In kindergarten, we didn’t get standard letter grades like the big kids. No A, B, C, D, or F for us. We got S for satisfactory, a N for needs work or W for working on. Well five-year old version of the Very Hungry Traveler, walked out of parent teacher conferences with her mum and a W in self-control. It will forever live in infamy because what five-year old has a great grasp on self-control and, well, it’s a good family joke. But in actuality I think everyone that is infected with wanderlust or has that innate need to travel probably deserves a W in self-control.
Now in our defense we are following our dreams, but really we just have a problem with getting “real jobs” and saving our money for “adult purchases”. At least that is how it is for me. I had been back in the United States for exactly 11 days when I told someone I was ready to leave for another adventure. I hadn’t even lasted two weeks. Don’t get me wrong I have a great life in the US. I live in a great apartment, work jobs I love with amazing people, and truly enjoy every minute of my life no matter where I am. The difference is I have two forms of happy, the happy I am now in my life in the US, and the absolute spirit-soaring, soul-singing, hills-are-alive happiness I feel when I am traveling.
That’s where the self-control comes in, or lack thereof. I have always been known to entertain an idea for all of about ten minutes of research, run it by my mom looking for validation, and make a decision. It is calculated for sure, (I love to plan) but many times it’s a much faster decision than others would make.
I came home from the best experience of my life, to the harsh reality of finances and adulthood. I found myself staring down the barrel of my last semester of my undergraduate career, with uncertainty looming in the distance. People ask me what I want to do with my International Business degree after college and I don’t have a standard “get a job doing x in my field” answer. I think I surprise people when I say travel and eat. I have gotten laughter, a few raised eyebrows, and my personal favorite, “yes but what are you going to do after that in real life”.
Life is greatly uncertain and we are rarely, if ever, in control. In the past five years of my life alone, I have found out many times that we have no idea what life is going to entail. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. We could be diagnosed with cancer, we could fall and have and brain bleed that is undiagnosed until it’s too late, an extremist could ignite a bomb in our place of work, or our place of worship, hell the US might become real life Hunger Games in November. The lesson is we have no control over what happens to us or when our time on this earth will end. So why would I want to spend any moment of that time not doing something that brings me complete, marvel-at-windows, laugh-at-puffins joy?
That’s a hard thing to get people to understand, but it is how I have chosen to live. So I am going to apply for a Master’s of Gastronomy with no understanding of what I will do with it. I am pursuing it not for a job, but because I love education and food. I want to obtain a master’s degree as a personal accomplishment. And I want to move to Italy to become fluent in Italian. These things make me happy and that is worth the small bank account, the uncertainty, and the unconformtability. .
I was working in the coffee-house I barista at a few days ago when an older gentleman sat at the bar to talk with me while I made his coffee. He asked about my plans after college, to which I replied that I was hoping to gain acceptance for this master’s program in Italy, but if not I was moving to Italy anyways. I tried to convey to him that I didn’t know how but I was going to spend my life living around the world, making a career of odd jobs in different countries. That I had a goal board of visiting as many countries as years I live in my life, working at the Olympics, writing a book, etc. His response moved me to tears, “You’ve got gumption kid, so many people are afraid of not doing what is expected of them that they miss out on their dreams, it takes gumption to not to live the life society says is successful”. After so many responses of how brave I am (which I am pretty convinced that 9 times out of 10 people are using that word when they mean insane), this confirmation was inexplicable in its meaning to me.
I like to think that everyday and every moment, we should be learning a lesson. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, “If you are willing to treat everything that happens to you as a clue and everyone you meet as a teacher….the truth will not be withheld from you.” As I grow older I am learning to understand that it is okay to not plan every detail or follow what is expected. Living a life of working on self-control isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe that W almost two decades ago was my first clue as to who I would become and the life I could live if I learned to possess a bit of gumption.
-The Very Hungry Traveler