Back Home, But What Next?

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 and has been traveling the world ever since. She's usually in pursuit of yoga, languages and perfectly ripe cheese and her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator and Jetstar Australia.
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43 Comments

  1. You know what my answer is (because I tell you every time we skype)…COME TO SHANGHAI already jeeeeez
    Edna recently posted..Bastille Day is for friendsMy Profile

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  2. I’m obviously one of the least qualified people to give life or career advice, but I will say this, I think you are only looking at success from one angle, and from a very American one at that. Success doesn’t have to be making $120,000 a year as an i-banker. That’s what society has told us success is. That’s what we’re told to strive for, brainwashed to want, while in college. There’s this whole idea that we should have everything figured out by the time we are 20 and start a career and life and all that. With today’s economy, yesterday’s career path has become an outdated and impossible idea for a lot of people.

    You are an intelligent, creative, and kind person. You are already successful, even if you don’t have a big bank account to show for it. Plus, you really are so young! I’m almost 30 and have nothing figured out but I am happy because I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences. I’d rather have done and seen all I have instead of working 12 hours day and having a cushy salary and nice car.

    For me it will always be about choosing happiness. If being abroad makes you happy, go for it. You can figure the rest out later. It will work itself out for people like you are driven!
    Amanda @ Farsickness recently posted..The Best Bites in BudapestMy Profile

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  3. Ash, you are doing something incredibly rare that most people in their 20’s (myself included) only dream of doing and will never have the guts to fulfill. You are living life on your terms – moving in whatever direction the wind takes you, acting out on every instantaneous desire and impulse, and getting more out of life in a couple of weeks than many people do in decades.

    What you are doing – the lifestyle you’ve created for yourself, the friends you’ve made along the way, the confidence you’ve built and communication skills you’ve strengthened – those are your accomplishments, and they’re a hell of a lot more rare and valuable than anything you’ll find at a corporate setting.

    If you’re comfortable with constant travel and fun, and you’ve figured out the system for traveling on your own including making your money stretch and spending time with friends and family, don’t close the book on this lifestyle just because you see other people living in a certain way. Settling down will happen eventually, so if it’s not something you’re into at the moment… don’t do it. Seriously. Keep moving, pushing and experiencing for new things that fulfill and excite you for as long as you can stand it. Because let me tell you, cushy office jobs provide neither stimulus nor security anyway. Might as well have fun for as long as you can – continue racking up experiences, global connections, and various skill sets without the need for a home base or clock-in time!
    Jess recently posted..Broke Girls Make Summer Bucket Lists: JessMy Profile

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  4. Why don’t you try combining travel and work? You could find a job that involves taking a lot of trips, although I can’t remember your college background. When I was a travel nurse, I could do small assignments like 3 months then travel… while I gave that up to be in Goa, if I hadn’t met my boyfriend that is what I would still be doing. As much as I love travel and living abroad, I don’t make enough money to live how I do now without my boyfriend and I also hate being broke- so before I was making quite a bit then traveling knowing I could come back and make the same amount – it was really hard to give up!! .. Not sure about your background, but maybe something like that?
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..Which Goa Restaurants and Clubs are Open in Monsoon?My Profile

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  5. hi Ash, i had been follow your blog for awhile. I’m from Malaysia. I just saw your post on facebook 30mins ago, though to give you some comment. Hopefully i’m not some weirdo here. haha..

    Since you love travel a lot, this might probably suit you well. Pls check it out.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCQcTq3qhoM

    I was an engineer by profession but now i working toward my passion and dream to travel around world without financial problem thanks Steve Jobs inspired me 3yrs ago.

    keep in touch…

    thanks
    Reyson Lim
    skype: reysonlim

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  6. OK, so the 44 year-old of the group is going to weigh in.

    This is simple math, and you can even answer the riddle in a fun way – a bottle of wine must be involved and so go treat yourself to something affordable and still grand – and add some fabulous and ever so pungent cheese, or barely seared grass fed and phenomenal steak or whatever you like.

