When I think about my early twenties, the memories are framed against a backdrop of constant excitement. I woke up in a new city of my choosing every week in Europe, took a job as a carny in Australia, and flew to Egypt for a couple of days because why not? I believed that I could do anything, be anything, and I took that feeling with me everywhere I went. There was a very vivid knowledge that my whole life was stretched out in front of me, and I could mold it in whatever way I chose.
Remembering those years, I sense a feeling, a smell, a memory of something just out of my grasp. I can never put my finger on it, but the memories are distinct in their vagueness. It’s the way that a whiff of Clinique Happy still sends me straight to Paris, the watery taste of Coors Light to Indiana University, and the sound of squealing brakes to the train stations of India. Those bursts of recollection are still in me, but the sense of adventure that created the experiences seems to have wandered off.
I first suspected that I was losing my sense of adventure when I was no longer pumped about going to the airport. I used to love it; I’d wait patiently in line to check in, occupying my thoughts with what food they’d serve or what the in-flight movie would be. I ate everything on my neatly partitioned tray and didn’t mind that I couldn’t quite hear the film, because I was on an adventure (and cake is cake, even when it comes as a cellophane-wrapped square of brown icing). Now I’m bummed if I don’t have a personal seatback monitor with a working remote; sometimes I don’t even eat the perfunctory bread roll.
Somewhere along the way, I allowed myself to slip into autopilot. Jared and I put travel on hold, rationalizing that we wanted to take some time out to get organized: jobs, wedding, house. This year has been earmarked for building a foundation. In theory, what we do now will allow us more flexibility in the future. Staying put doesn’t mean getting stuck, I told myself, but getting ahead. Keeping with this theme, I took on every freelance opportunity that came my way, plus a part-time job vaguely related to writing. I was working too much, but it was only temporary. On the surface, it seemed like I was heading in the right direction, but I knew that something was missing. Something small, but vital, like I’d made a batch of chocolate cookies and forgotten to add the chocolate chips.
It wasn’t the lack of travel that niggled at me, but the fact that my mind had gone dull. Adventure, for me, is rooted in creativity. It’s the freedom to explore both your internal mind and the external world, then attempt to braid them together in a way that makes sense. It is the crucial ingredient that makes me tick, that keeps me balanced. When my creative side isn’t given room to breathe, the edges of life become blurry. The trouble is, I don’t always notice that it’s happening until I hit a crisis point.
One morning in late June, I was reading my emails over a bowl of oatmeal. Jared was asking me a question about dinner as I scanned an email from my mom while actually calculating how many minutes I had before I absolutely had to get on my bike and ride to my office job. Suddenly, something snapped; I burst into tears and Jared froze, trying to figure out if it was something he’d said. I don’t remember what it was, exactly, that set me off, only that I had finally realized that there was too much busy going on and not enough fun.
The next day we booked flights to Melbourne, something we’d been talking about doing for months. The act of buying a plane ticket shook me awake, reminding me to nurture my creative side. I picked up a stack of new books and bought a puzzle. I applied for a new job that combined education and travel, landing an interview for the Friday morning of our trip. Instead of angling to say what I thought my interviewers wanted to hear, I told them what I wanted out of the job. “I’m not sure how it went,” I told Jared, “but I’m glad I tried.” We boarded the plane and I found myself eagerly pressing my face to the window, trying to trace the landscape beneath me. It felt familiar, the feeling of anticipation for something new. It felt pretty darn good.
The following week, much to my surprise, I was offered the job. I cut back on my freelance commitments. I went for a beer after work, Skyped my mom, worked on my puzzle. Our rapidly advancing wedding looks like a party I can’t wait to attend, instead of an obligation I can’t wait to stop planning. (Even though I will not miss one single thing about planning a destination wedding.) As I make room for balance in my life, I have found my misplaced sense of adventure—waiting patiently, right where I’d left it.