"How many moments like this does anyone get in a lifetime?" I wondered.
As I gazed out my window seat on Southwest flight #1512 from CLE to ATX, that was the thought running through my brain. Over and over again.
How often does this happen? That rare opportunity when, after years of struggle and uncertainty, the storm clouds part and all your hard choices pay off. When the big picture is finally revealed -- and suddenly, it all makes sense.
I suppose it's how a bride must feel, as she is about to walk down the aisle to marry the love of her life. Or how a college football player feels the moment they call his name at the NFL draft. These moments do indeed exist, but they are far too rare. And right now I am deeply moved (and a little in awe) that I'm here. Especially given the path I took.
Exactly one year ago I started this unconventional journey, and decided to leave a successful career in New York City to move home with my parents.
Yes, my parents. In Cleveland, Ohio
I left not fully knowing where I wanted to end up, but hoping I'd recognize it when I saw it. I knew what I didn't want anymore: to stay in New York in my $2,200 a month Brooklyn studio, persuading people to buy things they didn't need or want -- all while still single and dating perpetual boys. Basically I knew I couldn't keep doing what I was doing, getting nowhere. The thing was, I didn't know where I wanted to go. So I took a huge risk, swallowed my pride, and moved home in my 40s to live with my parents.
I had been toying with the idea of leaving New York on and off for probably 10 years, but something always "pulled me back in." A great apartment, guy, job... and it's virtually impossible to consider going anywhere else when you're making six-figures in THE advertising capital of the world. My last office was literally on Madison Avenue, with a stunning view of the Chrysler building.
But I had just lost that job, and my lease was up in a month. Plus, my latest article went viral overnight -- the day I got laid off.
The universe seemed to be giving me a big sign. But no directions.
I had a vision of what I hoped I could find: a better quality of life in a city where I could afford a grown-up apartment, with new people, better dating options, using my creative talents and experience to make a difference and help others.
Other than that, I was clueless. But totally open.
"Why don't put everything in storage, move home with your parents, and travel? Explore your options," my cousins Lisa and Pam suggested.
They were both coincidentally in town on business at the same time, and both saw my opening as an opportunity. I was beginning to feel the same way.
But could I really do that? Could I really just... leave? If I stayed, I'd have to get a freelance job. I'd be working to survive. Again. Which would limit my ability to look for something meaningful elsewhere. Leaving now was my chance.
My logical brain kept focusing on all the risks, and would make me question if it was a mistake.
"What if I get a great job offer in Manhattan? I won't be here." I called my dad.
It was a beautiful spring day, the sun was out and the trees were in full bloom with hundreds of white blossoms. One of those days that make you feel grateful to live in such an amazing city - even if everything is a struggle. I was standing on the corner of Montague and Henry Street, leaning on the blue mailbox in front of Ann Taylor Loft, wondering what the hell I was doing.
"Plus, am I crazy? All of my contacts are here..." I said, expecting him to agree with my concerns.
"So you'll fly in for the interview," he reassured me instead. "It's an hour flight. It'll be fine."
Knowing that both my practical mother and my uber-logical, lawyer father thought it was the right thing to do helped. A lot. As did knowing I had a safe place to fall. No matter what happened, I wasn't going to end up on the street. I was blessed.
So I took the leap, and without any real solid plan other than to job hunt, write, and travel -- I left. Not knowing that my unemployment would run out halfway through my journey, my dad would nearly kick me out, my sweet 4-year old cat Peanut would die suddenly of heart failure, and that it would be a year before I found my way.
The Kabbalists say that "where there is the greatest darkness, therein also lies the biggest potential to reveal tremendous Light." It all depends on our actions. And I think - no, I KNOW - that I wouldn't feel as grateful had those struggles and uncertainties not been there. I feel like I've earned this. In a very unexpected way.
I remember sitting on the bed in my old bedroom, one bitterly cold night last December. I didn't know it then, but I was only halfway through my pit stop in Cleveland -- which is a hard place to be in the winter. I had only planned to be there for 6 months tops. I was so sure of it, I almost didn't pack my winter clothes or boots.
"You might as well bring them, just in case," my wise mother suggested as we were packing up my belongings for storage last June.
"Yeah, I guess I could still be there in October -- and it gets cold," I optimistically agreed.
Yet there I was, mid-December, without a job prospect in sight.
Part of me wanted to panic. Was I a complete failure at life? I'm a 40-something year old single woman living at home with her parents. With two cats. How sad was I?
But the other part of me, the kinder gentler side of me, offered an alternate viewpoint.
"You're gonna miss this," I clearly heard a soft voice say. "Look around this warm, cozy room -- with the flat screen, cable TV and walk-in closet. A fully-stocked kitchen with all your favorite foods and coffee. Two happy cats sleeping at your feet and your healthy parents down the hall."
I had to admit, to myself if no one else -- it was nice. I LIKED not working for a while. Not getting up so early, running so much, and burning myself out to the point of exhaustion every weekend. Like I had for the last 20 years. So I was pretty sure the voice was on to something.
"Enjoy this moment, it won't last forever. And when you leave, you're gonna miss this period in your life," it promised.
And as I write this, just six months after that cold night -- as excited as I am about all that is waiting for me when I land in two hours in Austin -- I already do.