    As you toast yourself, deeming yourself worth the lovely meal that you’ve prepared, just ask 3 things.

    1. What is it that I talk NONSTOP about, without someone else bringing up (of my own volition and whether I meet somebody in the super market or in Bangkok or no matter where I am or what I am doing) what is it that I voluntarily “work into the conversation” – even with strangers, and not even meaning too?

    (Answer that, and then keep enjoying the food and wine and then move on to number two).

    2. If I had to do a couple things I didn’t adore (whether it meant living stateside or going to “work” or to projects at a certain hour of day that you’re not used to, or having to, gasp, wear closed toed shoes – my absolute hate – or whatever it be) what genre would make those momentary little challenges, WORTH it to you? What theme or project or category would be “OK” to acquiesce with a couple pesky or yucky facts about the gig or day or week or month or whatever it be?

    (Answer it to yourself but yes keep drinking, eating, and so forth, as that’s important).

    3. Answer (to yourself and your wine and your dinner chop or salad or plate of figs or whatever it be): “I am my most AUTHENTIC & BEST & UNIQUE & QUITE BEAUTIFUL SELF when I am, (fill in the blank).”

    (Simple aside, this works)! And leave the dishes to tomorrow, as a reminder of such a good and powerful time!

    Let me know what comes up if you wish, but moreover, have fun!

    You’ll have your answer, you’ll have a “celebratory meal” which will mark when you got in touch with it all, and you’ll have some great food and wine!

    T’is good stuff.

    Meanwhile, you’re a beautiful, talented, strong, incredibly bright and humorous chick and so go forth and share that more and do what you wish!!!!!!!!

    Cheers!!!!!!!! – Leah

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  7. Oh man, I totally hear you on this one! I’ve been kind of delaying the What To Do With My Life question ever since graduating and moving to Spain to teach English, where I’m now going on three years. But I personally am ready to “settle down” after next year and I have come to terms with the fact that I do want to put down roots, indulge my “nesting” instincts instead of living in temporary apartments, and make lasting, local friendships. Not being broke is a nice, perk, too, of course ^_^
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..Abanqueiro, Spain: The Village Where I Worked in GaliciaMy Profile

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  8. Well this tugged at my heartstrings for a myriad of reasons.

    1) As a former Michigander, I’m very jealous of your time “Up North” for Michigan summers.

    2) I’ve asked the very. same. questions. myself. Heck, every couple years I still reassess. Let me be a bit frank as someone who is completely surrounded by people with kids (having more than one means they’re doing it on purpose now!) and a mortgage and a nice income and a great retirement package…they all ask the same freakin’ questions, too. They just don’t talk about it as openly as genuine, inquisitive people do because that would mean they are questioning the validity of this wonderful life they’ve set up for themselves. It’s easy to say stop comparing yourself to the “American Standard of Success”, but the truth of the matter is, once you re-define what success is for YOU, no one can question it. (Okay, they can and you can wonder if you made right choices, but the more frequently you remind yourself, the easier it is.)

    3) That nagging feeling you’re talking about? Listen to it. It’s telling you something.

    I hope you find some peace with your decisions or at the very least know that the decisions you make aren’t solidified forever and ever and ever. You can always try something different. Let’s get real, you already have! :)

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  9. I can completely relate to how you’re feeling! I’ve been working the same dead-end job for the past few years because it allows me the flexibility to book extended time off and I’ve chosen to live at home so I can save money to travel.
    I also often feel so unaccomplished in comparison to others, but I would never trade my travel experiences for a “real job” or a “normal” life.
    The whims you are considering all seem to involve travel, so maybe that’s the best choice at the moment!
    Ashley recently posted..A Two Week Itinerary of Western AustraliaMy Profile

