Last Thanksgiving, Mona, one of my oldest and closest friends, invited me to celebrate the holiday at her picture-perfect house in Long Island. It was a kindness I repaid by showing up to her party with an advanced respiratory infection and a story about how I quit my job for no good reason the month before.
Mona knew all about both of those things, but her other guests – one of whom happened to be a doctor – seemed properly aghast when I explained, between violent coughs, that I was taking a break from the working world to travel. I’m not sure what concerned them more: that I didn’t have a plan for the coming year, or that I couldn’t get a full sentence out of my mouth without wheezing into my dinner plate.
Just as I was about to unveil my half-hearted plan to freelance, my best friend Samantha arrived and launched into a recap of a podcast she had been listening to about how people with advanced symptoms of a rabies were mistaken for zombies.
That’s what I love about Samantha – she always knows exactly what to say to make me look totally fucking normal.
As the day wore on, Mona’s Thanksgiving guests became less interested in my professional suicide and more concerned with my persistent cough.
“How long has this been going on?” Mona asked.
“Oh, for weeks,” I said. In truth, the cold came on just after I made my decision to quit my job at least a month before. It progressed so slowly and steadily that I hadn’t fully realized how bad it had gotten until that very moment.
“Maybe you should see a doctor,” Mona suggested. “If you’re still like that tomorrow, go to urgent care.”
I had a hard time going to the doctor for a simple cough, but I had to admit she had a point. I sounded terrible. And then, before anyone could lecture me further, Samantha announced that she didn’t know how to descale a fish.
And that was that.
“You have a tremendous amount of crap in your lungs.”
That is an actual quote from the actual doctor who examined me at the urgent care clinic the day after Thanksgiving. Without further ado, she hooked me up to a machine that looked like suspiciously like a toaster and stuck a Big Gulp straw in my mouth. I came to learn later that it was a nebulizer and I sat around huffing into it for a full thirty minutes while texting pictures of the whole thing to Mona and Samatha. I felt like it hadn’t done a thing, which the doctor confirmed when she returned to the exam room.
“You’re still extremely congested,” she said. “We’re going to repeat the treatment. But if you still don’t improve, I’m going to recommend you go to the emergency room.”
“For what?” I asked.
“To be admitted to the hospital,” she replied.
I have never tried so hard to pass a test in my entire life. For the next half hour, I breathed slowly and steadily, as if to will the congestion out of my little infected lungs. Maybe it worked, or maybe the doctor had a change of heart. Either way, she sent me home with a prescription for steroids and a strong recommendation that I sleep as much as possible.
But that was precisely the problem. I couldn’t sleep. In fact, that’s how I had gotten into this mess in the first place. I was in the middle of a total life reboot and I didn’t yet know if I had made the right decision. Only time would tell if taking a year off would turn turn out to be the kickstart I needed or a professional ditch that I’d have to work out of for the next decade.
That’s the thing about blowing up your life – you never know where the pieces will land.
I didn’t have to wait long for a sign. In my vague offer to freelance for my soon-to-be former employer, they made me a counteroffer I couldn’t refuse: Keep the job. Do it while you travel. Work the hours that you want and pick the work you want to do. Make the same money and don’t. quit. again.
I kept waiting for the catch, but there wasn’t one. Things were falling into place. Assuming you consider buying a one-way ticket to Cape Town while trying to shake bronchitis falling into place. And I do.
A few weeks ago, when I was chatting to Samantha, she asked me how I felt about my upcoming travel-versary.
It’s a fair question. And the short answer is that I feel pretty good about it.
But the longer version is that by the time I left for South Africa last February, things were already settled. All the risk associated with my decision had dissipated. I had managed to keep my job and my income and stave off yet another gap in my resume. Not only that, but I had the added bonus of deciding where I wanted to spend my time, how I wanted to spend it and who I wanted to spend it with. If there was a better scenario I could have dreamt up, I didn’t know what it was.
But that was February. Back in November – when I was sick and sleepless, soon-to-be jobless and mostly plan-less – things didn’t look so rosy. That holiday weekend, I was most thankful that my persistent cough saved me from having to answer too many questions. Because I was criminally short on answers.
Luckily that feeling was short-lived. If I was at ease with my decision by February, then I am positively happy about it this November. Because now I know. I didn’t just make a good decision. I made my best decision.
This year, I’m breathing a whole lot easier. And for that I’m very thankful.