thoughts on a sabbatical

For the past six weeks, I’ve been traveling. I took a luxurious, adventurous sabbatical for myself after four years of hard work in the Philadelphia nonprofit world. Packed up up my hiking boots, a tiny wardrobe, my wanderlust and a big pinch o’ privilege (I am well aware this type of trip isn’t possible for many folks) and set off to visit friends, visit colleagues, visit places I’ve always wanted to see.

The itinerary, in a nutshell: A day in NYC with my besties. Montreal with my boo. An idyllic lake in Ontario with my Philly lady crew for a weekend. Detroit to visit a bike share colleague and explore a city I’ve always been curious about. Visiting family in Michigan. Chicago for a few days. Over 45 miles of hiking in the course of a single week in Montana with my BFF and another childhood friend. Another week of hiking and biking with my parents and sister in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle adventures with college friends. Portland, at long last (people always assume I’ve been there before, bike lady that I am…I can finally say I’ve seen it!). Some time in San Francisco with my sister, a Phoenix visit with another college bud, and then back to Philly this week!

I have been joking that “the jury’s still out on whether this was a good idea — ask me when I’m employed again back in Philly,” but deep down I know I made the right decision this summer. I loved my work in Philadelphia, but by Spring 2016 I was getting worn down, burnt out, and honestly not as good at it as I had been. These past six weeks traipsing around the country, I have pretty consistently felt at peace, like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. As I bounced between epic national parks and fascinating cities, family and friends and strangers, I felt myself getting stronger. Hundreds of miles of hiking and biking and swimming strengthened my physical body, but mentally and emotionally I feel stronger than ever as well. Folks who know me know that I am a relentless extrovert — a constantly rotating cast of old and new friends to chat with in what kind of felt like one big ongoing conversation… is basically my dream! Only once or twice did I find the limits of my extroversion — everyone needs some me-time once in a while — but even noticing those limits felt like an important moment in my own journey of knowing myself.

I’ve tried to journal as I go along, and been only moderately successful at it. Instagram helps me remember, too. Some highlights I definitely don’t want to forget:

  • Learning to enjoy lake swimming, sushi, and cats (don’t hate me for not being a fan of any of these before this summer! I am now!)
  • An all-female production of Julius Caesar at the base of Mont Royal Park, and great conversations with my fellow Shakespeare-loving boyfriend afterwards
  • Riding bikes on Belle Isle with a stranger I met in a coffee shop in Detroit
  • Getting let into the Art Institute of Chicago for FREE by my awesome art history friend Kat!
  • The Chicago architecture boat tour with a dear friend, during the *one hour* when it was pouring that day — still makes me giggle to think about us all peering up at the skyscrapers as raindrops fell in our eyeballs
  • Singing all the Girl Scout songs we knew to ward off Grizzly bears as my best friend and I hiked down a mountain in Glacier National Park. Also, watching the sun set from a kayak in the middle of a lake in Glacier (and feeling really safe from Grizzly bears there — yay, lakes)
  • Drinking champagne and talking about our careers with two dear childhood friends by a waterfall called Champagne Falls in Montana
  • Waking up in the middle of the night to watch the Perseid meteor shower with my family on the San Juan Islands — and then watching a family of otters playing the following morning!
  • Meeting the guy who took the most famous photos of Mt St Helens erupting, right after hiking around that strange post-apocalypic landscape (now blanketed in wildflowers)
  • Cheering on an old VW van named Bertha that got a little tired out on our way to a Seattle-area hike (but ended up making it to the trailhead!)
  • Figuring out Portland’s fancy new bike share program with Anna
  • Walking around Lake Merritt in Oakland with my sister and watching pelicans feeding up-close and personal
  • Frank Lloyd Wright and Sedona landscapes and much-needed catching-up with my friend Will
  • And so much more ❤

And now it’s coming to a close, and I can’t wait to see Alex and my friends and the Philly skyline and my own bed and my own kitchen and my own bicycle! I feel ready to take the next steps of my career, whatever they may look like. I feel inspired to keep living my “normal” Philly life with some of the same zest for adventure I have embraced on this trip — there is so much I don’t yet know about my own city. And I feel incredibly grateful for the people who have hosted me and showed me the places they love, to the strangers who’ve made my adventure more interesting, to the huge beautiful country I live in, to my family for all they give me, and to myself for having the guts to buy some plane tickets and go for it. Thanks, all. Thanks, world. I’m ready to come home.

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