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Building a Life

This week, we decided to explore the concepts of “Getting through the hard stuff” and “What happens next.” We wanted to talk about the idea that when things are really hard, and really shitty, they can get better. It’s something that everyone on the APW staff has deep personal experiences with. In the past few years, all of us on staff have been through the trenches with things like miserable jobs, long term unemployment, family health issues, illness, family death, relationship struggle, and way more. So we have all done a lot of soul searching on how you get through the dark nights and make it through to something new. The form this takes is different for everyone, and we wanted to explore a whole bunch of stories of hope and struggle. So we’re starting with a post from Whitney about how she and her husband chose to leave their lives behind and travel (you can read more about their trip here). Like all dreams, it’s proving to be difficult and wonderful all at once.

A year ago, my husband and I sat in a pool in Phoenix and talked about our life together. We were on a short vacation with my grandparents—awesome retirees who have been together for over fifty years and now spend their winters in Arizona with all their high school friends—and we were having a really great time. The problem was that the thought of going home was crippling us with anxiety. The vacation had made us realize that the way we were living our lives was making us miserable.

I already knew that I was in a job that was causing panic attacks and depression, but what really set me off was being on vacation and thinking that the rest of our married lives together would be spent in small snippets of two week breaks (at best) until we were lucky enough to retire like my grandparents. I could see myself reaching my their age and wondering why we wasted our best years being miserable and using our awesome relationship just to help each other get by. Our marriage had thrown the rest of my life into sharp relief. I felt so good when we were together, so where did it say that I had to feel so bad the rest of the time?

So we talked about how we’d like our lives to look. Did we want to work? Yes. What did that look like? Well, we both wanted to be home for the kids as much as possible, including being able to take summers off when they were out of school. We wanted to have control over our time. Did we want to work from home all the time? No. Did we want to travel? Yes. Where did we want to go?

We had been married for six months, and the fact that we’d had a very brief honeymoon still stung a little. We had this long list of places we’d wanted to show each other and it was depressing to think that maybe we’d never see them. It’s easy for life to scoop you up and carry you along, and we didn’t want to assume that we’d ever be able to take kids to Spain. I’m not saying you can’t travel with kids, but we didn’t even have any yet and here we were again on another too-short vacation and it was starting to feel like our lives were over.

What a ridiculous thought, right? Of course our lives weren’t over. Our life, our family, had just begun. But when you’re in a dark mental place it’s really hard to see that you are only at the beginning of something else. We filed away our hypothetical life plan and went back to New York… but that plan had a really funny way of not staying filed. It sat there, hovering, taunting us. So we talked some more about it. What if we did a little traveling? So we let it sit there, and we talked about it some more. My husband devised some ways that he could work while we traveled, and suddenly it seemed a little more in reach. I had a lot of concerns, and we talked a lot more, until one day something clicked and we realized that we had talked ourselves into a huge change. There was nothing left to do but jump.

Our long-term plan had always been to move to Seattle since it’s my hometown and a number of my in-laws live there as well. We quit our jobs, packed up our apartment, said goodbye to our friends (and some family) and drove to the West Coast. We put all of our stuff in storage and set off for an open-ended trip to Europe—starting in Croatia, then moving on to France and Spain and wherever else we felt like until we’d used up our visa allowance. We agreed that I would use the time to map out my next steps and figure out what my next career might be.

So now we’re four months into the trip. Is it everything we had hoped? Absolutely not. Sometimes it’s really, really tough. There has been less work and more cost than we had planned for. Some days we get really frustrated. I still have no idea what I am going to do when we get back and settle in Seattle (though I am rediscovering my strengths), and it’s been a difficult transition to be completely financially supported by my husband. We’re still building it up piece-by-piece, and that is a messy process. What I’ve learned from the process is that it’s OK to miss a little on the first try, and to readjust and try again. We’re both learning that over and over. What is really important is that we are living our lives actively and that we’re working to shape the life we want. And even on the worst days, we’re still each spending time with our favorite person in the world.

Part of the wedding vows I wrote to my husband were that I knew we would “face everything—good and bad—the way we always do: head on and certain in our commitment to and love for each other,” and this statement has proven true innumerable times over the past year. Our life isn’t going to be great all the time, but we’re always working on it together. We went on this trip with the idea that we’d exhaust our dreams and come home and settle down. We thought we’d go and find all these perfect places, and the reality is that some of them were kind of a let down. There is no perfect place, there is no perfect marriage, there is no perfect life. That should be my mantra by now.

We’ve struggled with the fact that our dream trip has turned out to be kind of difficult and stressful. In a lot of ways it wasn’t what we had hoped. But the ways in which it is what we had hoped are priceless: we’ve become even more committed to creating the life that we envisioned, we’ve grown even stronger as a team, and we know that we really can face any challenge together.

Photos by: Della Chen Photography

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