decade building my corporate career across IT, Aerospace and Financial industries. Very quickly, I found myself managing large international teams and seamlessly navigating through the corporate world. In my 30’s, I got to the corporate VP level. At that point I worked about 60-80 hours a week and was in a process of completing my MBA. By most standards, I was very successful. I had an amazing husband, career, and home. I also had absolutely no time to enjoy any of it. And that’s where I stopped to think.
Didn’t I want this? Didn’t I want this amazing, successful career? Didn’t I want the financial security? Didn’t I want to become a CEO one day? So why am I having second thoughts now? For the first time in my life I started looking around and paying attention to life. I was rushing to achieve so much and was getting close to my final goal only to realize that there is a serious cost associated with that accomplishment. The cost of life. I realized we have only one! Wow, what a revelation to this overachiever. We have only one life and there is no do over.
All the hours, months and years dedicated to my education and career, while very productive, were not used for truly living life to the fullest and following my heart and passion. Don’t get me wrong. I had a life. I fully used my standard 2 weeks time-off for amazing vacation, I had dinners with friends and even dancing with my husband. But with each accomplishment there was less and less time for the simple pleasures in life. Feeling wind in your hair, watching sunsets, trying new things, laughing so hard that it is difficult to catch your breath, feeling warm sun on your skin… So I sat there one day and wondered: Is that all there is to life? Is it possible that I will spend the next 10 years achieving my goals only to realize that it is too late to begin living? Didn’t I want this?
The problem was: yes, I did. Unfortunately, in my calculations for climbing to the top and accumulating wealth (um…stuff), I did not account for the loss of time. I took my time here for granted. I operated under assumption that I will have plenty of time to focus on me after I finish everything else…after I retire. The question that lingered was: why am I postponing living life for retirement years instead of living now?
The questions kept coming and I did not have all the answers yet, but I knew for sure that I needed to start living more. I wanted to do what I love the most: travel the world, meet people and truly live life while I still can! I wanted to try the things I have always been afraid of or simply did not have enough time to tackle. I wanted to learn how to make wine in Tuscany, and how to sail in Mediterranean, how to ride on the scooter in Vietnam, climb base camp of Mount Everest, scuba dive in Bali, and every other thing you can imagine. The voice in my head kept telling me that all those things were normally reserved for retirement. But, when I listened to people in retirement, many of them didn’t have the energy or were not in a physical condition to do the things they have always wanted to do. They urged to live life to the fullest, live the life of no regrets while you still can. After all, there are no guarantees in life. You either do the best of it or not. No second chances.
The pursuit of happiness
This was such a departure from my thinking thus far that I would question my decision over and over. But each time, I kept coming back to the memories from years past, when still in college I embarked on a summer-break trip around Europe. I had completely no money but figured out ways to travel all over Europe in my, what seemed like, a hundred years old used car that was barely able to make it through the Alpine mountain terrain of Switzerland, through Venice, Croatia, and Montenegro. I remember eating fresh peaches from the tree, meeting people, swimming in the sea, sleeping on the white sand, climbing mountains. I remember feeling that sense of wander, excitement, possibility and I wanted to feel it again!
But do I have to do it now? Is that the right time to take a break in my career? Do I have enough money? How about waiting another year…maybe two…maybe three? All very valid questions and I learned to rationalize answers to all of them. But each time I pushed my dream aside, I heard about a friend diagnosed with cancer, facing heart attack, stroke, accident…. From one day to another, without any warning life was cut short… I was realizing that there may not be the next year to give my dream a try….I started understanding that quitting my job to follow my dream is not the riskiest decision. Staying in it and not giving my dream a chance is.
So I decided to take a break. I dedicated so much to my work and my career and I decided to take one year for myself, to follow my passion and my dreams. One year now, while I still can, while I have it. I decided to quit my job to travel around the world. To explore and experience life. To do the things I have always wanted to do before it is too late.
It was in a way very confusing to think that I will be leaving an amazing career and phenomenal company. I’ve always been very motivated and driven. I’ve always known that I wanted to work in business and I actually loved managing our business, creating teams, managing projects, setting goals, exceeding those goals and finding better ways to do business every day. But I also wanted to explore the world, keep growing my experiences in ways that would not be possible in a corporate environment. I wanted to make sure that one day, when I am 60 or 70 years old and ready to retire – I feel like I fully lived. I figured I still have another 30-40 years of work ahead of me and once I complete my adventure, I can always come back and continue my career.
Yes, in the beginning, I was absolutely terrified that I am leaving this amazing career and financial stability for the unknown with no guarantees that I will regain it back. That means over 10 years of diligent career building right there left on the table. But then I thought… if was able to do it the first time without any experience and still learning English after my arrival from Poland – I surely can do it the second time. It may be a slow start coming back with a one-year gap on my resume, but I have overcome more difficult challenges in my life and I was prepared to tackle this one as well.
Fortunately, I have an absolutely amazing husband, my best friend and the love of my life. He has been watching me for quite a while as I kept sinking deeper and deeper into my work and was a constant reminder that I need to slow down. However, even though he was my biggest supporter, I wasn’t sure how he would react to the radical idea of quitting our jobs for a year and traveling around the world. Well…it turns out we are more compatible than we both thought. Even though traveling is not his biggest passion, it turns out living life to the fullest is.
I must be the luckiest girl in the world and without even knowing surrounded myself with the most amazing friends and colleagues because most of them turned out to be extremely supportive of this dream. It seems I was doubting myself the most and my friends had all the faith in me, my dreams and my ability to make it happen.
To be honest, I did not expect the same support at work. I was absolutely convinced that when I share my decision with my management team and my friends at work, I will pretty much lose them all. I thought they will think that I have become lazy, I don’t want to work anymore and I am just bailing out. Instead, all of them, staring with my boss and with the strongest support from my team, became my biggest supporters.
This was one of the biggest lesson in this journey. The awesome power of community support!!!!
Living the dream
Over 50 countries and 5 continents traveled, soaking sun in Santorini, diving on the Great Barrier Reef, soaring above the clouds on the hot air balloon in Turkey and hiking glaciers in New Zealand and sailing Mediterranean is my life now. I am still learning to how to enjoy life without over-scheduling and over-planning for tomorrow. In those few months, I learned that you have only two choices in life.
You either follow your dreams and make them happen or you will be fulfilling the dreams of others.
I decided to do the first.
I also learned that fear can stop you from accomplishing your goals only if you let it.
And I don’t.
Once you do that you will quickly find out that amazing things begin happening. Opportunities you have never even thought off or imagined for yourself are now fully available.
The impossible becomes possible and the only thought left is: why didn’t I do it sooner!
So what is the point?
The point is: If I can do it, you can do it too! It does not have to be travel or quitting your job, but if you have a dream, big or small – give it a try. Worst case scenario, it may not work out and you can always go back to living your life as is and have no regrets. Best case scenario, you may just surprise yourself and fulfill your dream! So forget any excuses and give it a chance before it is too late. That’s all I am saying….
Do you have a dream you have always wanted to give a try? What is holding you back? Are you on your way to make it happen? Please share! Your story could be that boost needed by somebody else!