I remember the day I knew that something was coming to an end. I was sitting having breakfast with a good friend one weekend. It was a lovely cafe, great food, fabulous company, and I was miserable. I talked to my friend about how I was feeling, even though I wasn’t really sure myself. Not for the first or last time, I was fortunate to have the type of friends who don’t need emotions filtered, packaged up and labelled, they are on hand for the processing, the behind the scenes bits.
On this particular day, I was feeling unsettled, and anxious. On the surface of things, it wasn’t that surprising. At that time, mid 2016, I was trying and struggling to learn to drive – something which gave my confidence a weekly kicking; I was searching in vain for a flat to buy in London within my price range; and I was feeling a little bit lost at work, in a period of change and uncertainty. I was single, but to be honest that wasn’t really a conscious worry other than the fact I was dealing with the aforementioned bits and pieces on my own, without a partner or family nearby to drag along to viewings or take me out for driving practice.
But the key thing in all this was that I didn’t feel that achieving a resolution to any of these issues was going to erase the anxiety that was camped out in my chest. I didn’t feel nervous excitement for the future, for my first car, my prospects as a home owner, the opportunities of a new role or direction at work. I felt uncertain, out of control and directionless.
When I thought of driving, the extent to which I dreaded my next lesson or test made me feel tired. I was exhausted by the idea of taking another train to the outskirts of London to see a promising flat, only to find that the reason I could afford it was because it has no windows in the bedroom or was right on the edge of the dual carriageway. I disliked the version of myself I was becoming at work – unmotivated, cynical, unproductive. Most of all, I felt guilty. Guilty because of all the privilege I had and how unhappy I was. I lived in one of the most amazing cities in the world and was in a position to be able to afford driving lessons and a (theoretical) flat, and all I could do what whinge into my coffee.
This conversation with my friend proved a turning point though. Because even though I could tick off on a list the things that were causing me stress, I felt powerless to do anything about it. My friend listened to me and suggested that maybe the problem was that the things I was trying to do – driving, buying a home, striving for purpose at work – were attempts to fix something underlying that wasn’t right. I had been feeling somewhat disconnected from London for a while at this point, due to a combination of factors. Friends moving away, me getting to the point of my life where I had less interest and energy for going out in London, missing my family – all of this made me feel less and less like London was my home. It was a lonely feeling and I think I was looking for something to give me back a sense of connection and purpose. Then my friend said something so true and obvious that I had to laugh at the fact I hadn’t even considered it: maybe the answer to this increasing feeling of isolation wasn’t to buy a flat on the outskirts of London, live alone and massively reduce my monthly disposable income to meet mortgage repayments. Maybe the answer to not feeling rooted in a place wasn’t to dig in deeper.
That was the day I realised, with the help of my dear friend, that I didn’t have to do any of this. That was the first step in reaching the conclusion that I did not want or need a flat, despite what the Evening Standard and general societal view on what it means to be a successful adult had led me to believe. Not only did I not want a flat in London, but I realised I needed a break from London altogether. I needed to slow down and step away from the city for a bit. And despite all the wonderful things I had gained from my job and career, I knew I needed to do something about that too, before I turned into someone I didn’t really recognise.
Fortunately, I had managed to save some money over the years, something I was proud of and decided I deserved to enjoy. I decided to use that money to do something I would never have had the courage to do previously, but that I also knew I would never forget or regret. I would go on an adventure – the kind with only one plane ticket and lots of ideas, with possibilities and risks, with a backpack pristinely packed with belongings that would be worn, lost, torn, replaced and loved over the next six months. I’d always wanted to travel, and I realised it was the time.
Leaving my job was scary, but only about half as scary as telling my parents that I was abandoning my property search, quitting my job and travelling off into the world on my own without a plan. But, as usual I should have given my parents more credit and was lucky to have nothing but support (and a little bit of worry!) from them. I did have a moment when I told my dad and he took one of those pauses that lasted about the duration of Lent. When he spoke, he said, “well you know I am a big fan of investment…” My heart started to sink. Then he continued, “…and travelling is an investment in yourself.” And I felt the type of support you only feel when you are completely flying blind, but you know the people you rely on the most have got your back.
Now, a year after I sat across from my boss and told her I was leaving my job and London to go on an adventure, life looks very different. After six glorious months of travelling, meeting new people, learning new things and having the time of my life, I am home.
Moving back to my hometown of Cork after most of my adult life abroad hasn’t been without its challenges, and it’s early days. I love being close to my family and I’m very lucky to have them here to welcome me back and help me find my feet. I’m also enjoying reconnecting with old friends and rediscovering the unique beauty and spirit of the place I call home. But, there are days when things are harder. I don’t know many people, but I’m taking as many opportunities as I can to go out into the city and make the most of the friendships I have, and make some new ones. I have had to go back to square one with the driving – something that’s superfluous in London, but essential in Cork. The Learner’s Permit is in the bag, and though it will take time, the only way is forward from here. I also have accepted that the career prospects I had in London don’t really exist here in the same way, but I’m trying to see that as an opportunity. I’ve used my time off to do something else I’ve thought about for a long time but didn’t have the confidence to do, and trained as a yoga teacher. I’ve recently started teaching and can honestly say I love it. It’s new and I’m not sure yet where the path will take me, but for now I can say I come home from work and I feel like I’ve brought something positive into someone’s day, in some way.
It’s a process, and I’m taking it bit by bit. Above all, I have learned in the last year that it is so rare to actually know what you want – it took me long enough – that when you realise what that is, you shouldn’t waste any time going for it. I sat when I was 30 wondering why I didn’t take more risks when I was 25, and I don’t want to wonder the same thing at 35 or 40. For now, I’m cutting myself some slack and letting go of all the pressure to achieve certain things and meet certain expectations. I’m enjoying the learning experience as I get reconnected with my home and myself.