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Quarter-life Crisis

In 2011, my then-fiancé-now-husband and I uprooted ourselves out of Toronto, Canada and became wandering citizens of the world. This is our story.

The beginnings of an itch…

I started my twenties in Toronto, Canada. Along with most of my university classmates, we migrated as a pack to the city in the summer of 2006, and soon found ourselves commiserating about the ups-and-downs of working life over drinks at restaurants, or better yet, bottles of wine at each other’s apartments.

I remember one late summer night on a patio in downtown Toronto in 2008. Our friends were mostly at work or spending what little free time they had with their significant others. My friend Terence and I were the only ones there nursing our cold Stella pints. Fuelled by a little bit of alcohol, we started wondering if there was something missing in our lives

We’d been programmed (by our parents?) to go through a life checklist. It began with excelling academically from day one of elementary school…so then we could get into a “good” university. Once we got there, we knew we had to study something that would make us money – business sounded fancy, why not? After that, the logical path appeared to be getting a good job, with all kinds of frilly benefits, so we never had to pay for cavities or glasses anymore. The goal, I guess from the time we were children, was always to land solidly on our own two feet after a decent education, so we could begin to acquire the “grown-up stuff” like cars and homes.

And so, there we were, two twenty-somethings going through the above-mentioned checklist and ticking off what we’d done. We looked at each other and mused aloud: “What’s next?”

Before I continue further, disclaimer: I’m extremely grateful that I had the support and the opportunities to go through that checklist. Not everyone has those opportunities, and I definitely do not take my lucky birth lottery for granted!

However, making this checklist served as a bit of a wake-up call, too. After going through all the motions, we were faced with a very unfamiliar reality: we were now on our own, planning out the next steps by ourselves. The “programming” ended here, and looking back, we weren’t sure if we had accomplished what we thought we wanted out of life, or what we actually really wanted. Now was the time to decide and do something about it.

It was kind of momentous for us to pinpoint the void in our lives, but at that time, we were just a little bit tipsy and a lot more smug that we had made such a lofty (and spot-on) conclusion. We finished our beers and talked mindlessly about what else we could’ve wanted, and what other paths we could’ve taken. Nothing more came of this conversation.

Taking the plunge

Slowly, an idea took shape. I like to think of it as a seed that was carelessly discarded into my salmon-pink-carpeted-wall cubicle in Markham.

What if we went traveling? At that time, a colleague had just finished taking a year off and was coming back into the office, and another one was planning to follow suit. So taking time off to see the world wasn’t completely unheard of, and people were doing it!

Furthermore, I was spending more and more of my free time baking up a storm at home. This was around the time when I took cake decorating lessons and made my own birthday cake.

Another carelessly planted seed was something a colleague said to me at that time: “If I were half as passionate about something as you are about baking, I’d do something about it.” The movie Julie & Julia came out around that time, too, so everything kind of fell together, and I began thinking about doing pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu. Oh yes, in Paris, of course.

So that’s how my husband and I began discussing this idea of abandoning work, taking time off, and doing something we really loved. We talked about it with friends, family, and everyone who might have had some thoughts on the topic. But that’s all talk. And that’s what some of our friends thought, too. After all, weren’t we all a bit bored with our jobs and our typical day-to-day lives? All of us dreamt of changes, but how many of us meant what we said?

My husband meant what he said, though. The time came when he knew his time in finance was up, and without looking back, he quit his job and went on to the next thing – founding his own start-up so he could do something he was genuinely interested in, and wanted to learn more about.

To give ourselves a boost, we also sold our beloved apartment around that time. There’s nothing like making yourself homeless on purpose to kick yourself out of a city sooner.

Despite selling our home and living in a tiny rented apartment stuck in the 80’s, the timing for our potential move was very uncertain. Then the tipping point came.

(I still think about this day and wonder what my life would be like had I chosen the other path. I’m not sure about everyone else who’s been through this same journey. I’m the type who always wonders about the grass on the other side.)

I had a chance to interview for a job in New York, my favourite city in the whole wide world. I had some incredibly generous and supportive bosses who helped to give me the push. It was a role that would’ve given my career a boost, relocate me to a country that is otherwise incredibly difficult to emigrate to, and it was NEW YORK! Or was it? That was the time to decide to move up…or out. My husband and I holed up in a tea shop in West Toronto on a cold and rainy January Sunday afternoon with a big sketch pad, and we drew out the possible maps of our lives in the next 12 months. One map had names of countries, flight paths, and serious number-crunching. The other map was a career map of where I would go from the role in New York. Both looked seriously interesting.

The next afternoon at 6pm, I picked up the phone to call my interviewer to tell him that I’d like to cancel our 9:30am interview on Tuesday. I had hoped to leave a message, but he picked up. We had a real conversation. He was really gracious and supportive. I felt completely overwhelmed and unsure about what I had just given up.

Continue reading – the Journey, the Aftermath »