Have you ever found yourself at a fork in the road, wondering which way to go?
This was me in the winter of 2011. I was a transfer student at an amazing university and studying what I thought was my dream major. Life seemed pretty great, that is, until I got blind-sided by something I never saw coming. After beginning a relationship with a great guy, things quickly went south, which led to me being bullied to the point where I could not even walk into my sorority house or sleep in my own room. I could not take it anymore and I felt as if my life was crumbling around me. At the end of the semester, I packed up my rental car and left Ohio to move back to Illinois and attend community college while I figured things out. Fast forward a few months into a new semester at a new school, I was not passionate about my major and I could barely sit through my classes. I needed a change.
My parents had this idea of the person I was supposed to be; a full-time student working towards a career. My mother always told me I was going to be a lawyer living in a big city, which was not the life I pictured for myself, the very sound of those things made me cringe.
I remember searching the internet for solutions, looking at new schools, a different job, or even moving to another state. In the middle of my search, I stumbled upon the website www.coolworks.com, which had job postings for every state and even a few countries. I started browsing the jobs in all 50 states and a few hours later, I found myself applying for a job in Alaska. Yes, you read that right. I applied for a job in Alaska, a place I had never been or even knew much about. At the time, it felt right. A few weeks later, I received an email from the Kenai Princess Lodge in Cooper Landing, Alaska and had a phone interview with them. The next thing I knew, I was packing my bags and moving to Alaska for the summer.
“The best education you will ever get is traveling. Nothing teaches you more than exploring the world and accumulating experiences.” – Mark Patterson
My family and friends thought I was crazy, most thinking I would not go through with it. Little by little, I started buying the things I knew I was going to need: a good backpack, hiking boots, a rain jacket, thick socks, a flash light, and a tent. I think once I started buying things and packing my bag, they all started to realize this was happening and I was going to get on a plane and start a new chapter in my life.
On May 9, 2012, my sister-in-law dropped me off at the airport in Milwaukee. I had a backpack, one suitcase, and a ridiculous amount of excitement. I was actually going through with this. I was actually going to get on a plane and fly to a state where I knew no one or much of anything. I remember sitting in the airport reading a book and looking around at all the people who were about the board the same flight as me.- Were going for the same reasons as me? Were returning home? I ended up making conversation with a girl named Sherrin, who was actually going to Alaska to work at the same company as me. Can you believe that?!? She ended up sitting behind me on the flight, and once the plane landed, we walked through the Anchorage airport and got on the shuttle together.
Fast forward a few weeks, I experienced my first earthquake, sunlight until 1:00 a.m., seeing a moose up close, and hiking my first mountain. I was definitely homesick, but part of me knew I was not going to regret the decision I had made. This was just the beginning of something amazing.
I spent five months in Cooper Landing, Alaska and experienced so many amazing things. I learned how to fly fish and use bear spray. I hiked numerous mountains and jumped off a cliff completely naked. I drank Alaskan beer, played in a softball league, went rafting, got a tattoo, had a crush on a boy, and discovered I get sea sick. Experiences aside, the most important thing that happened to me in those five amazing months was a personal win: I found myself. I found the true definition of happiness in a place I never knew I could.
After those amazing months in the state otherwise known as The Last Frontier, I would embark on many more adventures. I went to Breckenridge and Buena Vista in , Colorado, Hyampom, California, Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua to name a few. I have lived out of a back pack, slept on the beach, been to a Nicaraguan ER, trimmed weed for money, made some lifelong friends, been drunk on top of a mountain, and been in love. I’ve been whitewater rafting, kayaking, snowboarding, horseback riding, snorkeling, and deep sea fishing. I’ve been to museums and churches. I’ve eaten fresh fruit, cheese that squeaks when you bite into it, and drank coffee that tastes delicious without sugar. I’ve met children who want to learn how to read and who do not have food to eat. I’ve partied at reggae bars and witnessed drug deals. Most of all, I have experienced life.
Sad to say, my decision to pack a bag and leave Illinois did not make everyone happy. I no longer have a relationship with my mother because I never became that lawyer living in a big city and making lots of money. Instead, I became a happy woman living her dreams. I do not regret leaving and doing what I needed to do, because for the first time in a long time, I was putting myself first. Packing a bag and leaving Illinois gave me priceless memories and people. It brough me my best friend in Colorado, who I witnessed marry the love of her life on top of a mountain. It brought me my best friend in Alaska, whose son now calls me Auntie. It brought me many other friendships I deem unbreakable.
“Finding your passion isn’t just about careers and money. It’s about finding your authentic self- the one you’ve buried beneath other people’s need.” –Kristin Hannah
What am I doing now? I am currently living in Illinois working a full-time job as Membership Coordinator for Ivanhoe Country Club. I have a car payment, a roof over my head, and real responsibilities. It may not sound exciting to many, but after four years of different places, I was ready to come home and show my family I had found myself. My true, authentic self.
“And she found riches in the most unlikely places- love in herself and happiness in the poetic chaos of life.” –Becca Lee