Today is one of those days when I wake up and ask myself, "Are you crazy? Are we nuts? In this terrible economy, how can you just walk away from everything and expect to come back on your own terms after 12 full months?" Thank God I haven't had many, but I do admit that there have been a few of them -- days of fear and self-doubt and thoughts of encroaching insanity. Such days usually creep up on me after I hear new economic statistics predicting continued doom and gloom, further unemployment and ongoing malaise. Or, on the tails of a particularly dismal story about middle-aged people being unemployed for years. And years. My inner guilt complex scolds, “Who do you think you are? You’re going to just walk away from your new education degree and Joe’s secure government job and expect to get not one but TWO jobs when you come back? Do you really think that’s wise?”
These attacks of anxiety usually drive me straight to my gap year spreadsheets for reassurance that we’ve saved enough money, have enough financial cushion and have budgeted accurately. The fear generally sets in for several hours. Initially, it’s the panic that we’ll go broke, have to move in with our children and become laughing-stocks. But then, after fretting for much of the day, the panic about being in the poorhouse turns into a panic that screams, “but we have to go, no matter what! We’ve looked forward to this for so long!” In the late afternoon that brave voice really, really deep inside me always surfaces and says, “You can do it, you must do it and it is the absolute wisest thing you can possibly do. You will never, ever regret it.” And it is this voice that always wins out. I’ve taken some pretty big leaps in my life after listening to the voices in my recesses and in the end, they’ve always been right.
There’s an episode of the TV series The Love Boat (yes, the show was one of my favorites way back when) that I will never forget. It featured a recently retired couple in their late 60s on a much-anticipated cruise. (I wish I could remember the actors who played the husband and wife, but I’m afraid I can’t.) Shortly after the ship sets sail, the wife can hardly contain herself because she has a big surprise for her husband. Over the course of their 40-plus-year marriage, she tells him, she has managed to build a huge nest egg for traveling the world in their retirement. Expecting to be greeted with shouts of joy, she is crushed as he slowly absorbs what she has told him and becomes increasingly angry. He is furious that in order to save for the promise future travels, she denied them so many trips and vacations throughout their working years – the years when they needed journeys the most. He asks, why did she sacrifice getaways while they were young and healthy for the promise of travel when they were old and grey? There were so many times over the years, he said, when there was nothing he wanted more than to be traveling with her. I was probably about 22 years old when I saw that episode and as hokey as it sounds, it taught me an invaluable lesson. There are times when you simply must not wait for tomorrow. You have to listen to your brave voices, shove aside the panicky ones and jump in with both feet.
So why do I still have butterflies in my stomach today? It’s excitement, not fear, I keep repeating. Excitement, not fear.