Sometimes, it’s just about giving yourself permission.
2018 was a
pretty fucked up life-changing year. My father died, and a long-term relationship with my “fiancé” (he proposed with a rock – not a diamond “rock” but an actual snatched-up-off-the-ground rock) ended. I was no longer feeling fulfilled by my second career, but admitting that to myself, much less to other people, wasn’t easy. I was a teacher of young children who’d been to the White House as a so-called state Teacher of the Year. It simply was not acceptable for me to now be unhappy teaching. And yet, I was. The stress of carrying around my unhappiness was affecting my physical health, but the alternative – quitting teaching – was tantamount to failure.
That year I traveled to New Orleans to meet up with friends over winter break. I arrived Christmas Day, with two days to myself before my friends arrived. I had Christmas dinner under the stars in a courtyard at an Israeli restaurant, with a couple I’d just met earlier at a crowded bar drinking Sazeracs. All night, I laughed heartily, easily, and without reserve. It was freeing. Being in a new place with new people doing new things.
The next day I booked a couple of Airbnb experiences under the “mystical New Orleans” category. Something new. I did a morning Hoodoo Rum tour of the Treme district, drawn more by the idea of sipping rum than learning about hoodoo. I left the tour with a gift of a good-luck charm in a small African-printed drawstring pouch. In the afternoon, there was a Tarot & Psychic experience that ended with a private reading. The tarot cards, I was told, predicted a new year filled with big changes, dream fulfillment, travel, and new career beginnings. But first, the psychic said, I needed to get unstuck. Uh, O-K.
I returned to my hotel just in time to catch the end of happy hour in the bar. I started talking with a glamorous 60-ish blonde sitting next to me. Her name was June and she was a retired music teacher from North Carolina. With her jeweled nails and neckline, June shared how she’d retired from teaching and was now traveling and selling high-end office furniture. Not your Office Max shit, but like $10,000 Mies van der Rohe chairs and tables. The silver-haired man sitting next to her was her “beau,” she told me. She met him while furnishing his company’s offices.
“There was no way I was even thinking about doing anything like sales,” she said. “I didn’t know a thing about office furniture. But once I got out of my own way, I never looked back and have never been happier. You should do it!” And she reached into her bag for a business card to give me but, when she realized she was out of cards, pulled out her checkbook and tore out a deposit slip. “Here, this has my contact information on it.” (Wow. Is that how y’all do it down south?)
During the rest of my trip I met Juliette, a teacher from Brooklyn who was renting out her apartment on Airbnb to make extra money so she could eventually leave teaching to write full-time, and Candy, a single mom from Chicago who started a dog-walking business to supplement her passion job of booking blues and jazz acts around the country.
These were all women who had given themselves permission. Permission to change the lives they were living so they could live lives they loved.
On my last day in New Orleans I was in a glassblowing studio/school that was selling the work of local artists. I was drawn to a hand-blown glass fortune cookie hanging on a silk cord. I bought it, and upon closer inspection back at the hotel, realized there was a tiny printed fortune inside that read “Follow your heart.”
On the plane back to Cleveland, inspired by the women I’d met and buoyed by the fortuitous “signs” throughout my trip, I mapped out a new budget that slashed $1,000 a month from my expenses. The next week I met with my financial planner to tell him I’d decided to retire in six months. At the time I didn’t know I would decide to travel solo around the world for 70 days, but I was able to make that happen by keeping my total travel lodging and meals expenses to an average of $50 a day.
None of us foresaw the tragedy of 2020, and I am very grateful to have been spared the heartbreaking loss of last year. I don’t know what 2021 will bring, and that’s OK. All I do know is that I have given myself permission to live a life I love. And sometimes, that’s all it takes.