Holy crap. How did this happen? What have I done? One click of a mouse. That’s all it took. Up until then, everything seemed to be going so well. Each day I decided what time to wake up, where to go next, what bus to book and what local wine to taste. Occasionally, I also had to decide what ragged piece of clothing to toss from my ever-growing backpack. I admit my life had changed drastically from the nights I slept with my Blackberry and the mornings I read the headlines in fear of what havoc they may wreak on the day. Nevertheless, things were good. Like, really good. It’s been 15 months since I last worked and while my bank account has been reduced accordingly, it isn’t empty yet. My nerves are settled, my fingernails are stronger, and my tan has never been better. To think, I had just accepted a job at a local winery. Unaware of the risk to their cellar, they had hired me to work in their restaurant. In addition to working in one of the most stunning valleys in New Zealand, I’d also get 25% off my favourite chardonnay. I’d take orders and pour wine. That was it. And even when I told them that I would likely leave sooner rather than later for a better job, they still hired me. Then, I went and messed it all up.
Within seconds of reading the job advert, my pulse was racing, my eyes were wide, and my fingers couldn’t dial the phone fast enough. A quick chat to the recruiter late on a Friday afternoon while her kids played in the background brought my 15 months of travel to a grinding halt. Like any good recruiter would do, she was honest about the position. She told me that it would be busy and that I may have to work late nights. She warned me that the pressure would be intense, there would be high expectations, and I would have to handle many files at once. Oh, thank God, I thought. Anything less and I would be bored.
One week later I sat on an overstuffed chair in the lobby of a fancy hotel in Auckland. I had swapped my dusty runners for a pair of black patent heals and I was sweating through the pretty but uncomfortable blouse under my suit jacket. In just a few minutes I would be meeting with two senior executives of a distinguished consulting firm that serves several impressive clients including Fonterra, the largest dairy producer in the world. I almost had to pinch myself. I could hardly believe that I could soon be starting a whole new career, with a whole new group of people, in a whole new country. While so many of my former colleagues had dealt with these feelings of change immediately after the election, I had apparently shelved mine until now. Perfect timing.
To prepare for the interview I read everything I could find about the firm and those they employed. A wave of relief washed over me as I read a blog written by the Group Manager with whom I’d be meeting. She wrote about having recently attended the Sound of Music musical. While she enjoyed it, she left the theatre feeling slightly disheartened that she would never be like Maria. She’d never strum a guitar, turn old curtains into pretty frocks, or break out into life-lesson themed song. Instead, she was wholly and entirely Captain Von Trapp. She had a laser beam focus, appreciated military precision, and had a clear vision for how things should be done. We could not be more alike. While I have tried to be more creative, flexible and carefree over the last year of travel, my inner Captain Von Trapp is still very much intact.
After all, I am the backpacker who finished her Masters while hopping between islands. Instead of napping on the beach, I completed seven scuba courses. And now, between treks up various mountains in New Zealand, I’m working on a Certificate of Marketing Strategy. I tried to find my inner-Maria and at times, I think I succeeded. I whittled my belongings down to twelve kilos. I stayed in smelly hostels. I ate questionable food from roadside stands. I jumped out of a plane and floated in a hot air balloon. I also started this blog. But in the end, I realize that while aimlessly wandering is fun, I need more. I need purpose and direction. I crave chaos. Stress and pressure? Bring it on. During the interview, I mentioned my concern about having to track my work in 15 minute increments as is the practice at many agencies. I admitted this would be new to me as I typically like to do multiple things at once. The Group Manager smiled and explained that she expects her employees to do multiple things at once. It was music to my ears.
Packing and Unpacking
Within a few days, I learned that I had the job. I was excited. Wasn’t I? After all, this was what I had always wanted. Not only did I want to move from government into the private sector but I had wanted to find a job that was as exciting, busy and challenging as politics had always been. But was I ready to work long hours, be tethered to my work at all times, and be at the mercy of the media again? For a moment, I couldn’t help but have a bit of buyer’s remorse. Fortunately, it only took some reassurance, an official start date, and secured accommodation to settle my nerves. My gears were turning again and I needed to get ready for the adventure ahead…
First, I had to buy a suitcase. My Mountain Equipment Co-op backpack was not built for multiple pairs of high heels or suit jackets. I also replaced the beer-themed tank tops with ironed dresses. I began to pack what I would need for the first few months in my new job. In went a hairdryer and out came the quick-dry towel. Colour coordination was required once again so in went two scarves and my complete collection of three necklaces. Not all was lost, however. My scuba mask and dive computer also made it in. You just never know, right?!
Anyway, over the next few months I'll begin to sort out my life in Auckland. Not only will I join a new office but I’ll also have a new place to live as well as a new partner to share it with. Although we both would have been happy living amongst the mountains of the South Island, he understands that I'd never be happy working at a winery or in the bowels of a travel company. In addition to merely understanding, he has surprised me with his willingness to move north so that we can be together. Thankfully, it means he’ll be closer to his family – a brownie point I ought to win with his parents, right? Although it is a bit overwhelming sometimes, words like "lucky", "appreciation" and "grateful" are commonly used by both of us these days. How lucky am I?!
A leap of faith
While it’s early days for so many new beginnings, I’ve never been one to be afraid of the unknown. My past has proven that the biggest leaps of faith can shape my future like I've never imagined. One of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make was to stay living with my Dad and stepmom after my biological mom asked them to take me. A few months later, when she called to see when I was coming back, I decided to stay in the unknown when it would have been easier to retreat.
As difficult as that decision was to deal with over the coming years and still today, it is an absolute certainty that it has given me the confidence and strength in so many other aspects of life. For instance, I never would have applied for and accepted a job with the Agriculture Minister. Thanks to an emergency phone call to my parents en route to the interview, I decided to go for a job that I knew nothing about and work for a Minister I had never met. I never could have imagined that it would take me to every corner of Canada and to almost 30 countries. Today, I have lifelong friends from the grain, beef and pork sectors and the former minister maintains a daily and quite entertaining commentary on my Facebook page. It was that experience that gives me the confidence to take on this new job and in fact, it was that Chief of Staff who took the phone call from the recruiter in New Zealand and sang my praises.
When I purchased a one-way ticket to Asia almost two years ago, I remember sitting in my condo and clicking that confirm button. It seems like such a no-brainer today but at the time, it was such a leap. My friends and family were surprised to say the least. But I could feel something tugging at me to make a big change and to go on an adventure. I've never once regretted my decision.
My most recent leap of faith was to ask a acquaintance to pass along my phone number to a guy who I'd met in passing. I had no idea if he was single, where he was from, or even his last name. Only a few sentences had passed between us but for some reason, I had this feeling that he'd be good company over a beer. While my acquaintance rarely saw him directly, they worked in the same circles. He knew he stopped at the same cafe almost daily so in true NZ-style, he gave my number to the lady at the cafe and she passed it along. He called the very next day and we haven't spent more than a few days apart since. While I am hesitant to believe that a relationship actually can be this balanced, equal and supportive, he's doing his best to prove it to me.
So even with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t regret any of the decisions I've made or leaps of faith I've taken. I am who I am because of them. They've also led me to where I am today. And today, the sun is bright, the breeze is warm, and there are plenty of new adventures on the horizon. Life is just the way I like it.