Looking down the 138 steps inside the Bent Pyramid, I feel a little dizzy. My guide has left me to make the descent into the ancient artifact at Dahshur by myself, and I’m not sure I’m up to the task. A hint of ammonia wafts from the necropolis’ entrance; I’ve been told that the smell will only get stronger the farther down I go.
I close my eyes and think of Indiana Jones. Marion from the first movie has always been one of my heroes. WWMD? I grasp the rickety banister and start climbing, backwards.
It’s about a month after I left my full-time writing job at Microsoft. I am hot. I am sweaty.
I am happy.
I’ve been asked to speak at Meet, Plan, Go! – a yearly gathering in 17 cities for those seeking information about taking a career break or sabbatical to travel – in Seattle on Oct. 18. It’s an invitation that I accepted immediately, even though I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to say yet.
Technically, I’m not on a career break – after two decades at newspapers, my 14 months at Microsoft were more of an aberration than the rule. The freelance travel writing and reporting that I’m doing now feels like a return to normalcy, a slip back into my own skin. I’m doing what I do best, even if it means working a bit harder and hustling a bit faster than I did when I was on staff.
But after spending much of that time in a cube under unpleasant lighting, I feel qualified to tell people one thing: If you sense that your creativity is dying, that your passion is slipping away and your sense of purpose is evaporating…..for God’s sake, get out while you still can.
That might sound irresponsible, like I advocate backpacks over benefits. That’s not the case. I’m a Cancer, after all, fiscally conservative by nature. I’ve owned (and in some cases, still own) homes, stocks, full bank accounts. I have pets, friends, a husband who still has a corporate job.
But I do think that if your heart calls out for the open road, then you should try to do what you can to heed it.
That doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your full-time job and going freelance, as I did. Instead, consider the small ways that you can improve your current situation. Spend less so you can travel more. Use your evenings to build a business that will make you excited to get up in the morning. Take time to conquer your fears so your brain has more room for possibilities. Develop a plan that will bring you closer to your ideal life. Talk to your partner about values, both the ones that drive your personal decisions and the ones that you hold jointly.
When you do all that, you may find that a career break is closer and more affordable than you think.
And if not now, when?
I’m covering a cruise right now where most of my fellow passengers are in their late 60s and 70s. I’ve listened to them at dinner, cataloging their aches and pains. A few have trouble navigating the steep steps of Egypt’s famous tombs and monuments. Some skip major sites – the same ones that they saved up their entire lives to see – in favor of naps. Who knows how many of their friends back home will never see the world.
I’m glad that I’m here while I have health and energy. I’m a big girl, but I still get around. The heat wilts my hair, but not my spirit. I’m not sure what my future holds, but I’m moving forward again.
Marion would be proud.
Meet, Plan, Go: Seattle will be held on Tues. Oct. 18 in the second floor meeting room at REI, 222 Yale Ave. North. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $15. Hope to see you there!