The morning after my 28th birthday, I woke up in a panic.
The scene was messy: my fitted sheet was halfway off the bed, while my duvet was pulling me aggressively to the other side. My head pounding, my heart racing, my back sticky and hot, I pulled off my sleeping mask and looked around my room. It was nearly noon, I had arrived home at 4 a.m., thanks to my profound group of friends who insisted on celebrating far past midnight. If I ever doubted I was loved, I sure didn’t now. Even so, as I sat up in bed, taking stock of my surroundings and silently praying for my late-twenties hangover to go buh-bye, the same thought kept repeating in my head:
What are you doing?
And while it sounds like an intense, emotional existential question, in the moment, it was rather fundamental. My back was sore because I had a two-year-old feather bed fighting it’s way to the bitter end, and my sheets were making a grand escape because they had stretched beyond repair. My apartment—or rather, the room that I rent for far too much money—was a disaster, covered in dust and layered with clothes and makeup, half-packed suitcases and random strands of my hair. And that dog that I adopted with such joy so many years before, looked up at my helplessly, begging to go to the bathroom, pleading with me for a walk in the park.
Fast forward to thirty minutes later and I’m sitting in Union Square, while Lucy made friends with passerby hounds, eating the bagel I treat myself to every September 17, when I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be feeling less than stellar and craving carbs. I savored each bite while I paid attention to the life happening around me. In the many ways that NYC can be disappointing and frustrating, unforgiving and relentless, Saturday and Sunday afternoons can also be gentle. I watched families and couples, tourists and drunks, teenagers and 20-somethings, all making their way to wherever they were going, some in a hurry, some walking far too slow for my New Yorker taste. And as I watched a toddler chase his pup down the pathway until he tumbled and got back up, grinning with two teeth at his dad, the question hit me again:
What are you doing?
If you ask my mother, she’d probably tell you that these queries layered with anxiety were due to my Saturn Return—the universe’s way of encouraging you to make a life for yourself beyond your parents, around the age of 27 to 31. I was smack-dab in the middle of it – and maybe that’s why the question began to lay so heavy on my heart in that afternoon. It wasn’t that I was depressed with my life or that I saw anything wrong, necessarily, it was more of an itch. I had come to New York many, many moons ago to become a writer. To meet friends loyal enough to call my family. To fall in love. To grow up. To live beyond North Carolina. And in some way or another, I did all of those things, so why did I feel the urge to… leave?
What are you doing, Linds?
Not ready to face that fact—quite yet—I decided if I was going to be 28 years old, I needed to act like a grown-ass woman. So, there in Union Square, with Lucy resting on my knee, I pulled out my phone and I ordered a new featherbed on Amazon. Along with sheets. A new duvet cover. Some cleaning supplies. Thanks to Prime, I’d be on my way to being that responsible, well-earning, well-established, well-balanced adult that I was supposed to be. My ducks were in a row, my credit card was paid on time and I was making moves. Surely this uneasy feeling would pass.
The shipment came. My bed was made. My room was as clean as it could get.
And my heart sank deeper.
I could change my living space, but I couldn’t fill this void in my gut. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more I wanted out of my day-to-day, more that I wanted to experience and more I wanted to see than the skyline that felt like home. The last year had been a tough one, as I watched so many of my friends struggle with life-altering challenges. I did my best to stand by them, and I listened when they reminded me that life isn’t a guarantee, that it happens fast. That you can’t take it for granted. The writing wasn’t on my bedroom wall, per se, but it was there in my writing—which was becoming uninspired and difficult. And getting up each day to do the work-workout-happy-hour tango was becoming taxing. I was resentful of my friends who I imagined had it more together than I did, but yet, I felt paralyzed to make a move.
I wanted to change that question—what are you doing?—but I didn’t know where to begin.
The hard truth was there when I thought about it and let myself whisper it silently: I was unhappy. Even with all of the blessings someone could ask for at my age, there was something missing. I craved a big, big change. And it wasn’t merely my lack of a dating life, it was something more intrinsic and powerful—that spark that brought me to New York in the first place was overwhelmed and lackluster.
