In the spring of 2011, this girl: a bright eyed, bushy tailed, recent college graduate came down to Kansas City, a place I would come to call home. After a flurry of interviews and timid exploration of the city, I found myself in the Human Resources department of a school district I love, accepting a job as a third grade teacher. As I signed a contract, and the surreal “real life” that had been anticipated for all those years started to shift into focus for me. There had always been a clear next step, with defined parameters. Graduate high school. Pick a college. Student teach. Graduate. Find a job. I had successfully checked each item on the list and become an official adult.
Living in Kansas City, as a third grade teacher has been my reality for five years now. I moved down here not knowing a soul and started from scratch. It has been exhilarating and exhausting, lonely and lovely, empowering and enlightening, this entering into “adulthood.”
My first year of teaching, I thought I’d be a teacher for life. It was overwhelming and at times an all consuming job, but I loved it. Building a community and making a new city feel like home took time and required a lot of bravery, but over time, I found people that I connected with, and felt like I belonged in this “city of fountains in the heart of the country.” By my third year in this new rhythm, I felt more in love with the city and with the people I was sharing life with, but started to feel discouraged by the insurmountable and ever increasing expectations placed on me as an elementary teacher. I would be relieved when I remembered that I didn’t have to do this job for the rest of my life. I thought I had a few more years in me, but I understood how and why so many teachers get burned out. I told myself and others that if I ever didn’t love what I did, I hoped I had the bravery to quit and try something else. I realized that moment of needing to be brave and try something else had arrived this year. It was sad, even though I could see it coming on the horizon for awhile. Even more so, it felt scary. There was no clearly defined next step that there had always been. I had to ask myself the terrifyingly open-ended question: If not teaching, then what?
I took some time to sit with that question and really listen. I have learned a lot about myself and have grown into being able to be more open and honest with God and myself. My roommate and dear friend Jordan had asked me awhile back the question: When do you feel most alive? My reply:
- When I am going on an adventure, whether that’s a road trip across the country or exploring an undiscovered hiking trail in Kansas City.
- When I am connecting deeply with people in life-giving conversation, especially one on one.
- When I am engaging in the creative process, whether that’s painting, creating a collage, or writing a blog post.
As I prayed about, wrestled with, journaled, and processed with friends what to do next, a dream that encompassed all of these things started to emerge. One that was almost too good to be true, that I dismissed it at first. But the idea persisted, and I kept seeing encouragement or inspiration pop up in conversations, books, podcasts, and dreams, too many times to be discounted as coincidence. I started to consider it as a something I can and will pursue. So here it is, folks: After the school year is over, I am hoping to take a few months to travel within the United States, stopping at cities that I’m curious about for a few weeks at a time. During these months, I hope to find a job that I can do remotely while also carving out space and time to grow as a writer and consider what the next season will look like, and where that should be. I want to travel slow and simply, relying on creative (and safe) accommodations that are cheap or free.
What I don’t want to do is to just jump into another 9 to 5 job that offers security and comfort, but isn’t something that aligns with my strengths or passions. What I don’t want to do is stubbornly dig in my heels in what I thought the narrative of my life should look like rather than being open to unexpected possibilities. What I don’t want to do is make a decision based out of fear or what I perceive others are expecting of me at the cost of stepping out into deeper trust and abundant living. While I think this time of travel will be temporary, a stepping stone to being rooted and finding belonging, this upcoming year has provided an opportunity of release and the freedom to go, so I’m going.
About a year ago, I was sitting in an airport, on my way to Ireland, across from a woman in her late sixties. We got to talking, sharing our travel plans. She was on her way to England for a funeral of a dear friend she had met when she was traveling the world in her twenties. She lit up as she shared her life story–how at eighteen, she had left home and spent the better part of a decade traveling around the world, working at farms, earning enough money to go to the next place. She looked me squarely in the eyes and said “I think you should travel. I’m so glad I did. It made me a better mother, a better wife, a better human being.”
I was intrigued. “Wow. Tell me more. What do you mean that it made you a better wife and mother?”
“I did all that adventure, and figured out who I was. By the time I met my husband I knew what I wanted. I didn’t ever resent him or my children for the adventures I wasn’t able to go on, because that was a part of me. Not that all of my adventures ended when I started a family, but I feel more rooted now because of the traveling I did before.”
I felt inspired by this woman, but not merely because she traveled. I was impacted by encountering someone looking back on their life, so grateful for the risks they took, able to bear witness to the fruit of stepping into her story and how that affected her life and the lives of the people she came to love and care for deeply. I’m not looking to be saved by spending the next few months traveling, but I do want to be someone who enters into her story, wholeheartedly.
The details of how and when are starting to take shape, but there are still a lot of unknowns. It has been fascinating to see how I’m already stepping into this. As I talk about it and share this news with others, it becomes more real. It has been very humbling and vulnerable to share this “plot twist.” In a way, it has felt like a “quarter life crisis” although, I say that with my tongue very much in my cheek. I’ve been walking through a grieving process, in admitting to myself that I need to be done as a classroom teacher, that my rhythm and sense of normal that I’ve built up over half a decade is coming to a close. And yet at the same time, I feel more strong, more fully myself, more healthy than I ever have, and it is with a deep peace and steady confidence that I am moving forward into this unknown territory.
I think a lot of my twenties have been a steady barrage of transitions, which could be viewed pessimistically as a decade long identity crisis, or it can be seen as a beautiful song with various movements and changing tempos, but also with a familiar melody running throughout.
I had dinner with a friend from college last night, and shared my travel plans with her. It was so beautiful to see her perspective, as one who has known me and seen glimpses of my life throughout the past 8 years. “Allie, this makes so much sense. You talked about wanting to travel when you were in college. You had your doubts about whether or not you wanted to teach then also. I’m not surprised by this in the least. This choice lines up with who you are.”
I think she’s right. While this isn’t what I was planning or what I expected to be, this is congruent with who I am.