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  • Gizem Cetgin

What it is like to quit your job to travel around the world and a pandemic hits: lessons for all

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Black Balsam, NC | April, 2020

Christian and I have been planning an around the world trip for about a year and a half. It has been the common goal that brought us closer, testing our teamwork skills, warming our hearts with the dreams of cruising free, and becoming a substantial milestone to take a leap of faith in our careers. Yet, it was something we could wrap our minds around and create different strategies to face the best and worst-case scenarios. In less than three weeks, it’s turned into an incomprehensible and fear-ridden mess and we haven’t even started facing full blown outcomes yet.

Imagine you’ve waited years and saved money to give yourself the freedom to experience different cultures, make spontaneous plans, visit your childhood dream places. When people ask you what you expect from this trip, you answered: “I want to learn how to be present in the face of constant change (only referring to country-hopping and just minor uncertainties like missing a flight or something like that) and just do whatever my heart desires.” Then, you unknowingly picked a time a global outbreak emerged in an unprecedented fashion. Now, you find yourself with no home, no income without any hope to travel soon. If this is not funny and tragic at the same time, I don’t know what to call it! It is tragic because the hours of hard work and the dreams vanish in a snap. It is funny because it is a clear manifestation of the cosmic joke that life seems to operate with at all times: you make plans, and life has its own plans for you. In our countless best/worst case scenario of budget/time planning, we could never imagine something like this, and that’s exactly why the journey became that much more interesting and exciting.

If you think it sucks for us, I’d like to let you know that it is all good. It is more than good in fact; it seems like our intentions to face uncertainty to grow personally are rewarded exponentially. I can’t think of a grander obstacle aka an opportunity to learn how to anchor myself, manage my emotions, and adapt rapidly. I can’t think of a better situation to be present without letting fear take over and incapacitate me from being able to make beneficial decisions and contributions. I can’t think of a more acute scenario to get out of our scarcity mindset and be resourceful, not only for ourselves but for others.

Your situation might be different than ours: you probably still have your job but are worrying that you may lose it or you already faced the negative consequences of virus spreading. I don’t claim to understand what you are experiencing, but I’d like to offer some thoughts that I hope can be helpful. Several lessons are emerging from this seemingly negative and fearful situation and I think they apply to all of us:

If we choose, we can learn to live our lives more balanced.

I read that the use of mediation and breathing apps like HeadSpace and Buddhify are growing. There is always an unknown or some type of risk in our lives. Failure to know how to face uncertainty causes anxiety for a lot of us. Unaddressed anxiety and stress combined with the demanding work schedules turn into more serious consequences like depression or other mental illnesses (1 in 5 adults in the US has some type of mental illness). With the recent rise of cognitive behavior therapy, CBT, (in a nutshell, CBT is a technique based on recognizing and interrupting unhelpful thinking patterns and replacing them with more helpful ones), yoga, mediation, and other wellness tools, we started uncovering alternative ways to face everyday stress. Now, coronavirus news is pushing us to adopt these tools swiftly. We are in our homes, being urged to look within, listen to our body, and face familial conflicts that may have been hidden by distractions. We are forced to pause and recognize that our mental health is equally as important as our physical health. If we start caring about having the time to reflect and connect within and without, to ultimately be a happier, more balanced and productive individual, we can create a much more fulfilled society: not only in material wealth but in emotional and spiritual wealth as well.

If we choose, we can emerge on the other side stronger.

This dire situation is forcing us to choose our response: we can choose fear and get lost in despair, or we can choose resilience, unity, and focus on solutions. It is also urging us to stop and reflect on our values and priorities. It is mirroring what we have become; “me” centric rather than “us”, and the pressing need for that to shift. We are social beings who thrive in collaboration and love. If the majority of us recognize this situation as an opportunity to tend to the imbalance and start sharing, we could come through this stronger and more human than ever.

If we choose, we can be more innovative & creative than ever.

My heart goes to everyone who doesn’t have any safety net to face incredibly difficult outcomes. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have kids at home, having lost a job, or being a small business owner who can’t pay their employees. That being said, we are resilient creatures. Time after time, we’ve faced misfortune, disaster, disruption. What makes us human is our extraordinary ability to adapt, pivot, and innovate. We are creative by default and challenges fuel our creativity. There might be a period when we have less, we are in debt, or we let go of our possessions. But, we can and will create something new and rise like a phoenix from the ashes- like we always do.

My fellow humans, the best thing we can do right now is to be a leader by modeling groundedness, hope, and resilience. I invite you to be a light for someone at work, in your community or even in your family. It is an immense relief to hear “it will be ok” or “we will manage this together”. Please remember that nothing is as it seems. A disaster brings growth and learning alongside it. Difficulties are interwoven in the fabric of life and all we can do is to ride the challenging waves. Finally, I want to leave you with the affirmation that I repeat to myself several times a day: Do not despair and raise your spirit for that it is needed more than ever.

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