Confession: recently I’ve been having a bit of a crisis.

I’m back home and savoring the Michigan summer as always. But the one question that plagues me day after day is, “Okay, so what now?”

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As many of you know I just returned home from a four-month trip around the world: Europe, India and Southeast Asia. My trip was perfect. Truly, it was the best, most confidence-building trip I’ve taken. I was so, so achingly happy for most of the trip and don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much.

Leaving my laptop behind served me well- instead of planning out blog posts I lived in the moment and only endured a few anxiety attacks in which contemplated my imminent doom and old age. (Loveee those.)

So now I’m at a crossroads- continue traveling or look for a job stateside.

The problem with the former option is that there’s nowhere I’m itching to visit in particular. And living in hostels loses its charm eventually- there are only so many times you can discuss the same three questions with strangers: Where are you from? Where were you last? Where are you going?

The latter option frankly terrifies me: Sign a lease? Work in an office all day? Live in the states? Be… normal?

For a while I hoped I’d follow the C’est Christine trajectory- a year in France, a year traveling Europe and Southeast Asia and after two years of non-stop fun, to settle down stateside.

But now that I’m home, I have no desire to settle down here. On the contrary, I walk around with a knot of anxiety in my chest. It’s like a pesky little voice is constantly whispering in my ear, “You do not want to be here. You do not want to be here.”

Which makes me ask myself, what on earth is wrong with me? Why can’t I enjoy living in my own country? Do I have to be abroad to be happy? What about my family and friends I love so much?

I have a few ideas of what to do next: move to Australia, learn German, teach English in Japan. Yet none of these are lifelong goals, they’re whims. More like well, that would be cool, right? kind of goals. Which isn’t the passion-fueled life I’d like to be living.

I sometimes wonder if I’m living up to my potential. I come from a very bright family, from a long line of inventors and entrepreneurs. While they rack up scholarships to Yale and gigs at Google I flit around the world and “live in the moment.”

While I was in India and Southeast Asia, I was traveling with two friends who work as a management consultant and an investment banker. While they are incredible warm and supportive friends who gave me lots of sound advice, being in their company made me feel… unaccomplished.

I didn’t go to an Ivy League. I don’t make 120K and I don’t have a job with amazing benefits and intellectual coworkers. And a part of me wishes I did.

Spending time with such hard-working (and happy) people also made me wonder, “Could I pull 16-hour days on a regular basis? And if I didn’t enjoy it, does that make me lazy?”

Recently my little brother commented, “Ash, I have no idea how you travel all the time. Don’t you get sick of being broke?”

Which yes, frankly, I do get sick of being broke. I want to be able to order a glass of wine at dinner without worrying. I want to buy my friends birthday presents that cost more than $30. I want to be able to put $500 on my credit card without having a panic attack.

So here I stand, absolutely, 100% unsure of what to do next, uncertain of what will make me happy either short or long-term. I stand here utterly humbled and afraid for the future. Luckily I still have youth on my side, but how much longer will I be able to say that? How long will I have that free pass?

And I don’t want to wrap this up with my usual pithy, optimistic conclusion. I wrote this for my own catharsis as well as for the sake of other twenty-somethings grappling with the same problem.

And I also wrote this to humbly ask for your advice, any and all life or career advice you can give me. Because I honestly have no idea what my next move should be.

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel blogger and freelance writer who moved to Paris at 21, traveled the world for a year and now lives in Denver. She's usually in pursuit of skiing, languages and perfectly ripe cheese. Her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator and Jetstar Australia.
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