What I really learned in San Diego

“You stay classy, San Diego” (Had to).

Every spring, without failure, I question where I am in life. Who I am. Where I’m going. Whether I’m on the right path. I get restless, like something isn’t right and I need to correct the path – now or never. It sounds silly, I know, and usually the feelings stem more from a distance between me and hobbies outside of work, or just the that general “rebirth” feeling we all get in the Spring. I’m well aware of the dramatic nature of these thoughts, yet each year the questions weigh on me heavily.

This year, more than ever before.

I woke up this morning in San Diego, tied on my running shoes and made my way out the hotel lobby doors. The grass was dewy, the sunrise was gleaming across the bay and peaking around the glassy buildings. There is nothing like a run at dawn to clear your mind. My legs hustled along while my mind floated and wandered, savoring every sight and sound. I will miss this city, I kept thinking.

We had a brief relationship, San Diego and I, full of ups and downs, but I’ve never fallen for a place so quickly. Maybe it was purely love for the city itself, but maybe it was the overall experience too.

I was there for a conference. It was my first time traveling alone more than a state or two away from home. My first time truly relying on myself to figure things out. Doing what I wanted, when I wanted, scheduling my days to my desire. I loved the freedom. Well, I loved it once I adjusted.

When I arrived, difficulties getting into my Airbnb apartment sent me spiraling into regret. Home, I just want to be home. Fear and worry got the best of me and the world was closing in on me – feelings I know all too well at this point in life. In this fit of loneliness and anxiety I called my husband and texted my mom. They calmed me as they always do. Then I (seriously) looked in the mirror at my flushed face, wiped off my tears and said “You. Are. Fine.”

Less than two days later I was settling into a hotel close to the convention center (Airbnb, for several reasons too long to explain here, did not work out), had made some fun friends, and was a sponge for industry trends and insights as I floated in and out of sessions and keynotes and networking breaks. I was loving it – this independent, traveling professional lifestyle.

Breakdown two happened one afternoon when I opened my work email on my laptop rather than my phone for the first time all week. Oh the horror as dozens of messages I didn’t even know I’d missed suddenly populated my inbox. It all came rushing back, the pressure of my corporate world. The miscommunication. The lack of communication. The impulsiveness. The corruption. The disregard. The ignorance. It all flooded my screen. As I combed through “send me your plan for…”, “think about how we can…”, “copy me on…”, “just letting you know…” the room was closing in on me. There was my good friend, anxiety, again.

This time, though, my desire to stay in this vibrant, relaxed city intensified rather than waned. I didn’t want to leave. Wanted to go home, of course, but didn’t want to leave the freedom. Didn’t want to return to the stress, the insecurity, the incompetency and scrutiny. Didn’t want to excitedly return with new innovative ideas from the conference only to be shut down. “Spend more money! Shove the message in people’s faces! That’s how we’ll be successful!”

In San Diego, the air was clear and the sun was shining, but I could feel a dark, looming cloud over the horizon, just waiting for me. Again I teared up on the phone with my husband. “I’m not cut out for corporate, I explained. It’s not where I’m meant to be.

Of course, corporate is a very broad category. In truth, it’s more along the lines of “I’m not cut out for the corporate atmosphere I’m in.”

Sometimes when I’m down about my career, or other aspects of life even, I think about my summers spent working for the Toledo metroparks. I was an “Educational Program Interpreter” at a popular Parks system attraction, “The Canal Experience,” in which a replica 1800s canal boat is steered by interpreters and pulled by mules down a restored stretch of Ohio canal. (It’s real, check it out) Dressed in Victorian era clothes, I spent the days sharing the history of the iconic Ohio canal and onsite lumber mill with park visitors. It was so peaceful and scenic. My skin (what showed of it in those clothes) was always sun-kissed and my lungs filled with fresh air. Every day I was learning something new. Surrounded by people who were passionate about history, nature, public service or a combination of all three…working for the Metroparks touched me profoundly. I was just a college kid doing a goofy job to save up money until classes started back up. But I grew passionate about history, nature and public service too. I liked making a difference, making peoples’ faces light up with silly jokes and interesting facts. I really liked the free time outside of shifts spent crafting and writing and baking. My coworkers were some of the best people I’ve ever met, and we shared countless laughs and secrets. I think back on this job frequently because it was the happiest I’ve ever been.

My current job was supposed to be that. Oh how volatile jobs can be. Oh how volatile our minds can be.

One last time I walked through the Gaslamp Quarter to grab coffee and some breakfast. Then it was time to zip up my suitcase, hand in my hotel key cards, and head to the airport. Bittersweet.

The window seat on airplanes is my jam. I like watching the tiny world below and the clouds passing by. I like the colors. I like seeing where the sky blends into the land. Sometimes I find myself bent forward, neck cranked to take in the views, trying to figure out what city or state is below. I’ve never seen another person exhibit this behavior – is everyone too accustomed to flying to care? Too preoccupied to remember we’re freaking in an aircraft thousands of feet in the air? Do they look at me staring intently and think, “wow, first time in a plane?”

I digress. On my way home from San Diego I didn’t care today what people thought about my gazing. I was as distant as the horizon, thoughts floating around like the clouds. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Longing for something more. Realizing I’m meant to do something else in this life. But what? How? When?

Risk-taker: Not a phrase I’d use to describe myself in a general sense. (Refer back to me booking a hotel to escape my Airbnb). I try to imagine taking a leap of faith, say, leaving my job and starting a completely new, creative endeavor, but I can’t fully envision it. It’s like a CD that freezes at the same spot every time you play it. Without a guarantee, a secure plan, I’m not sure I can make the leap into a new career. There’s nothing more scary than the unknown.

At a point, though, I’ll have no choice. If I desire a new path, I have to take it, not wait for it to appear under my feet.

I’m back home now. Back in the rush and madness of corporate America. Back to being pulled a million directions. Back to not enough hours in the day. Back to daydreaming about painting and baking and being active in the community. This time, though, I’m also brainstorming and planning and praying. Figuring out my next move and when I’m going to strike.

Already anticipating – clinging to – the happiness on the other side…just have to find the door the leads to it. Everything will fall into place, I strongly believe that. I will have a wonderful life…but I have to work for it.
I can feel a better future out there, like sunshine on my face on a chilly San Diego morning.


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