Guest submission by Sunita Legallou
Ever found yourself googling phrases like: “What should I do with my life?” Yep, I’ve been there. I am there. But I’m lucky enough to have friends like Alla Guelber, whose Meaningful Work Project was so inspiring that I asked if I could share my own meandering story.
SO THIS IS WHERE I STARTED
Like many twenty-somethings these days, I had finished university and been working a professional gig for several years when I started to hear the siren song of “something more”. Outwardly, I already had a lot: a flexible and decently paid job, good friends, jam-packed social calendar, and tons of hobbies and interests.
But I also watched three of my bosses go on stress leave. I myself had symptoms of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that led me to cram in activities, though I was becoming more and more physically tired. Secretly, I longed to have time to just waste, but my calendar seemed to be full by Monday. Besides, it was filled with people and activities that I loved: who was I to complain about abundance, anyways?
I SMELL BURNING TOAST
I liked my job, and my career was important to me – the years invested in University and the workforce had made it a central part of my identity. But other, equally important, parts of my life weren’t getting enough time or attention. I loved the outdoors and the arts (I had been painting and writing since childhood), but I knew I was approaching burnout when they stressed me out instead of energizing me. I wanted to go on ski trips, but I also slightly dreaded them, especially the part when I came back exhausted on Sunday night. As for art and writing, even when I carved out a few hours, I often couldn’t bring myself to sit back down at a desk.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
I had some money saved, planning to do something really responsible like put a down payment on a condo or go back to grad school. But I couldn’t stomach the thought of school at this point, and I wasn’t ready to commit to living in my hometown. Instead, I took an unpaid leave of absence from my job and accepted a not-quite-minimum-wage gig at a heli ski operation.
In December of 2011, I moved out to the small remote community where the lodge was based. I wasn’t a particularly badass or experienced backcountry skier, but I figured I would surround myself with those kinds of people and go from there.
The next part of this story is very personal, but I don’t want to leave it out. Shortly after I arrived, my father was killed in an accident. Although I loved him very much, we had a complex relationship not easily summed up in clichés. His death, along with other personal difficulties that coincided that winter, sent me into a tailspin of depression and confusion, at the exact time when I had separated myself from my support network. Not really knowing what to do, but unwilling to turn tail and run back to my old life, I stuck out the remainder of the season.
After dealing with the estate in the spring, I found myself at somewhat loose ends. I had no job and nowhere in particular to be, but I was restless and craving sunshine. Fortunately, whenever I asked myself what I wanted to do (today, next week, in June), the answer was always immediate and simple: play outside.
I loaded up my station wagon with camping and outdoor gear, adding homey touches like Velcro curtains so I could sleep in the back. A friendly community of like-minded individuals springs up every summer around the climbing haven of Squamish and the surf town of Ucluelet, and I rattled happily between the two.
And had I done any art or writing during any of this? Hardly. My hopeful notebooks were still blank as fall drew near, so I started to make plans to go to Berlin, that world-class creative capital.
So how does a former cubicle-dweller reinvent herself as an artist and a writer? Simple. Rent an apartment, buy some canvas, and crack the laptop. Blessed with time and privacy, I spent the next few months amassing a portfolio and a rough novel draft. A natural introvert, I dabbled in Berlin’s famous nightlife but focused more on my work and the handful of close friendships I was building.
I was trucking through expat life in Berlin, keeping an eye on the savings I’d earmarked to fund a six-month stay, when I realized I had a lot of momentum going on. I was still working on my novel, sharing it chapter by chapter with a writers group. I had built a website to showcase my artwork and set my sights on joining or organizing a physical exhibit. Although I had been away from home for over a year, I still wasn’t ready to go back.
STATE OF THE NATION
So here we are at the middle of the story, where past tense turns into present. I am writing this from Berlin, where I plan to remain at least six more months. Like most young artists, I’ll be pulling in some combination of freelancing, bartending gigs, parental aid and work for friends. It’s a far cry from my nice secure cubicle, with both up and downs. I love the creative work, full stop, and I’m falling more in love with the city every day. But the existence is tenuous and I know I won’t be here forever, making it hard to put down roots.
Great question. I still feel like there’s something “more”, and I still struggle to articulate what that is. Certainly it will involve giving back. I feel very privileged to have been born into the country and the family that I was, not because I was handed wealth but because I always had freedom.
The past year hasn’t dropped any magical answers into my lap, but I don’t regret not having that down payment anymore. I got to do what I loved, just for me and no other reason. And that’s what meaningful is – to do it for the love of it. I like the quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Visit Sunita’s website at http://sunitalegallou.com