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What I Gained When I Lost My Marriage and My Job(s) and Went Nomadic

Three years ago I was fully invested in my San Franciscan lifestyle, doing all that was expected of a married 30-year-old climbing the career ladder. And then, during the summer of 2015, not just one thing changed but two. My husband told me he didn’t want to be married anymore, and the startup I had helped grow downsized, laying me off. Within one month, everything I knew to be true and secure had dissolved.

I attempted to put my life together by working on my marriage and finding another job. I joined a new startup and everything seemed to have stabilized. I went back to being a wife and an employee. Yet just 6 weeks later, I was laid off for the second time in less than a year.

The first layoff was devastating. When the second happened, I recognized I’d gained strength as an individual and that I wasn’t emotionally invested. In fact, it felt like I’d been gifted a second chance and I had the power to make a different decision. For the first time in my life, I made a choice based on what was best for me. Not what was best for my career or my relationship — but for me. And so, rather than picking up the pieces, I decided to let them go entirely. An 11-year relationship, a career in Silicon Valley, an apartment full of things I once cherished, and a future I’d already fully envisioned.

I found the courage to admit to both myself and my husband that divorce was the right step forward and in September of 2016, I left San Francisco to start living nomadically around the world. Leaving everything I knew was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Leaving meant I wouldn’t have a home to return to or someone waiting for me to return, and I had never felt more alone.

The vulnerability opened my mind and my heart and I began to fully appreciate things I didn’t pay attention to before. I no longer felt alone when I acknowledged the humanity around me — receiving a smile from a stranger, spontaneously meeting someone in a cafe, or simply observing an act of kindness on the street. I valued every person, conversation and opportunity that came my way. Through this openness, I gained priceless life lessons.

I learned there is no script.

Before leaving the US, I was living my life as a linear story with a predictable trajectory. Upon leaving, there was suddenly no script to reference. Letting go of my future plans was first the most terrifying feeling and then it became the most liberating. I got to know who I was without the labels I once carried. I stopped planning future events before I experienced the present ones.

I got comfortable with uncertainty.

I leaned into uncertainty, got comfortable with not knowing what was next and continually saw the reward that came from not planning too far ahead — everything got much easier and became more meaningful. The trip wasn’t about checking off a bucket list but about being present and trusting myself to always find my way whether I was booking a one-way flight to Medellin or hiking solo along the coast of Minorca. Once I discovered the strength of my internal compass, I became confident following it. No matter where I was I focused on my life day by day and appreciated experiences one by one, without rushing towards what was next.

I found an empowering support system.

I started my nomadic journey with a group of people also seeking work/life balance. We met for the first time in Lisbon and spent three months living together in Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. What we had in common was not our professions or our backgrounds. What we had in common were our values — personal growth, authentic human connection, and getting out of our comfort zones. All of the people I met in the following months and countries echoed the same philosophy and showed me that I wasn’t alone in breaking the lifestyle mold. It was extremely encouraging to be surrounded by people supporting my vision rather than questioning it.  

I became braver each step of the way.

The first brave step was to let go of everything back home, the second step was changing environments, and the following steps were the unplanned experiences that taught me one lesson after another. The things that were once intimidating to do in a foreign country eventually became natural — buying groceries with labels I couldn’t read, describing symptoms to non-English speaking pharmacists, and using local buses to get to destinations I’d never been before. After three months of enduring these experiences within the support of a group, I finally felt brave enough to continue traveling on my own.

I turned my fantasies into reality.

With nothing but time on my hands, I decided to fulfill a lifelong fantasy of becoming a fluent Spanish speaker and committed to traveling through Spanish-speaking countries in 2017. I spent a majority of the year in Mexico, Spain, and Colombia, living with locals, attending Spanish classes, and experiencing all that comes with a complete cultural immersion. I went from having rusty Spanish to speaking fluidly on a daily basis and realized that fantasies can turn into reality; you simply have to make them a priority.

I found opportunities at the right time.

I completed my yoga teacher training before I left the US without any immediate plans to teach. After eight months on the road, I finally felt a pull to try my hand at instructing. I was reaching the end of my tourist visa in Spain so I looked for another Spanish-speaking destination, this time in South America. I found a yoga internship in Colombia, perfectly timed to begin the following month. Without planning months ahead, my next step came into fruition the moment I was clear and confident in what I wanted.

I let go of expectations.

As soon as I stopped having expectations in my life, I stopped being disappointed. I’ve accepted that if things don’t go according to plan, they can still be as good — maybe even better than imagined. Because of this, I haven’t allowed stress or anxiety to rule my days in almost two years. I have realized that stress is self-induced and it’s our choice whether to support it or eliminate it through the expectations we have of ourselves and others.

I realized everything is a choice.

Every single addition to our lives is a choice — our jobs, our partners, our cities, our lifestyles, our desired salaries, how hard we are willing to work, and how much time we spend with our families. It’s a choice to continue down the same path and it’s a choice to change paths. There is no script, there are no “shoulds” or “musts,” and there is not just one way to be successful. It all comes down to our priorities and which we choose.

Two years ago I felt like I lost everything including my identity, but within the process of letting go of everything around me… there I was.

By Jessika Roth