A few months ago, my mom and I were discussing life and she said, “Life has a way of taking you where you need to go.” Such a wise mother I have. I tend to often look back and reflect on where life has brought me. I love being able to pinpoint a moment when a change began to unfold. I would never have known it then, but the benefit of hindsight allows the puzzle to be assembled and the realization to fall in to place. What was once a mystery, makes perfect sense now. We can choose a path, but then life shoves us down a different one. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened. It’s frustrating and confusing, but you persevere and eventually you’re able to see that yes, this is exactly where you were meant to be. We are moving at the end of June. And, looking back, it has all come to this.
When I was in high school, I signed up to go on this week-long program in Washington D.C. I honestly don’t remember the name of the program or what it was really about, other than we’d get to sit in on some government organization meetings and other schools from all over the country were going as well. What I do remember is that I was super stoked to go to Washington D.C. An opportunity to get out and see the world? Sign me up! I had been to D.C. once before on a family spring break when I was a kid. I was curious to return and get another look. We raised funds to cover the trip’s expenses and were ready to go. Then the U.S. invaded Iraq. The teacher leading the trip cancelled the whole thing, for fear of flying. This was, of course, right after 9/11. It was understandable, I guess. But I was still so disappointed. We had been the only school in the country to cancel.
As I approached graduation, I contemplated every life avenue I could possibly take. I had a brief notion to become a marine biologist. My husband has recently informed me that every girl has this notion and that no one is actually a marine biologist. To which I replied Boo! that can’t be true. And, I do actually know a marine biologist (hi David!). Anyway, I looked up marine biology programs nationwide, found Texas A&M’s, decided I must go, sent away for info, dreamed of what my life would be as an undergrad at A&M, swimming with dolphins etc, then went to nursing school at Loyola University Chicago.
When I was an undergrad at Loyola, I signed up to go on a trip to a march in Washington D.C. We were on our way, when an epic Midwestern snowstorm hit. Our 15-passenger vans crept along I-90 East until we got to Cleveland, where we stopped and (I don’t remember if this was planned, or improvised due to weather, my memory is apparently terrible) stayed at a fellow student’s parent’s house overnight. The weather did not improve, we were behind schedule and would not arrive in Washington D.C. in time for the march, so we turned it around and went back to Chicago.
The nursing curriculum at Loyola was intense. I hear they all are. I desperately wanted to take advantage of Loyola’s campus in Rome, Italy and do a semester study abroad. Living abroad always seemed like the ultimate adventure. Unfortunately, in order to do so, I would have had to take summer classes in Chicago, to get enough ahead of the program to be able to stay on track for a four year graduation. While I had dreamed of living abroad, I didn’t think this was feasible. I wasn’t keen on finding and paying for summer housing. I needed to live at home and work to earn tuition money that I’m still paying student loans on. I never did get to take advantage of Loyola’s Rome campus.
At the end of my fourth year at Loyola I was on track to graduate with my Bachelor’s in Nursing in just a couple months. I came back from Spring Break and it all went downhill very, very quickly. Within a matter of weeks, I found myself out of the program. I want to throw up admitting that here, but its true. It was devastating and embarrassing. I was totally derailed. I had the option at this time, to fulfill a list of requirements laid out sternly for me and to appeal in a year. There went my four-year graduation. Not to mention future and tens of thousands of dollars of tuition money. I’ll go ahead and tell you now, the outcome of the story is that I have had a completely kick-a** career as a completely kick-a** RN.
Yet, had I graduated in four years, I wouldn’t have been required to seek out a very specific job as part of the appeal package from Loyola’s Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. And I wouldn’t have taken a relative’s wayward invitation to see about beginning my career in Washington D.C, where they lived. But those words rang in my ears and after a Summer spent desperately searching for work in my home state, I threw an application and a phone call in at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. They called me back on Thursday and on Monday I was driving east.
The third time was the charm. It had been five years then, since the U.S. had invaded Iraq, and I had finally made it to D.C. I didn’t know where I was going to live, or know anyone outside a few relatives in the area. But I took the leap. I had to take this job because I had to get the nursing degree I had already worked so hard toward. Failing at this point, was not an option. I realize this is ironic, since I had, actually, already failed. The leap led me to a Craigslist search for housing. I quickly realized D.C. was next-level expensive and sought out roommates. I came across a listing posted by two girls my age, knew this was the one and phone-stalked them until they acquiesced. These girls were transplants, as most everyone in D.C. seems to be, recently graduated from Texas A&M University.