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  10. I can relate to all these questions so much, Ashley! Although I’m currently working a real job and my everyday life consists of dinners with the boyfriend and other lame stuff, I’m constantly thinking “this can’t be it”. I’m looking for a way out all the time — not a single day goes by without my checking flight prices to somewhere…
    In my experience though, things tend to work out somehow — although pretty much never how you originally planned them, but eventually you’ll know what to do next, even if it’s only for a year or so. I don’t think our generation does long-term decisions regarding home towns/countries and career paths anymore, but maybe figuring things out step by step is the better way and it keeps life interesting?
    Julika recently posted..27 Things I have not learned in 27 YearsMy Profile

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  11. I can completely relate to you. A few months ago I returned from a 7-month journey through Southeast Asia. I returned home to virtually nothing. When I left on my trip I had moved out of my apartment, sold my car and most everything else. I was faced with the choice to start over in the U.S. or to keep traveling. While I knew I couldn’t keep traveling forever — I mean the money will run out eventually — I just wasn’t ready to go back to working a job that made me unhappy. So I made the decision to stay on the road and travel to Colombia, which is where I am now.

    My situation is a bit weird. I’m half traveling, half trying to figure out what my next step is. After being on the road for nearly a year I’m definitely ready to settle down in one place for a while. And obviously it would be amazing to have an income again. But, like you, I just can’t picture being back in the U.S. So for me, I’m seriously considering finding a job abroad. But I agree with you, teaching English abroad isn’t exactly a life goal of mine; and it’s definitely not my passion.

    I can relate to you when you say you don’t feel like your living up to your potential. I have an M.A. in journalism. But I’ve struggled to find a job in the U.S. that allows me to use my brain and to write. Before I left for SE Asia I was doing the 9-5 thing at a job that offered no mental stimulation and I was miserable living that kind of life, which is part of the reason I saved up my money and hit the road.

    The life of a traveler can be wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But it can also be incredibly stressful when you feel like you’re just kind of floundering. I think, for me, it’s just going to take me longer to find a career and lifestyle that makes me happy. So my best advice to you is to take your time, but start trying to plan how you can juggle your passion for travel with a job. As for now, if you have the option to travel and that makes you happy then go for it. If you spend a year teaching abroad, the experience will probably be amazing. And you can use that time to plan out your next step. But as someone who is a bit older than you I can’t stress enough how important it is to build a skill set so that when you do find a job you want or set out on a career path you’ll actually have the skills to land a job. It’s always important to keep learning and keep making connections.

    You’ve achieved an incredible amount so far. You seem like a super smart and incredibly talented and creative person. Just follow your heart! I’m sure everything will fall into place.
    Justine recently posted..Río Claro: A Disastrous Detour on the Road to MedellínMy Profile

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  12. Ah, I know this frustration well. Life decisions are always the hardest. And to make it worse, sometimes you don’t find passions or interests until later in life. I get that you feel at a crossroad. Travel, be poor and feel “behind” in life or get money, go with the crowd yet be unfulfilled. As hard as it is, try not to compare yourself to others when picking your path. However, being young and poor is better than being old and poor.

    I try to think of my life as a book. When I’m making dicisions, it’s an opportunity to write new and intersting chapters so that I can look back and have a great story.

    I’ll throw one from way out in left field. Unless this goes against any ethical or political beliefs, why not the military? For the free spirit of a traveler, it can be a tough job adjusting to so many rules. Yet it’s not the biggest commitment (three years?) you’ll gain a skill, travel your country and aboard depending on the trade you’re interested in. There’s many social, fitness, education and health benefits. It’s very hard work, you will want to quit at points and ask yourself “why am I doing this” but it can give you a huge sence of accomplishment. I’m sure it sounds crazy but I doubt anyone has put it out there.

