With shaky hands, I unfolded the two pieces of paper that had been taped to my door. I already knew what they would say but I didn’t expect the timeline to be accelerated. I was on my way to an important meeting so I composed myself, took a deep breath and willed the tears that were aching to fall down my cheeks to hold off for just 20 minutes. My eyes were burning and my breath was shaky but I composed myself for the 5-minute conversation with a potential employer that would be an important first impression I smiled and hoped that it would reach my eyes. When I made it back to my apartment, I looked around and faced the reality that I may lose the roof over my head in three days.
I’ve spent most of my life making decisions after weighing every possible consequence that it could have on the lives of the people around me. For the longest time, it was my family. When I started going out with the man who would eventually propose to me, every decision I made about my life included him because we were building a life together. When I lost the last full-time job I had and decided to become a freelancer full-time, it was he who encouraged me to do it. At the same time, he was the reason that I couldn’t just pick up and leave DC behind like I’d wanted to for the longest time. DC was my comfort zone and I was ready to leave it years ago, to challenge myself in ways that would help me grow. When I decided to go into freelancing full-time, I still had a safety net for any mistakes I would make, because he was there to help support me and keep a roof over our heads. So while I was scared of this new adventure, pursuing what I love full-time, I still had a back-up plan. No decision I made really felt like it was huge leap of faith because I wasn’t diving into the unknown. I was just walking on a tightrope with a huge safety net to catch me if I tripped (and I tripped a few times.)
When you say ‘Yes’ to the man you love and begin to plan the rest of your life together, you really don’t expect your future with that person to start fading away. You certainly don’t expect to have the conversation where you have to look in his eyes and tell him that you don’t want to marry him anymore. The sadness that washed over me was unbearable, and I felt like I could literally feel his heart breaking into a thousand pieces. I had tried so hard to make it work, but I was in denial for the longest time. Finally, my fear of resenting him two years down the line after we get married because I was so unhappy beat my fear of hurting his feelings in the moment. We decided we would try to see if we could work on our relationship without the pressure of the wedding. Things didn’t get better, so I had to finally be the one to say that it was over.
It was in that moment that I had my whole life ahead of me to decide without being responsible to anyone else in my life. Whatever decision I made next would be mine and only mine. Do you know how frightening that is to a person who’s never fully felt in control of her life until that very moment? I knew that I wanted to leave my current home of D.C. – not just because of the broken relationship I would be leaving behind but because D.C. is my comfort zone. I’m familiar with the professional world. I have great friends out there who were there for me unconditionally during some of the ugliest periods of my life in the last decade. I could certainly have stayed and fallen into another holding pattern, but I didn’t feel challenged anymore. Everything was just so familiar. I was 27 years old and had barely done any traveling, even though traveling the world was a lifelong dream of mine. So this was the moment I needed a big life change.
So I decided to move west to Seattle. I had fallen in love with Seattle a couple of years ago when I was visiting friends and I had even brought it up to my ex.
“We should move,” I’d told him. “Let’s start our life together away from our comfort zone.”
He’d reply that Seattle was too overcast for him, so I would compromise and suggest other places. “What about Chicago? We both love it over there. Or Charlotte?”
“We’ll talk about it,” he’d say.
We never really did.
Moving away from D.C. was something I had wanted to do but with the life we were planning together, I had to come to terms with the fact that it might not ever happen. So leaving D.C. to figure out the next chapter in my life that no longer began with “I do” made perfect sense.
So, it was decided. I was moving to Seattle though I did give Chicago serious consideration as well. Then what? Well, I knew that I would be driving cross-country because I was leaving all the furniture behind and I’d always wanted to drive cross-country. The next step was figuring out financials, and battling with my fear. Once I got in the car and began that drive, there would no longer be a safety net in my life. This was it. Once I jumped off the ledge, I would have to build my wings on the way down.
I had so many people tell me that I was strong. That breaking off my engagement was a brave thing to do. To me, it was the only thing that made sense. I began to resent that word. Brave. It started to feel dirty to me. What part of breaking someone’s heart was brave? What right did I have? Once I started telling people that I would be moving cross-country by myself to a place I’d never lived before with absolutely no guarantees, that word began to surface again.
Shit, I was scared. Who the hell was I to do this? I knew I should stay put but every fiber of my being screamed at me to go. It was fight or flight, but moving to Seattle wasn’t the flight. It was the fight. It was me fighting to be independent. It was me fighting for my life. It was me fighting for control. It was time to figure out whether or not I could make it alone without a safety net. If I stayed in my comfort zone, I would never know.
Of course, when I moved cross-country with only a retainer contract with my client on the east coast, I never expected them to break their contract with me within two weeks of me moving into my new apartment. I didn’t expect to spend the next three months looking for a job instead of exploring and enjoying my new home. I didn’t expect to have to actually ask my family for help, who in return asked me to come back to the east coast. I most certainly didn’t expect to come within hours of becoming homeless.
Standing in my apartment with the eviction notice that had been taped to my door, I felt lightheaded. I closed my eyes and pictured myself falling fast to the earth without a safety net to catch me. This was it.
Only it wasn’t.
I emailed a really good friend of mine who has always had unwavering faith in me. I told her that I was seriously considering the option to move back to the east coast with my brother’s help because I was feeling stuck. She asked me to step back from the canvas and get some perspective. “You see limitations. I see options.”
She was right. The fight wasn’t over. It had only begun. I spent my first year in Seattle depressed and terrified, but I don’t feel like a failure. This journey taught me a lot about myself, including the fact that I can handle being alone. I had to learn to be the ‘new girl’ in a brand new town (hell, a whole new coast), and it’s made me realize what I have to offer to people, personally and professionally. Let me tell you – it’s a lot. I’m learning to love myself, even at my ugliest. I’m learning to deal with my anger and resentment. I’m remembering to breathe and cut out toxic behavior. Most of all, I’m remembering that this is what I wanted when I took that leap of faith and left my comfort zone 3,000 miles behind.
My story isn’t over. The lessons I’ve learned the last two years and the stories I have to share are just beginning. I took that leap, hoping that I would build my wings on the way down. I’m not hitting the ground just yet, and if I do, I’ll just climb back up, bloody hands and all.
I wrote this last year, when things were still uncertain – when I still wasn’t sure what life would look like for me. It’s safe to say that after hitting this rock bottom, things started looking up again, slowly.