I didn’t just wonder what I was doing, but who I was becoming. As much as I loved New York and my life here, I watched myself become bitter, angry, lonely and hopeless. I didn’t want to lose the kindness and the optimism that made me… me. Thirty was two years away, and even though I could have all of the success in the world, and maybe meet a partner who could become a husband, would I like who I was on the other end? Would I be satisfied with the life I led? With the person I woke up as every single morning? I kept coming up blank, and with the not-so-subtle encouragement of my friends, I decided to talk out my 28-year-old crisis in therapy.
And from two weeks after my birthday until now, I’ve gone each week, like clockwork, on Tuesday mornings and I’ve talked about it all. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve explored ideas and feelings, I’ve forgiven myself and others. I’ve developed coping mechanisms that work for me. I’ve been angry and flustered. I’ve been sad. I’ve felt thankful. I’ve felt it all, without being afraid of it. And I’ve earned back my boldness. I’ve overcome some mountains I was too afraid to climb, and I’ve let go of some ropes because I realized I no longer needed the safety net. And maybe most impactful of all, I’ve answered that question:
What are you doing?
I’m leaving New York.
Oh my goodness, I’m leaving New York.
I put in my notice at work.
I’m going to freelance full-time as a writer, like I’ve always dreamt of doing.
I’m leaving New York to travel the world for a year, while working remotely, through Remote Year.
My co-worker introduced me to the program, explaining that for those who don’t need to have an office setting and can do their gig from anywhere they please, Remote Year gives the tools necessary to make the transition. The monthly fee (which is only slightly more than what I pay now) includes a private room, access to a co-working space and travel between countries. When I applied, I thought it was a long shot that I’d get in—more than 750,000 apply every year and only 75 leave every quarter. But when the phone call came and the papers were signed and the one-way ticket was booked, I looked up again, smiling just like that little boy who fell and figured out a way to pick himself back up and asked myself, with glee this time:
What are you doing?
I don’t know really. And for the first time—in perhaps my whole life—I’m winging it. I have no plan, other than to keep working hard and believing in the magic of the universe, just as I did all those years ago when I made the move from NC to New York. I’ve tirelessly hustled for years to build my freelancing career and thankfully, I’ve always been a great saver. And because I’m single, sans-children and sans-debt, my bills and obligations are rather low. I can afford it and so, well? I’m doing it.
Though Remote Year is giving me the opportunity to live in 10 countries over the next year, including Croatia, Prague, Portugal, Malaysia, Vietnam, Peru, Colombia, Argentina and more—I have a laundry list of other passport stamps I want to collect. But I have nothing written in pen. And instead, I’m enjoying using a pencil again, just as I did as a kid. I’m submerging myself in the unknown and I’m opening myself up to whatever adventure awaits me. I’m trying my best to not think beyond the next month, for each month will bring a new country code, a new set of challenges and opportunities, wonders and demands. I’m allowing myself to be hopeful and flexible, spirited and passionate, all of the qualities that seven years in New York couldn’t knock out of me. I’m leaning into the discomfort and the bittersweet reality of leaving the life I built to take a chance on the journey of a lifetime.
I still wonder what I’m doing sometimes, when I see that confirmation email for the flight I booked to Croatia. And when I try to imagine what it will be like to meet 74 other strangers who will become my friends as we travel together for the next year. I still can’t believe this is really happening when I make estimates on how big of a storage unit I need or when I sign the non-renewal for an apartment I’ve called home for three years. Or put in notice at a job I love to do something totally different and unstructured, not fitting into any five-year plan at all. I still get winded when I think of the risk I’m taking and the experiences that I can’t prepare myself for. I still don’t know what the future will hold, but I do know one thing:
I wouldn’t have known if I stayed in New York, either.
At least now, though? I might come back to the Big Apple, but in the meantime, I’m going to get to know the world a little bit better. And get to know the 28-year-old me that’s doing just fine, no matter what country she calls home, who she meets or what she experiences each step of the way. If you can make it in New York, they say, you can make it anywhere—so why not test the theory? And hey, maybe I’ll even write about it as I go. After all, when one blog ends…
See you abroad, loves.