After what was the hands-down most stressful sixth months of my life, my appeal package was accepted. I went back to Chicago, graduated, then spent another summer job hunting at home. It didn’t feel right though. And after a few months, I reapplied with Georgetown. They gave me a call and I found myself heading back there almost exactly a year after my original move. The sublease who moved in with my Aggie roomates was up and I moved right back in. We are lifelong friends. Never did get that marine biology degree.
Washington D.C. was so good to me. It was the perfect place to begin my adult life. I loved it there. I thrived there. Everything was new and different. I felt peaceful and free. I built my nursing career on a solid foundation at a prestigious institution. I would have never chosen it for myself. But boy am I glad it was chosen for me. Had I graduated in four years, and hadn’t been forced to get creative with my search for a place to begin my career, who knows where I would have ended up. Perhaps the universe would have curved and brought me there one way or another. I kind of believe it would have. I was never meant to graduate in four years. I know lots of people who take that fifth year, but I was bound and determined not to and it blew up in my face. I had to work so hard, harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, to overcome this major blow and huge obstacle. But I did it. At the time, I was angry and confused, embarrassed and a whole plethora of other negative adjectives. Yet, looking back, I’m grateful. I’m grateful I was given the opportunity for immense personal growth. I learned faith and flexibility, perseverance and how to dig in to my grit. I also learned to stand on the right and walk on the left on all Metro escalators. Life brought me exactly where I needed to be.
Intermission. Go use the potty and get a drink.
Several years later, I had grown restless on the East Coast. I still loved D.C. but felt claustrophobic inside the beltway. Travel nursing was calling my name and Seattle was where I wanted to go first. Nevermind I had never been and knew not a soul. I knew in my heart that I would love it and needed to go. I wanted to explore the west coast and the Pacific Northwest seemed dreamy and mysterious and big and fresh and impressive. It is, btw. For those who don’t know, travel nursing is awesome. You work a contract for a set amount of time, at a hospital unit and location of your choosing, usually through a travel nurse agency. I had built a solid enough foundation as a nurse to feel confident jumping in to this new venture with both feet. There weren’t any jobs open for me in Seattle within the timeline I wanted, so I took a 12-week contract in nearby Olympia. I figured I’d make my way to Seattle eventually, and in the meantime would see what the rest of the Pacific Northwest was all about.
I had some PTO to use up before I left Georgetown. I planned a three week long European adventure for myself, met up with a couple friends, and invited my mom to join me for a portion of the trip. Which she did, and you can read about here here and here. If you do not care to read, know that I finally made it to Rome. While I had, at that point, been on a couple European adventures, I still felt the nagging regret of never having been able to actually live abroad. As a mid-twenty year old, I figured I’d end up settling down and staying put, and never be given the opportunity. It seems so silly, but I actually remember adding up the total time I had spent in Europe at that point and thinking, ok, this could be enough.
Within a few weeks of beginning work as a travel nurse at the hospital in Olympia, I had made a few new friends. One of whom was a fellow nurse, who lived around the corner and had some fun roommates. She invited me over to hang out and meet her roomies. One of whom was another nurse named Ewa. Ewa and I hit it off. A few months later, on new year’s day, she and I got together for dinner to catch up. She mentioned an upcoming ski/snowboard trip to Mount Bachelor, near Bend, Oregon and said I should come along. Of course, I’m not physically able to decline an invitation like that and said sure. A week and a half later, she called me up and said that she, her boyfriend and his friends were going out in Seattle that night. I had been living and working up there for a few months by then, and agreed to meet her out. As it turned out, the “friends” plural, was only one friend- my future husband, Brandon. Ewa is Polish, and English is her second language, so I give her the benefit of the doubt that she meant “friend” singular, because I know she had schemed this setup. A month and a half later I was heading down to Bend, Oregon for Mt. Bachelor weekend with my new boyfriend.