    You’ll have to take the risk no matter which direction you choose.
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  13. This is a dilemma I know fine too well and the constant “what now?” questions were really bugging me. Until I realised that full on life ambition decisions are not ones to be taken lightly! I’ve decided to embrace the indecision for now and mull it over until I (hopefully) reach an epiphany). Until then, I’m just enjoying it and making the most of being home. Good luck and don’t stress too much (I know, I know, easier said than done!)
    Naomi recently posted..Monday We Meet Again #12My Profile

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  14. Yes yes yes. And I’m sure we will skype about this soon. Don’t you just wish we wanted the normal trajectory? I love San Diego and how badly do I wish I could find a job that was right for me here and flights weren’t so expensive!!
    POOP.
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  15. i know exactly how you feel. i am currently in an accelerated nursing program and i’ll finish in december. while my classmates are thinking about what city they want to work in and what speciality they want to go into, i am planning how i’m going to quit my job after 4 months to embark on my trip throughout southeast asia. i’m also looking into the shortest nurse practitioner program possible (i’ve found one that’s only 3 semesters) to begin when i return, so that i can quickly get back on the road to explore another region as quickly as possible. i also plan to travel during all of my breaks from school. i guess i’ll feel better about galavanting around the world if i know i already have all the education i need to get a job when i return. if you move to another city to work, you will be “settled down”, just as an expat! i really believe that we should use our 20s to explore and experience as much as possible.

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  16. I know what you mean about feeling unaccomplished, but I actually used to have that investment banking job, making that salary. I never had time to myself, though. It wasn’t worth it and I walked away. Everything looks better on paper, including traveling (and staying in hostels!) I have no interest to return to the US right now either. It doesn’t intrigue me, but maybe one day it will. I have similar feelings but live by a mantra that has been true over and over again: the universe provides. It’ll come to you, and it’s OK that it hasn’t yet.
    Kristin Addis recently posted..The Revisited How I Afford to TravelMy Profile

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  17. Hello, lurker here. Thank you for sharing Ashley, I appreciate the candour of this blog post. I can relate a little too much to what you are feeling right now; honestly almost everyday I feel some anxiety and doubt about whether I’m on the “right” life path for my happiness. One thing that helps me feel a little less overwhelmed by it all is to remind myself that, no matter what I decide to pursue right now NOTHING IS PERMANENT unless you decide it is. You are not signing a contract for every detail of your life from now until the day you die. You can always change your mind! I get that every decision seems dire right now, like if you choose wrong you might be unhappy and regretful for the rest of your life, but the truth is, if in a year you realize you’re not happy or fullfilled by what you’ve chosen, you can stop, switch gears, and pursue something else. And honestly, who makes 120K in their twenties?? Most people don’t even make that in their thirties and beyond. And your intellectual capacity and acheivment isn’t measured by the cost of your tuition or the benefits your employer offers. Don’t be so hard on yourself!

    Also, sorry to be a downer (maybe I’m just cynical) but I think the whole “following your passion” thing is a bit of a cultural myth. Yes, sometimes it happens. Sometimes people just “know” what they want to do for the rest of their lives, but in my humble opinion, most of us do not go through life with that kind of certainty. Most of us are just creating our happiness as we go along, and sometimes we are doing something we really love and other times we are lost and uninspired, and most of the time life is just life. That doesn’t mean happiness is impossible though(!), it just means we can’t always know ahead of time what will make us happy in the future.

    Anyways, I hope that’s not too preachy. I wish I could follow my own advice!! It’s hard to turn off your brain sometimes. All the best with whatever you decide.

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  18. I might be a little biased, but I say move to Australia :) The great thing here is that you can work an entry-level job, make a good minimum wage and still have enough money to travel.

    Regarding long-term career advice, all I can say is that no matter what you do, the grass is always greener on the other side. There are a few people that really thrive in the corporate world, but I’d say the majority of us just do it because it’s what we’re “supposed to do” and spend our free time doing what we really enjoy. I don’t think you should give up the travel life you love unless you really think your passions and skills would really be better used in a corporate setting.

    Not feeling especially passionate about your next travel destination could be a good thing – low expectations often lead to some of the best travel experiences! I actually wasn’t thrilled about moving to Australia at first. I thought I wanted to live some place more adventurous like China, but I listened to friends and family that said it would be an amazing opportunity and took a leap of faith – and here I am now, unable to imagine a better life anywhere else!

