Guest submission by Sunita Legallou
Ever found yourself googling phrases like: â€œWhat should I do with my life?â€ Yep, Iâ€™ve been there. I am there. But Iâ€™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 â€œsomething moreâ€. 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 â€“ 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 werenâ€™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 couldnâ€™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 couldnâ€™t stomach the thought of school at this point, and I wasnâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 donâ€™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 clichÃ©s. 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 Berlinâ€™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 Iâ€™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 wasnâ€™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, Iâ€™ll be pulling in some combination of freelancing, bartending gigs, parental aid and work for friends. Itâ€™s a far cry from my nice secure cubicle, with both up and downs. I love the creative work, full stop, and Iâ€™m falling more in love with the city every day. But the existence is tenuous and I know I wonâ€™t be here forever, making it hard to put down roots.
Great question. I still feel like thereâ€™s something â€œmoreâ€, 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 hasnâ€™t dropped any magical answers into my lap, but I donâ€™t regret not having that down payment anymore. I got to do what I loved, just for me and no other reason. And thatâ€™s what meaningful is â€“ to do it for the love of it. I like the quote by Howard Thurman: â€œDon’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.â€
Visit Sunita’s website at http://sunitalegallou.com