I loved Seattle. I thrived there. The city and the surrounding region were everything I imagined it would be and more. It totally and completely stole my heart. There were some major growing pains over the 14 months I lived there. It had been a major leap of faith, moving across the country. But, by random coincidence, one of my DC roommates had the opportunity to transfer to Seattle with her job at the same time as I was considering moving there. I reconnected with a high school friend (Hi David!) and another friend from DC who had made the transition from east to west coast as well. Now I had a wonderful boyfriend and his group of friends grew in to family. I had my small network of people and was slowly building the life I had always dreamed.
I was looking for an excuse to stay, and considering a permanent job offer, when my boyfriend moved to Georgia. We were serious enough by then that I knew my time in Seattle was limited. My heart had never been so torn. But my gut knew. I had said I would only return to the east coast if I had the opportunity to work a neuro unit at Johns Hopkins. A travel contract opened up just at the right time and I went with it. It wasn’t Georgia (yet), but at least it was in the same time zone.
I was never sure how settling down would feel for me. I wanted to get married and have a family, but I had a hard time picturing myself ever being stationary. Living in the same place for 10-20-30+ years. Yikes. As fate would have it, my man’s career allows us to move every couple years. He proposed, and my love for exploring and the love of my life were married. Three moves between three states and two beautiful baby boys later, here we are in northern New York, getting ready for our biggest move yet. I’ve set aside my nursing career for the time being, to raise our boys at home and began this blog as a little project on the side to fill nap times and reflect on my past life, as well as document and inspire current exploration for all.
Second Intermission (this is turning into a full three-period hockey game, I’m making my dad proud).
In high school, my senior prophecy was that I would be the girl “who’s gum is forever stale”. This is, and was, the lamest senior prophecy I have ever heard. It came to be, due to the opening line of an essay I had written in AP English. “My gum was stale”. Mr. Wolbrink grabbed on to this line and used it as an example in his classes. Over, and over, and over. Until it, and I, lived on in stale gum infamy. Perhaps this prophecy actually was a metaphorical foreshadowing of things to come. Not that my gum is eternally stale, I have enjoyed many pieces of fresh gum since and will continue to do so. That stale-gum essay, written so long ago, was just the first of what I hope is many pieces of shared writing. I didn’t know when I started writing here, that I would, in a matter of months, be given another piece to the puzzle.
Now we’re about to embark on our biggest adventure yet. In just a handful of weeks we will be flying overseas to start the next chapter of our life’s adventure story in Szczecin, Poland. A place I had never heard of, and cannot properly pronounce. My dream of living abroad, at last, coming true. Wikipedia tells me Szczecin is the seventh largest city in Poland, with just under half a million people. It is located in the very northwestern corner of the country, on the Baltic Sea and German border. Poland was never on the short list of places I had considered living when I thought of living abroad. Its going to make a great location for exploring all of Europe. Its going to be perfect. It was a long wait, but good things do come.
I’m so excited about our move, but the moral of the story is this: No matter where you are in life, no matter what curveball it throws, or how off you think you are, as long as you keep your eyes and heart open, live without fear, take the leap, go with your gut, have patience, etc. you will end up where you need to be. Life will take you in the direction of your dreams, but you need to let it. Sometimes it won’t be apparent in the moment. It might be really hard for a while. But find contentment in the meantime. Sometimes you’ll fail out of college and end up living in a city you never thought you’d live in. Sometimes your country will go to war and you’ll have to cancel a trip and then there will be a snowstorm and you’ll have to cancel your trip again. Washington D.C. was calling my name, but not on the timeline I had written. Boy am I glad I waited, because instead of a weekend, I got four whole amazing years there. You might be called to move cross-country and it will be scary, but so exciting, and you’ll make a friend of a friend who will introduce you to your future husband. Seattle wasn’t the place for me to settle, it was the place for me to go to meet my future. I promise, live with faith and it will all come together. It might not be straight and narrow, it might be messy, but life has a way of taking you where you need to be. I do get to live abroad. Ironically, in the home country of the friend who introduced me to my life’s adventure partner. And now I get to go with, and because of, my husband. Had I only known.
Watch out world, exploremoreco.com is going places. Europe, to be exact. Hope you’ll follow along.