    Best of luck with the tough decisions ahead. I’m looking forward to seeing where life takes you!

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  19. I think it is really easy to compare yourself to other and their lives, but I also think it is the worst thing you can do. If you are happy with your life thus far… if you are happier abroad and being a wanderer, then do that. Do what makes you happy. Life is short. And I know that seems to be the most obvious response, but it really is. If you died tomorrow would you be happy with your life, how it has gone, how you have managed it? Because that is what matters.

    I’m 21. What I know:
    -I’m graduating in 2 years
    -I’m studying abroad in Prague next summer
    -I’m joining the peace corps afterwards
    -KNOW IDEA after that…

    Let you heart guide you.
    It whispers,
    so listen closely.
    -Land Before Time

    Give yourself credit. You’ve led an amazing life that most only dream of.

    Good luck in your future endeavors!

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  20. I’m pretty much in this exact position. I’ve just returned from an awesome six months away and have to figure out what the hell I’m going to do now. Luckily (?) I still have a few months of study to finish before I have to decide, but it’s starting to get a little stressful.

    I change my mind every few days about what’s next – I have big plans that’ll take at least a year, there’s just the questions of how will I afford it? Should I get a masters before or after? Should I get a job and save up to do it here or overseas somewhere? At least I do have that one dream to work towards, silly as it is.

    It’s great to have so many options and I feel bad complaining about it. It’d be so much easier if I could just follow the accepted path and not have to think about it!
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  21. Yup, I can definitely resonate with this one! I was in a similar predicament early last year after coming home from my last backpacking trip. On my return I was considering further travel however I chose the sensible route, the one society leads us to believe is the right thing to do, and landed a good career job, moved into a comfortable home with my boyfriend and from the outside looking in had a pretty sweet lifestyle. But here I am 18 months later and I’m giving it all up to go backpacking again! For some reason my head & heart leads me to believe that as soon as I’m comfortable somewhere its time to uproot and go somewhere else, why I’m like this I don’t know, but I’m happy to roll with it! I think society is a bit screwed up and our lives shouldn’t revolve around work, so I’m a firm believer in doing what you want to do (especially if its a last minute whim – thats how my last backpacking trip evolved! Idea to resigning from my job to boarding the plan within 6 weeks!). I say roll with the whim!

    That said, on the other side of things I am with you when you feel like others have achieved so much in terms of career, assets, family, etc. I feel this too, when I see friends who have climbed the career ladder much faster than I have, and are earning more money than me. There is so much pressure to conform to this and work towards that as our primary goal. And of course we need money to be able to do the things we want to, which can be a bit of a problem. But isn’t the beauty of having age on our side and no obligations like a mortgage, kids, etc the most perfect reason to explore what makes you happy? So you move to a new country on a whim, and aren’t happy there? Go somewhere else instead. You get a job at home and realise it was a mistake? Leave and go do something else. I guess what I am trying to say is not every decision has to be final, or at the expense of something else. Your only responsibility is to make yourself happy! And if it takes a few tries to make that happen, so what?

    That all probably made no sense and was just a jumble of words but at the very least I just want to let you know that there are many more of us who are in (or have been in) a similar situation – there is a light at the end of the tunnel, just roll with it and you’ll get there!

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  22. I can appreciate your feelings so well, Ashley. I think, doubts are kind of normal when everyone else around you is settled and doing a 9-to-5 job while you doing it differently and fulfilling your dreams. I am a few years older than you but I am currently doing a job where I don’t earn that much money, but which gives me a lot of freedom to travel. Many of my friends in contrast have proper 9-to-5 jobs, build their houses and raise their families. I am even considering to leave home for one more big adventure (hopefully that works out!), settle down and do a totally different job than now afterwards.

