Letting Go: Making Other Plans
Sometimes even the best laid plans can’t stand up to a curve ball or two. And that is certainly the case when it comes to planning your career break. Sonia Zamborsky of Pulpology shares with us how her original career break plans faced a detour, but rather than cancel the dream, found a new route.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” That quote has been attributed to many different people throughout the years, and it’s always been one of my favorites. It neatly summarizes the absurdity of the illusion of having any level of control over the human condition.
Sometime in 2006 I’d decided it was time for a change. I had a good job, a nice house, a great relationship and lots of interesting friends. But I also had a vague sense there was something better than sleepwalking through a comfortable existence. Nice as it might look on paper, this was not my American Dream. After some inspiration from the likes of Rolf Potts and Rita Golden Gelman, I started formulating plans for an extended trip. The lure of selling our house and getting rid of most of our stuff was intoxicating. I began collecting tips and ideas in a huge binder. I bookmarked every interesting travel site I could find. I read tons of blogs. I sketched out routes on maps and signed up for airfare alerts. In my mind, I was well on my way.
You see, I’m a planner. For me, one of the most fun aspects of travel has always been the planning and scheming and dreaming, prior to ever leaving home. Little did I know I was about to run smack into my favorite quote…
Part of The Big Plan had been to sell our house and use some of the proceeds to travel, keeping some in reserve as a default world “re-entry” cushion. In the halcyon days before the housing bubble burst, this seemed like a solid idea. But by the time my boyfriend and I had gotten our house ready to sell, things were already slipping. By 2007, it was becoming clear that we’d have to significantly lower our price in order to get the house sold, and that put a huge crimp in the travel budget. The plan began to crumble.
I don’t remember the exact moment I finally snapped, but in June of 2007 I quit my job and set off on a ten-week solo trip through Central America. I figured it was time to do something different, in order to get different results. Rather than waiting for some magical external force to swoop in and offer a dump truck full of cash for our house, I took matters into my own hands. I figured backpacking through Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize would be a great warm-up for a longer trip with Mark. I’d get some extended travel under my belt, get the creative travel juices flowing, and break the cycle of waiting around. No problem, new plan!
But here’s what I’ve learned. There is no “right” way to travel, and there is no “right” way to do a career break. All sorts of people are doing it their way, a million different ways.
My Central American sojourn was a rare opportunity for me to get out and explore the world completely on my own terms. I did visit and travel with others along the way, but mostly I relished the challenges of solitude. After climbing volcanoes and navigating chickenbuses and rolling into strange towns with no idea where I might sleep that night, I returned home feeling like I could take on the world. I was energized, ready to get the house sold, and excited for the next phase of The Big Plan.
Yeah. Well, the imploding housing market had other ideas. Long story short, I wound up going back to my old job, sitting in my exact same cubicle, staring at the exact same computer screen, wondering how I’d come to star in my own personal version of Groundhog Day. Disappointing didn’t even begin to scratch the surface; I felt like a total failure. Seemingly overnight, my big ambitious travel plans had evaporated. Sure, my friends and co-workers were impressed at my exploits, but deep down I’d completely let myself down. How was it that everyone else out there seemed to be effortlessly making their travel dreams a reality, while I was doomed to slink back to the corporate grind with my tail between my legs?
But here’s what I’ve learned. There is no “right” way to travel, and there is no “right” way to do a career break. All sorts of people are doing it their way, a million different ways. Some take a year to travel around the world, and then come back to a 9-to-5 job. Some are on permanent vagabond status, finding ways to make a living while traveling full time. Some travel with kids, settling down in one location for several months or even years at a time. Some, like me, are finding ways to incorporate travel into their lives on a permanent basis. Mark and I take, on average, six weeks of “vacation” a year. Last year we spent a month in Italy and the year before that we took a month off to travel through Southeast Asia. Travel is important to us and we prioritize it. Rather than do it all in one shot, we spread it out through “mini career breaks” that allow us to unplug and push out of our comfort zones.
Maybe some day we will take that year-long Round-The-World trip, maybe not. In my mind, the important lesson is not to get wrapped up in the “how,” but to just get out there and see the world. Go ahead and make ambitious plans, but don’t give into defeat if life throws you a curve ball. There’s probably an even juicier opportunity around that next bend.
An IT project manager with the soul of a gypsy, Sonia Zamborsky sates her travel jones by jetting off the grid as often as possible with her boyfriend Mark and a terrycloth cephalopod called Oktapodi. She fills her time at home with foodie & wino pursuits and fresh veggies from her garden, and blogs about her adventures at Pulpology: Mark & Sonia’s Intercontinental Absurdities. You can find her on Twitter at @pulpologist. She’s also hosting Meet, Plan, Go! in Washington, DC on Tuesday, September 14th.
Sherry Ott on Wed, 8th Sep 2010 11:29 am
Sonia – I LOVE your story. You share such an important lesson – deal with setbacks positively, and move forward. Everyone’s definition of a career break IS different – thanks for reminding us!
Gray on Wed, 8th Sep 2010 12:33 pm
All I can say to this is….Yes.
Aparna on Thu, 9th Sep 2010 8:03 am
A beautiful post. I agree with you. My perception of career break may vary from others and surely one is free to do so.
I truly enjoyed reading your post.
Melissa Witbeck on Fri, 10th Sep 2010 4:15 pm
This blog post was inspirational! I really like what you said “here’s what I’ve learned. There is no “right” way to travel, and there is no “right” way to do a career break. All sorts of people are doing it their way, a million different ways.” Thank you for sharing your experience here for others like me to read.
Sonia on Mon, 13th Sep 2010 2:36 pm
I’m so glad you guys enjoyed this piece! I’ve never really told my story quite this way, and I appreciate Sherry & Michaela for giving me the chance to share it.