Filed under: India
It’s one of those late evenings in Delhi where I can’t fall asleep. One of those wee hours in the morning where I lie in bed in a cool and dark room, gazing at the city through my enormous panoramic-view window that I still haven’t bought curtains for after 7 months of living in our flat. One of those rare evenings where the city seems to be holding it’s breath: the auto-rickshaws have stopped their honking, the neighbors downstairs aren’t blaring Metallica; even the myriad of stray dogs that gather in East of Kailash like a swarm of ants have stopped their barking for the briefest of periods, as if mesmerized by the silence. One of those unusual nights in between the biting winter and the roaring summer of Delhi, where you can feel the change slowly weaving into the city through a pleasant and lilting breeze. One of those moments on the tip of your tongue, as if you could just open your mouth and taste it all.
One month ago I turned 26 years old. I rode into my birthday like a champion on a horse that just won the grand prize at a tournament- arrogant, proud, high off of my accomplishments. World traveler. Beasted the Peace Corps- or at least limped to the finish line. Accomplished ‘do-gooder,’ as if it was an invisible trophy I carried around everywhere. Compassionate friend. Reflective Writer. The list goes on. But ‘Age 26’ was not a badge I wanted to wear. 26 felt- older. Closer to 30 than those golden years of my young and carefree 20’s. Suddenly, I found it impossible to not consider a not-too far off future, one that makes me think of responsibility, of security, of setting down more permanent roots. Looking at friends in the United States building experience in their career paths, established in their cities and in their routines and their relationships. Marriage and babies and mortgages and West Elm furniture. For someone who prides herself on stepping out of her comfort zone for a living, this question of ‘settling down someday’ was suddenly the scariest thought of all.
From day one of turning 20, I’ve always promised myself that this decade is for me to travel, learn, grow, and see and do everything while I have the freedom to. The past 6 years of non-stop traveling and living all over the world has been absolutely incredible, extremely challenging, physically and mentally exhausting, unabashedly life-changing; experiences I would never trade for anything. The places I’ve visited, things I’ve seen and done and learned, and the beautiful people I’ve met will forever be a large part of me. In return I have sacrificed comfort, security, a well-paid and stable job, time with friends and family back at home, and roots to fulfill those dreams. And throughout all of it, I have always put one foot in front of the other, trusting that the next step would continue leading me to the next right thing. It has all been worth it.
And it will continue to be worth it. This nomadic lifestyle is still an ultimately grand adventure, an extreme learning experience, a passionate and incredible existence that I deeply enjoy. I still hope to spend my days traversing around the globe, meeting new people, learning new languages, living my life from one suitcase to another for the time being. Yet this sudden paradigm shift in thinking has forced me to contemplate living this lifestyle with a bit more intention of my long-term life goals. Basically, turning 26 has been a little akin to ‘facing the music': it’s time to grow up. I can and will still do this now, but I don’t want to do it forever.
With some gentle pushing and prodding from extraneous events and conversations, some sort of time-ticking panic set in that I had never once before felt in my life. Questions started pouring out of me, so many important questions that I didn’t know what to do with them all. What am I going to do after this fellowship? Am I going to continue living in India? Do I only want to continue living here because I love it so much that I’m scared to leave? What are my long-term career goals? Where am I really applying to graduate school next year? What do I want to do in the business world- is it entrepreneurship? Consulting? Impact Investing? How can I help economically disadvantaged communities in the future while being able to support a stable and sustainable lifestyle? What are all of the other potential opportunities I’m giving up by the next step I take?
I wrote for weeks, page after page of questions, most where I didn’t have answers. Weeks wrought with confusion and tension, picking up scattered pieces and trying to find where they connect, like a giant puzzle- except in this case, I don’t know what the picture will be once it’s finished. I sought out friends and mentors, seeking their advice and feverishly scribbling down all of their suggestions like a coked-out journalist. Metaphorically standing in a grocery store with a thousand cereal boxes in front of me, unsure of what to put in my basket. Paralyzed by choice, guilty and burdened for having so many choices in front of me when many have none. I shut myself into my room for hours at a time, refusing to let myself out until I took responsibility for some answers; yet then finding myself so mentally exhausted at the seemingly never-ending ocean of ideas that I actually fell asleep from thinking too much. It’s been a bizarre and unexplained phenomena that is quite unlike myself.
I have four more months left in this amazing fellowship, four more guaranteed months of living in Delhi, in India, in this place that I love way too much. I try not to squander the present moment- my friendships, my work, my life here- by spending so much of my time gazing outside of my window at 2 AM on another night of endless possibilities.
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