Why Not Be Happy

Two years ago today, I ran for my life. Sounds dramatic, right? But I did. On October 11, 2009, I ran the Chicago Marathon. I ran the marathon for my sanity, my health, and to prove to myself that I could do it… and maybe for a little bit of fun as well. I thought four months of intense training would work as a distraction.

Two years ago today, I was working in a job that I hated. Like so many other people in 2008, I was working in a not-my-first-choice job in a struggling economy. I may have been making good money but I was working with people who were unhappy in their own lives. I had a bright spot in my day here and there with a few of my more outlandish clients, but most of them left me wondering if I, too, would be that miserable in 20 years.

My bf finishes the marathon!

By October 2009, I was well into the planning stages of my 8 month trip. I had successfully run my first marathon, raised money for friends in Kenya to go to school, and was just 3-1/2 months away from stepping out and slamming the door in misery’s face. I may have let this date slip me by if it weren’t for the fact that my best friend just ran her first marathon 2 days ago. It made me reflect on my own experience and how I felt like I had conquered the world in those 26 miles.

I can’t believe two years has flown by that fast. I started to think about what has changed in these past two years. And the reality is, not a whole lot. Sure I’m unemployed. And poorer. And homeless (or as my best friend likes to call it, home-ful, because I have places to call home all over). But I still have my friends and my family (and my passport), and as cheesy as it sounds, what more do ya need?

These past two months, I’ve been traipsing across the US with a friend I met in Kenya last year, seeing as much I could and catching up with friends along the way. I can’t believe all of the ridiculously good times we had and how many amazing and gracious people we’ve met. Just last week I made two stops in San Francisco. I caught up with former co-workers from my internship in SF, stayed with two of my colleagues from my summer job in South Africa, met up with people from the travel community, and hung out with close friends. And it was nice. It was nice to be back in a city where I could see myself living and still feel like I had a sense of community there.

My family in South Africa does a dance for our farewell

But I also got these phone calls this past week. Three to be exact. From South Africa. The first was from my kokwana, who can’t even speak English really but wanted to say Hello. And when we ran through the few English words she did know, she just laughed. And hooped and hollered. And it made me smile. She said a few things in Shangaan as my cousin in the background yelled the English translation: “She says she misses you!” And then I got a call from my cousins. And my homestay sisters. And they want to know when I’m coming back. And it reminds me of how much I miss Africa. Yes, I know it’s a gigantic continent, but I was happy in Kenya… and Malawi… and Botswana… and South Africa… and Rwanda. Every single day for the past year, I had a different opinion about what I wanted to do in the next few years. Move to Chicago. Go to San Francisco. Go back to Kenya. Find my happiness on Sugardaddy.com, or give up and just become a cat lady (okay that one was a joke). And now, I’ve just decided that I can do it all, so that’s what I’m working on.

Now the question is, how do I do it? How do I maintain my life in the US and not lose my sense of self that I found in Africa? I’m going to be an aunt in February. My friends are growing old, getting married, having babies… I don’t want to come back every eight months just to get an update over coffee or dinner. It’s uncertain how long I can maintain this lifestyle. And frankly, how much longer I want to. But the opportunity to travel and break free of unhappiness has been invaluable.

13 thoughts on “Why Not Be Happy

  • thank you for the touching post. you say: But the opportunity to travel and break free of unhappiness has been invaluable.
    and I think that you yourself explaining what is important to you
    good luck in making a decision!

  • *HUG* I admire you for evaluating what’s important to you around the world and assessing how you might be able to incorporate it into your life. When I got home, ideas ping ponged their way around my mind, and after four months, the ping ponging ideas have slowed down. I still want to travel but it just doesn’t seem feasible for the foreseeable future — and I’m afraid of getting into a mindset where I’m comfortable in routine at home.

    I’m still counting on a Heather + Laura travel adventure. So as you’re brainstorming on the next few years, keep me in mind <3

  • I love the transparency and honesty here. Bravo Laura. I found myself relating to it in so many ways. Even though I’m not traveling long-term like I was a few months ago, I find myself just as happy, because I’m in a city where I’m still recreating those same types of experiences. I’m still figuring out what travel looks like for me, but I’m finding that I can still travel to an extent without having to get on a plane.

  • Hi Laura – Thank you for sharing. Really appreciated the sincerity of this post and I can completely relate. Trying not to let go of that sense of self that you have found on the road, that is my daily struggle. I recently returned from a 14 month RTW trip and am now back in Chicago finding my way. I still have a lot to figure out but guess the only thing that is certain is that I can’t go back to who and where I was before. Sounds like you are on a similar journey. Best of luck paving this path…Oh and congrats on your marathons! Just did Chicago’s last week — another hot one ;)

    • Another hot one? In 2009, we started at 31 degrees… I had been training in 80 degree weather in SC… I froze! But hey, running 26 miles in the cold is still better than trying to beat the heat ;) Congrats on your finish! Good luck in Chicago. It sounds like your well on your way to figuring it out as well!

  • I’m glad you took that step. The key is to continue; to keep going when things get tough – when you’re missing home, missing family and friends, running out of money.

    Remember that the memories you are building and the experiences you are living will never leave you. Whilst, living the old slog of 9-5, you’ll have one large blur of years that disappeared, when at the end of it, you wonder what you actually acheived – where did the time go?!?!

    …We define our lives by the big moments; that first job; going to university; going travelling; getting married…the rest is a blur. The bits inbetween – we forget them. True happiness comes from new experiences!

    Long may it continue!:)

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