Reflecting on What I Learned Abroad
It’s been three months since I returned from my trip, but it feels like a lifetime ago! It’s hard to believe I spent an entire 5 months abroad. It feels like a blur. Many of my friends compared my trip to the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” starring Julia Roberts who goes on a solo trip around the world to “find herself” and has several life revelations. My trip wasn’t like that at all. My lessons were much more subtle. I didn’t have an earth-shattering realization that I am worthy of the love I’d been denying myself or have a whirlwind romance with a charming Kiwi man. None of that happened. I DID learn to be more patient – with myself and others – and to relinquish control. So many things went awry on my trip and I soon learned it was futile to try to control them. As soon as I gave up and went with the flow, life got easier. I’ve tried to incorporate that lesson into my daily life.
Another important lesson I still implement daily is to embrace routine. I used to HATE being bored. I’d suffer through my work week and try to fit as many activities into my weekend as possible. If friends cancelled or events fell through, I’d be crushed. There was nothing that made me feel more pathetic than sitting at home alone on a weekend night. I always thought being active was an attractive quality, but I was TOO active, and it certainly was a point of tension between me and my ex-boyfriend. He enjoyed “mutual productivity” time during which we would be physically in the same room, but quietly working on separate projects. He also loved quiet movie nights at home. I was the opposite. I would ask, “What’s the point of being together if we aren’t even talking or hanging out?” Oh, how wrong I was in retrospect!
I now try to embrace the slow moments in life. I wake up a little bit earlier than required so I can sip coffee and journal. I patiently wait at red lights, observing the world around me, instead of gripping the wheel like a maniac and urging the light to change. If I have a weekend night with no plans, I relax. I make myself a nice dinner and watch a show that makes me happy. So often I am rushing from the gym to work to social obligations – I never have the chance to just… chill. It’s not glamorous or exciting, but I feel like a much more mellow person. I now see the beauty in spending time watching a movie with someone you love. Not every moment has to be filled with voice and noise.
A New Chapter in Portland
My original plan was to take it slow. I wanted to spend a bit of time enjoying unemployment and having free time to do summer activities with friends. I never planned to jump into a new job, but it fell into my lap.
Before leaving on my trip, I had introduced myself to the owner of a paleo meal prep company in Portland. She invited me in for an interview, but I had to postpone due to my trip. A week after returning, I saw she had posted a new kitchen position. If I waited until I was “ready,” I feared it would already be filled, so I applied. She remembered me and invited me in for two interviews. They both went well and I was offered the job. My dream job! I could finally work in a kitchen making food I felt passionately about. No dairy, grains, or sugar! The only downside was that I had to sacrifice pay, an odd work week (Friday through Tuesday), commute (an hour in traffic!!!), and lack of health benefits, but I figured those would change with time. I was told I’d be working half of my hours at the retail location near my apartment. I was also told there’d be a raise at my 60-day review and the possibility of them offering benefits, but those were minor details. It felt like my life was finally falling into place. I was following my passion!
I loved the first few weeks. There was definitely a steep learning curve. I have never worked in a professional kitchen before. I usually don’t peel my vegetables before I cook them. I’ve certainly never made meatballs with Cream of Tartar! But I loved soaking up the knowledge. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions. There were two other newbies who also lacked kitchen experience. I made fast friends with one of them, but she only worked part-time, so I rarely saw her.
Even though the menu changed each week, I wasn’t actually doing the cooking. I was doing the prep work. So each week, I’d peel carrots, chop zucchini, and julienne onions. Then, I’d spend an two hours rolling meatballs by hand. On good days, I’d get assigned to follow a recipe and make paleo muffins or cupcakes (like above!), but that was rare. This monotonous work was tolerable, but what pushed me to reconsider my new job was the lack of direction. There were no procedures or organization in place. Each day there was a “prep list” posted by the owner/head chef. I’d easily work my way through chopping all the vegetables, but then I’d get to items like “Paleo BBQ Sauce” or “Mocha Chia Pudding.” I had no clue how to make these things. There were no written recipes. The managers simply made them by taste. I’d try asking one of the managers how to make it, but I would be blown off and told to do something else. I finally reached a point where I wasn’t learning anything new and no one would take the time to teach me. The worst was when they would give me a chance, but my only instruction was to “use intuition.” How could I use intuition to make something I never had before?! Whenever I took the plunge and tried, I’d mess up and get scolded anyway. There was no way to succeed.
I was also tired of living in poverty! I was barely making above minimum wage and only getting 30 hours/week when I was promised 40. The only thing that kept me from losing money at this job was that I got endless free food! I no longer had to buy groceries, so that was an extra $350 in my pocket each month. Otherwise, it was a drag not being able to put much in savings and also never seeing my friends. My days off were Wednesdays and Thursdays, but they obviously have to work those days. Plus, being on my feet all day was exhausting, so I rarely wanted to hang out after work. I felt like a hermit. I didn’t even cook at home anymore. My passion was dead.
I took a long look at my situation and realized I wasn’t happy. I know new jobs have an adjustment period, but things weren’t getting better. They were getting worse. There was a sense of hostility and blame in the kitchen. A few of my coworkers already had quit and others were looking for new jobs. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t fulfilled. So I quit.
I don’t regret taking the job in the kitchen. I don’t feel like I failed. It was a learning experience and I learned that it’s not the job for me. If I hadn’t put myself out there and tried, I would have always wondered, “what if…?” and that’s never a good way to live life! Being a Type A perfectionist, I’m inherently afraid of failure. But look at me now! It didn’t work out and I survived anyway. I hope to use this courage as I go forth.
I’m going to continue applying to jobs, likely in the administration/office management field since that’s where I have experience and can get a decent salary, but I’m not in a rush. I felt pressured to find a great job that offered healthcare before I turned 26, but it didn’t happen. I had to buy it from the marketplace despite my fears of doing so, but it turned out okay. Now I have no pressure or deadline to find a job. I can be as picky as I want to be!
If I am still unemployed in September, I’ll fly out to New Orleans and meet my parents for their train trip to San Antonio. It’s been awhile since I’ve been on the rails! Of course, if I find a great job before then, I’ll have to stay in Portland to work, but either way its a win-win situation.
In the meantime, I am focusing my energy on fitness and nutrition. During my trip I gained a whopping 20lbs (looking back on the Italian pastries, New Zealand ice cream, and Greek cocktails, its no surprise!) and it took awhile for me to come to terms with that. But you know what? It’s OKAY. This was a trip of a lifetime. I’m glad I got to indulge. I lost a lot of weight last fall and I know I can do it again.
I’ll update when I find a new job! I only have 3 requirements: adequate pay, a commute of 10 minutes or less, and not a start-up!