A Simpler Time...


I had a good week this week. It was busy, and I’m still waking up with headaches from working 8 hour days at the office and then going home and doing client work for my new freelance business (Stern Creative Solutions, Inc). But all in all, there are some realizations that I’m coming to in anticipation of cutting the cord of a highly-networked and visible profession and lifestyle in order to wander the world. Jon and I have been using up all our Chinook Book coupons that expire this month and decided on Wednesday to go have dinner at the Tao of Tea on Belmont – an old favorite. It has a special place in my heart, I used to go there at least twice a month for a stint and it’s synonymous with relaxing, reflecting, studying for school, or just being with great people in a calm and healthy environment. But, like so many things I used to take part in, I hadn’t been there in years.

So we went for dinner and got one of their comfy little booths. I was exhausted beyond repair, but just being there with my hubby, a warm pot of tea and delicious daal (and Dahl!), made me fulfilled in a way I hadn’t felt for a while. I kept expressing to Jon how nice it was, and how I missed going there. He said to me, “it was a simpler time.”

A simpler time, yes indeed, everything seemed simpler. But what happened that made now complicated, and how has it taken me so long to realize the dramatic shift?

The closer I get to leaving for our travels, the closer I come to some semblance of an answer. My job is pretty great, but when it comes down to it, there’s a direct correlation with when I started my job and when things stopped being simple. It’s easier to see because none of my other previous jobs, or even being in grad school caused me to simply not have the time or energy to do the things I love. During that ‘simpler time’ (which was not THAT long ago), I spent my non-work hours playing music, taking yoga classes, sometimes up to 4 days a week, reading, listening to and buying new music, camping and spending time with friends. My job was a good distance away, so I commuted by bike, which gave me another 1.5 hours per day of high intensity work outs. I was single, living simply and super healthy.

And looking back, there was a clear demarcation in 2008 when I started by current job. In 6 months, I was in grad school, in a committed relationship, no bike commute, out of the band in order to have time to study, and unable to make my yoga classes because of school and work events. In other words, it all stopped. And with the grad school came the student loans, and with the partner (who is now my husband, whom I love dearly) came moving in together, buying a car, and taking on more expenses. Without even knowing it, I was building the web of obligations that make so many of us feel like we’re stuck, without even realizing it or reflecting on what was happening.

But now that we’ve decided to deconstruct the web, the realization of all the sacrifices has been overwhelming. It’s no longer acceptable to me that when people ask, “what do you do for fun?” I freeze up and get all nervous because those fulfilling activities in which I used to partake are tucked away on some backburner that I can’t even find. I have to answer, “well, I serve on a lot of boards…? And… I like to go to arts things when I can…?” Ridiculous, Jessica Stern.

So as I drove to Tualatin today to meet my new CPA for my business, I was struck that my iPod, with the choice of over 5000 songs on shuffle, chose to play 3 songs in a row from R.E.M’s Automatic for the People. Ok, not only is that statistically unlikely, it must be a sign! I used to listen to that album ALL the time, when I listened to music, ALL the time. When things were simpler.

I think that if our entire trip fails and we get nowhere or have to come home, the very experiment of closing up shop and changing course has been a complete success. It’s allowed me to reflect, deeply, about the choices I’ve made over the last few years, and how those choices have guided my life without me really truly paying attention. I sort of let life take its course and now have realized, wait, I’m not doing the things that make me happy, that allow me to express who I am, this isn’t right!

While I never envisioned this travel adventure as a soul-searching mission, I can’t help but think that there will be a huge amount of self-discovery along the way. I do want to get back to the roots of who I am and who I want to be, and what better way to do that then to remove yourself from a static lifestyle and change it up? I’m so looking forward to the surprises, the unexpected, the new and the challenges. We really are seeking our fireflies, those things that give us light and inspiration, and hopefully as a result, I’ll understand how to live my life in a simple and tremendously fulfilling way.

Do you feel stuck? Do you feel like there was a simpler time? Did you have drastic changes in your life that led you away from your essence?