    Maybe you should try to find something which allows you to combine work and travel for now before settling down?
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  23. Ugh! Look how many people can relate to this, myself included! Why do we think that somehow travel is going to help us figure out what it is that we want to “do” or “be”? In the first three years after I moved away from the US, all it did was make me MORE confused. I had many a quarter-life crisis whenever it was time to make a new decision. So far, I’ve gone with my heart. If you’re getting “too old” then I am definitely too old!

    If there’s one thing my parents have taught me, it’s that you never have to do just one thing for your whole life. People change throughout their lives, not just when they’re young. Their passions change, their hobbies, the things they love and so too do their careers. Like a lot of people have already said, success is how YOU measure it, not anyone else around you, it’s what makes you happy and satisfied in your life.

    It’s hard to ask yourself the hard questions like what’s next, but lots of thinking is a good thing and there’s nothing wrong with being confused. There are so many options out there, you just have to find the one you want (and it’s ok if that changes later on)
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  24. You have no idea how much I relate to everything you have written here. I often feel like I’m stuck in a rut, but then I feel spoilt for thinking that way and convince myself that this is what I should be doing instead of listening to what I want to do. I fantasise about leaving my job, my boyfriend, London, my life as it is now, all so I can travel the world for longer periods, but as you pointed out, that appears to be a short-term fix and I’ll be back to square one when I return. But maybe that short-term fix could lead to something more substantial, something long-term? Is it worth taking the risk for that possibility? I think so.

    One thing’s for sure, being cooped up in an office for 16-hours ain’t fun and it sure isn’t good for the soul! (unless it’s for a worthy cause!).
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  25. While I’m not at this stage yet, I do anticipate being there in a few years.

    As hard as it is, you have to try to not let what others do influence your own decisions. Your desires have to be YOUR desires. If you look at what others are doing and question your own direction, you most likely won’t end up in a place that is meant for you. Even if you are not too sure what you want to do next, there’s nothing wrong with picking one of those “whims” while you figure it all out. As long as you think it’s something you’ll enjoy, it’s all good. There’s no need to rush. Good luck :)
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  26. I confess that I share a lot of your anxiety which is why I’m going back to school for my Masters… hoping that sorts out the career woes and stuff (although probably wishful thinking as I need to figure that out myself). So, why not go back to school ABROAD? There’s something to be said for free tuition :)
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  27. You should do what you have a passion for. =) And it will make you as happy as travel makes you.
    Nicole recently posted..We Need Your Help!My Profile

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  28. It’s so brave of you to voice your concerns and uncertainties about the future. There must be a way to have the best of both worlds! When I was working a corporate office job and working crazy hours, I was daydreaming of quitting my job to travel until I finally took the plunge and did it. Maybe you won’t know that you don’t (or do) want a steady job back home until you try it, but don’t for a second think that you’re unaccomplished just because you don’t have a snazzy job with benefits and such. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be! Good luck and can’t wait to see where you end up!
    Lavi recently posted..Rio de Janeiro: Where my wanderlust beganMy Profile

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  29. I totally can relate to your uncertainly from the other side of the coin–I spent my 20s in graduate school and doing my post-doc. I didn’t travel much outside the US and I work in a field (science) where long breaks in your CV or resume are considered detrimental. But now all I want to do is travel and see if I am really pleased with where all this education got me, if that makes sense. All my friends are married or have kids, and I have, well a succulent plant and I rent. I do think it’s important to listen to that inner voice and as I am recently learning, it’s okay not to know where we want to be or what we want to be doing all the time. Thank you so much for your sincerity and honesty and hey, Michigan summers are where it’s at!

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  30. GET OUT OF MY HEAD!

    Only joking, but seriously, I am battling through all of this for a second time (why do I do this to myself). Last time I came back to Ireland after 18 months, I managed to score a job in my field in Africa after 7 months at home. Now I am 4 months at home, I start a 2 month contract next week and after that, who know. Most likely, some more travel.

