On the brink of entering a brand new decade, I took inventory of my life. My twenties felt like the kind of mess you create in the depths of your closet, letting your clothes stay put in tumbleweed-like balls, until one day, you pry open the door, let all of your piles spill out, and decide to finally do something about it.
That is to say my twenties involved five different jobs, all in different industries (PR, tech, publishing, etc), living in three different states all over the country (Florida, New York and California) and watching all of my friends get married, have kids, and sign mortgages with payments that were less than what I was paying for a tiny apartment in the heart of Manhattan.
My 'ah-ha' moment came after walking down the aisle as a bridesmaid for all of these friends, getting laid off from my full-time job, and panicking about moving in with my boyfriend, who I'd been dating for a year and a half.
But first, the bridesmaid thing.
After being a bridesmaid more times than I could count on one hand, I decided to try to start a company where people, all over the world, could hire me to be a bridesmaid for them. After dreaming up the idea for quite some time, I posted an ad on Craigslist offering my services to strangers and received hundreds of requests in my inbox. That led me to start the business, Bridesmaid for Hire, in 2014, that has since taken me all over the country to work weddings as a hired bridesmaid.
It became my full-time job, along with doing consulting, hosting a podcast, and putting on workshops for companies, after I was laid off from a job I adored at a tech startup. I spent a year working from my couch inside that pricey Manhattan apartment — one that I hardly left for more than an hour or two.
Then came the conversation about moving in with my boyfriend, who also went down the freelance route, and parked himself at a desk in his apartment all day long. It was the banter back and forth about where we should live that made us decide not to live anywhere.
A year and a half ago, we decided to sell 90% of our belongings, pack just the essentials in one suitcase each, and live in a new city every couple of months.
Exactly a year and a half ago, we decided to sell 90 percent of our belongings, stuff the rest inside garbage bags to drop off at his parent's house in New Jersey, pack just the essentials in one suitcase each, and live in a new city every couple of months. We said goodbye to stability, to working from our own apartments, and to a permanent mailing address.
Since then, we've lived in cities like Denver, Austin, Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago and more, staying in other people's apartments for 30 days to three months — finding these places on Craigslist, inside Facebook groups, or on AirBnB. We've struggled finding a new work-life balance, learning how to travel and live in new cities together where we know no one, and navigate new territory without a car (because after seven years of living in New York City, neither of us had one or the desire to get one).
To say the experience has been eye opening is an understatement. Here are the top three things I learned from spending a year and a half without a full-time job or an apartment to tie me down.
Before this adventure, I was very particular about a handful of things and many of those things all fell inside the same category — the cleanliness of my living space. I liked to wash my sheets weekly, burn candles to leave my place smelling nice, and make sure that shoes were off so the floors stayed clean. But after living in other people's apartments (that never look like the photos posted online) my tolerance quickly changed. One apartment had rats and bugs. Another had a rancid smell that made you wonder if there was years-old trash secretly holed up inside of a hidden closet. Perhaps the worst was an apartment that had a blood-stained mattress, a moldy shower and an ant infestation.
When you live, for weeks or months, in a place that's outside of your comfort zone, you adapt. Even if it takes a while, and many afternoons feeling itchy and or crying, you do what you can (say, scrub the floors every day or call the landlord for help) to transform someone else's house into your home.
This was an especially important lesson to learn as I started sharing my personal space with my boyfriend. It helped me learn that, while you should always have a list of things you care about and like a certain way, it’s okay to take a few steps back and live outside of your comfort zone. It helped me be more understanding in my relationship, like when my boyfriend’s dirty clothes would be inches away from the hamper but not inside. Rather than yell and scream, politely asking and then practicing patience allowed me to break the controlling desire to have everything look and feel perfect.
It was helpful in business as well. Learning to step away from my stubborn ways led to brainstorming sessions that were responsible for launching packages that scaled my business and led to more income.
Learning to let go of what we are used to and venturing into new environments can help us expand our creativity and our tolerance levels when it comes to the things that matter most to us in this world, our people and our spaces.
One of my pet peeves when I was working at my last full-time job at the tech start-up, and when I was working for myself as a freelancer and a business owner at home, was that there would be full days when I wouldn't go outside for more than twenty minutes (usually to commute to and from work or to grab food). It's so easy to get stuck and settle into a routine that has you living like it's Groundhog Day.
Which was why when I decided to give up the permanence of a home of my own, and live in cities I had only dreamed about before, I also vowed to spend at least four hours a day outside. That usually meant long morning walks, bus rides to new parts of the city, or waking up early to get as much work done as I could to then take an extended lunch break doing an activity (like going to a local museum, reading in a park or window shopping).
It was helpful to know that there was a deadline on my time in a city; it gave me no choice but to break from the computer and make the most of my surroundings. That alone helped me get more work done than ever. Breaking every hour or so to get up from my chair and walk around, take a bike ride, or pack up my laptop and head to a coffee shop, let my mind rest and recharge, which led to better focus when I sat down to do work.
It’s something I vow to keep doing, even one day when I do settle down somewhere, setting timers on my phone to let me know that I’ve sat still for too long and that my to-do list and email inbox can pause for a moment so that I can make the most of my day — and return with even more energy to get my work done.
Before my boyfriend and I decided to ditch office jobs and sign a lease on an apartment together, I sometimes felt suffocated when I compared my life to those around me. Since all of my friends were gearing up to have their second kid, I often wondered, "what had gone wrong for me in my twenties?" I also felt like I was doing the tango down my own, different, path in life. By 25, while my friends were getting engaged, I was getting ready to write my second book and launch my first company.
When we stop viewing everyone around us as the holders of some kind of ultimate blueprint for how to live life, we start truly figuring out how to live it in our own beautiful way.
Just before I turned thirty, I decided to also let go of comparing and contrasting my life to anyone else. When we stop viewing everyone around us as the holders of some kind of ultimate blueprint for how to live life, we start to figure out how to live it in our own beautiful way. Which is what I have been doing — without regrets and without anything tying me down.
Overall, this experiment has made me grow in more ways than I ever did in my twenties and it has allowed me to find a new sense of happiness, one rooted in exploration and constant change. It’s lessened my anxiety when it comes to meeting new people and entering new places. It has taught me that even when you enter a situation (or a city) that you’re not so certain about, you can always find something to love or be excited about, as long as you let go of expectations or fear of the unknown.
While this experiment is admittedly extreme and not something everyone can pack up and do, there are many ways people can embark on their own path and take baby steps to make small changes in their life that can lead to big things.
One thing I did when I was planning this adventure was write down a list of five things I enjoyed about my life and five things I'd like to change. Then I set out to find ways to make those changes happen. You can do this by interviewing people in a similar situation, taking courses to learn more about a skill or hobby you want to tackle, or planning a mini vacation to a new city to see what it's like before you make the move.
If you start to feel alone on your path, head to meetups or join Facebook groups where you can meet other people who are heading in a similar direction.
The hardest part for me? Explaining to my mom that, no, I won’t be moving back home to Boca Raton, Florida anytime soon to get married and have kids like all her Mahjong friends' kids currently are. A year and half later, I think she’s finally okay with that.