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?

Taking the Leap


Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of planning a 2 month ‘sabbatical’ to travel in West Africa, my husband learned that his employer pulled a switcheroo and decided that they wouldn’t guarantee his job when we got back from our travels. It could have been an incredibly frustrating moment, because our original intent when we decided to take a trip over a year ago was to take a gap year; but we came to the conclusion we didn’t want to come back without the security of everything we currently have. So we settled on taking a much shorter trip in exchange for the comfort and stability of coming home to our stuff, our jobs, our normality. Sound familiar?

But instead of getting frustrated that we could have been planning something much different, it was a poignant moment for us, and one that I think we needed to push us to where we are now – taking a leap outside that normality; and banking on the prospect that insecurity could lead towards a stability we haven’t experienced.

Woah, let me explain and provide some context. I have a travel bug. That’s an understatement; I have an insatiable desire to see and experience the world and the wanderlust never goes away. As a nonprofit arts administrator, i.e. someone without a lot of financial means, I translate my lack of cash-flow and ability to pick up and wander, to the joy of experiencing and appreciating all things cultural in my own environment. Thus, you can imagine, working in the arts and culture community is a pretty good fit. The job is stressful, but over the course of my four years doing it, I’ve built an incredible professional network, a variety of experiences and skills, and a deep appreciation for the creativity of my community. Why should I want to leave? There’s just something about this life that’s been a little too rigid, too tightly controlled; honestly I feel trapped by my own creation of work-life arrangements.

Enter my wonderful husband, Jon. Jon’s a family crisis counselor working at a nonprofit. We work incredibly hard for our jobs, and like most people in our income brackets, just try to carve out the moments beyond the 9-5 that fulfill our personal selves. Like so many people, our student loans, car payments, bills and obligations make that carving somewhat of a challenge each month.

It seemed that in order to make it all work, to hold all the pieces together, to maintain our responsibilities, there was no way on earth we could afford to take a year trotting off.

And that’s where the blessing entered in ravishing disguise. See, we’d hit a point where we weren’t moving forward. We were just continuing to carve out those small moments, and not understand why we couldn’t save enough money to ever get close to buying a house, or paying off the student loans, or really enjoying the amazing place in which we live. We realized we were already going to be coming back from our trip to the same grind, but now with the stress of having to find work for Jon, so maybe it was time to envision something else. Maybe we didn’t have to subscribe to the live-to-work or work-to-work mentality that keeps us at offices, away from family and friends, with ultimately not a lot to show for it (not including my unsatiated need to see the world).  Why should we be bound to obligations we created for ourselves in the first place? If we created a life where we had higher bills, couldn’t we deconstruct that life and change the playing field?

While recently reading The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander, as recommended by a friend, Zander made a point that if you’re getting frustrated with the way the game is played, then make your own rules.

And that’s what we’re doing. Ultimately, Jon and I realized we haven’t been happy with our lives. We have a great set up, but there’s something that’s been missing. So instead of assuming that somewhere, somehow, with that better job or that key ingredient to “success” that we must be missing, we’re changing the rules, our rules.

We’re taking the leap; and I can’t remember the last time we felt so free, like the world really is our oyster (can we say clams? I don’t really like oysters to be honest). As of December, we’ll both be jobless (except for some bubblings of freelance work and other goodies, more on that soon), homeless, agenda-less and culture-bound. The best part is that if it doesn’t work, well, we just come home.

So this blog is for all of you who don’t have a stash of money somewhere; who don’t have a ton of savings or a trust fund, but who want something different from those that that say there are only a few ways to really ‘make it’ in this world. I can’t say that it’s for those that want something more, because really, this is about finding what’s enough; what’s enough to hit that sweet spot of fulfillment.

I look forward to sharing our travel experiences as we wander. I also look forward to your advice, feedback and thoughts.