    Like you, I come from a family of high achievers, but also a very close knit family, where I am the only one to move countries. I struggle constantly with what I ‘should’ be doing. While I am very much enjoying work at the moment, there is only so long until that feeling wears off. Is it a possibility for you to get a short contract while figuring things out? What is your background?
    Fiona recently posted..Robben Island: A pilgrimage for Nelson MandelaMy Profile

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  31. Take the C’est Christine route! She took a Working Holiday in Australia and used the money saved up to travel before she went back to the states.

    The wages here are pretty damn awesome. I’m a university student with no qualifications and my friends and I all roughly earn about $25ph. I was in shock when I heard minimum wage in the US was something like $7.

    You can live in a foreign country, work and save money. I honestly think it would be perfect for you. Shoot me an email if you have any questions. :)

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  32. If all the comments here tell you one thing, it’s that you’re not alone. All of us will go through this at many stages of our lives – if we haven’t already. I seem to reach this point about once a year and the best advice I have is to remember that whatever you decide to do next, doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll do forever. I think when people find themselves at a crossroads it be incredibly overwhelming in the sense we look for “big” solutions to our “big” problems. Just take it step by step and prioritise. If you need money, then work. Don’t know where to work? Well if it’s all about money, go where you can save a lot and live where you won’t spend a lot. In a few months when money is no longer a priority then you can reassess and go from there. Along the way all sorts of advice and inspiration will cross your path and you never know where you’ll end up.
    Megan recently posted..Driving the Bloomfield Track – Cape Tribulation to CooktownMy Profile

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  33. I think a lot of people can relate to this feeling. It’s pretty much the reason I’m leaving home to travel right now. I just don’t know what I want at this point in my life. I truly believe if you trust your gut things always have a way of working out.
    Miquel recently posted..Downtown Vegas: Retro & RevivedMy Profile

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  34. I can relate to your quandry. I am 46 and was raised by military parents; my husband is also military. Consequently, I have moved without fail almost every 3 years of my life. I feel so much more inspired to live overseas than anywhere here in America. But I do not find that I belong here. It’s just not for me; I don’t feel like I “fit”. So the question arises, what can I live with if I leap and leave my country? It is a heavy question to ponder, because our relationships (past, present and future) rest on the answer. Perhaps, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you are young still and time is on your side. The pressure and weight of these kinds of decisions definitely increases with age. So, you have time….I’m sure your answers will come. :)

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  35. Hi Ashley, I could have written this blog post! It encapsulates the exact stage of life I’m in now after two years of working and travelling abroad after university.

    The way I see it is, this lifestyle has made me so incredibly happy. My friends who work corporate jobs say things like “oh the days go by in a blur”, “time flies”, but I find with travelling and living abroad every day is an adventure and for me every year feels like an eternity (in a good way).

    With regards to having a career, even if you started at age 30 you would still have a good 30 (or more likely 40) working years ahead of you. I have the same problem where all of my friends have impressive bank accounts and their own flats, but I would say at the age of 23 I’m more impressed by the fact that I’ve been able to achieve life dreams of learning Italian, living abroad in Rome, travelling south America. I’ll cherish those memories more than the Ikea furniture I could have bought. Whilst my friends are sitting behind desks and complaining about their jobs I’m relaxing on a beach, learning to swim (lol OK so I’m a little behind), or speaking a foreign language.

    And to me, that’s a life worth living :D

    I look forward to seeing what you get up to in the future. I’m using this summer to decide my future anyhoo, but just remember whatever you decide isn’t permanent. If you’re not happy you can always correct course in 6 weeks, 6 months or 1 year. For me, I might stay in London for 6 months- 1 year and then jet off on another adventure.
    SB recently posted..Good Morning Rome, IMPREINTMy Profile

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  36. Hi Ashley, I don’t have any advice for you but I think your gut will steer you in the right direction. Remember that you’re never stuck and even if you end up somewhere you don’t love, you can always make a change for yourself. So follow your instincts, see where they take you and you might surprise yourself!
    Diane recently posted..Tourists in Paris: Why a little effort with French goes a long wayMy Profile

