The following is a guest post from Michelle Stephenson, chief revenue officer at a progressive technology firm in Washington, DC:
In 2011, I was exhausted. I had inadvertently fallen into one of those stretches of my life. You know – the ones where your friends look at you as if you just knocked out a front tooth. The same obligatory lie applied here, “It is not that bad.”
This stretch had been brewing for over a year. It started with an unexpected chronic health condition that made me have more in common with the lifestyle of Betty White than a 26 year old. Then it was followed by trying to escape the scariest dating experience I had ever had. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with stress and felt like I was living someone else’s life.
Before I knew it, the confident extrovert that I had always been, was nowhere to be found. Anxiety and caution filled the void.
Luckily, I had one silver lining: my job. However, even at the most amazing jobs, you get burnt out when everything else around you is falling apart.
I was fighting the exhaustion as best as I could but I was teetering on wanting to quit. On the flip-side, I knew that I was well positioned for upward growth and additionally felt indebted to a company that had gone above and beyond to support me in my career. I was torn so I decided, in order to avoid a shortsighted mistake, I should put a pin in it and travel.
Traveling to me has always meant freedom, a way of refreshing the soul and allowing me to be incognito. I needed to be released from the expectations of my normal life and travel was the answer.
I had always dreamed of going to Europe so that is what I did.
21 uninterrupted days. I spent the first two weeks with a promise to myself of staying present, which I kept with continued reinforcement. If my mind wandered to the negative, I pushed it back to the moment.
The “moment” for me was a long day in Regent’s Park, drinking at the Boathouse Café; pub hopping with strangers; discovering that bangers and mash taste like heaven when you are shivering cold. After London, came Barcelona. To this day, I believe that Barcelona is the perfect city. The beach, Gaudi, paella, the mood – there is nothing like it. I ate food worthy of my death-meal and made friends with locals, as we trekked our way up and down the mountains along the Costa Brava.
I felt inspired. That old self, the one that had been crushed for the past year, had returned. I missed my bravery, creativity, confidence and so many other qualities that had always made up the core ingredients of who I am.
The week before I returned home, I began feeling nervous about what was next. I knew I could not go back to the state of my life, not as I had left it. I started to ask myself, “What do I want? How do I get there?”
The space and time that I had to think was invaluable.
Could I put out the dumpster-fire in one fell swoop? No. That wasn’t realistic. However, I knew I could harness this new energy - to stop apologizing, to say f*@k it, and plan a new path that would NOT be dictated by circumstances that I had no control over.
Finally, it was time. I took a deep breath and I went home. I made major life changes the moment I landed back home.
Since 2011, I’ve been promoted several times, I have a brilliant husband, and my health (albeit not perfect) is better. The travel gave me the perspective I so desperately needed. I am ever grateful for the time that I took back then; 21 days changed my life.