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  37. I can totally relate to what you’re feeling. I taught in Korea for four years, now I’ve been traveling around Colombia for the past month. I keep asking myself: when am I going to stop? Is this a lifestyle really a good idea?
    I say yes, especially in your case. This blog alone, and everything you’ve done and learned while traveling is obviously building up to something valuable. Pick a place: I recommend Colombia and Myanmar. Whatever you choose, keep following your heart.
    Find that place. Go there. Travel hard. Absorb everything.
    David Ouellette recently posted..Cartagena: A City That Wears It’s Heart and History on It’s SleeveMy Profile

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  38. As much as I love to travel, there is something to be said for having some financial security and stability. My parents just retired and are fretting about their savings and I know that’s not a position I want to find myself in in 40 years. Corporate America might not sound super appealing, but a lot of companies still match contributions to 401k’s and provide health insurance and other benefits. Look at social media companies with liberal vacation plans, like Twitter, or jobs that involve travel like sales. Or consider joining the peace corp or foreign service.

    Right now you could do anything you want, how exciting is that? When I was your age, I quit my boring job in DC and moved to New York City to work in publishing. Did I love working in publishing? No. But I loved the life it afforded me. I stayed in NYC for five years, made incredible friends and met my now husband. Sometimes you just have to take the leap and see where it takes you. Good luck!
    Heather recently posted..Riga by Water: A Sunset Cruise Down the DaugavaMy Profile

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  39. I really enjoyed this post! Figuring out what to do with your life can be so difficult…I’m pretty much in the exact place as you are right now. Traveling aimlessly wouldn’t exactly help me get where I want to be long-term, but (I can confirm) that office jobs and the daily commute feel pretty lackluster and disappointing.
    But while you may be looking at those other people with envy, many of them are probably looking at you with envy, too. I know I think “wow, she has an awesome life” every time I read your blog! So I want to thank you for being a bit vulnerable and so honest in this post, I appreciate you for sharing your thoughts on more serious subject matters like this. Good read!
    Genny @ Genny’s Journals recently posted..Why You Don’t Need a Five-Year PlanMy Profile

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  40. I’m a little late – I read this right before I went to Barcelona and haven’t had time to comment until now, but this post resonated with me so much.
    Thank you a million times for writing it! I feel the exact same way (and clearly, so do a lot of other people). I’m in my late 20s and I’ve been waiting since I was 25 to “know” what I want to do or to fall into the right opportunity, but I’m still teaching English in France living one year to the next without any career security or longevity. I really only feel poor when I compare myself to others because I have everything I need plus a lot of freedom, but dammit it would be so nice to go out for fancy cocktails or just buy shoes when I need shoes (or even when I don’t). But ultimately, I’m just happy to have a visa, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences living in France for anything.

    Anyway, I understand – it’s so amazing that you have the freedom to do anything you want right now, but it’s a lot of pressure to feel you’re making the right decision. Can’t wait to hear about what you’re doing next!

    PS Do you know themuse.com? I love them for all things career.

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  41. Ahh I don’t know why I just saw this now…I know the feeling/situation you’re in and there’s nothing anyone can really do or say to help unfortunately. The best is yet to come though, because after having so many great experiences you know more of what’s out there and won’t be willing to settle!
    Alana – Paper Planes recently posted..Coming home…and the Questions People AskMy Profile

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  42. Hey Ash! I was having a what-do-I-do-with-my-life-next crisis recently too. I ended up deciding to travel, so I’m off to Europe (first stop: Paris!) in a week, but it took quitting my job first to come to that decision. Being lost is like being in the midst of adventure: it’s exciting to not know what’s next. I wrote a post last month about this that you may find relatable: http://the-happinessexperiment.com/2014/08/21/everyones-lost/ Hope you forever live in the moment, lost or found.
    Maria Bellissimo recently posted..Italy by the NumbersMy Profile

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    • Wow, fantastic! Enjoy Paris- what an exciting decision.

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