I grew up in the countryside of a small town called Westminster, Maryland. Looking at good ‘ol’ Westminster now, you wouldn’t believe that it used to just be a quaint ‘downtown’ with farming all around it. Growing up, Westminster was one of those towns where everyone knew everybody in one way or another. Reputations, good or bad, were distinguished by your last name and if you were one of the original Carroll County families. Most never leave, generation after generation, and that’s okay! The motto holds true, “It’s a great place to call home”. When I was young, my parents moved to Carroll County with hopes to buy some land in the country to raise my brother and I. To give us the best childhood they could. We were transplants, wanna be’s from the city who learned as we went. Seeing my parents adapting to country life I’m sure was hilarious for outsiders to see. Imagine a guy that lived on the outskirts of DC his whole life, driving a tractor for the first time and buying a big, green, diesel pick-up truck. Eventually as a family, we discovered a love for horseback riding, which truly became my passion growing up. My parents then cleared woods and built a small farmette on the property and they still live there today. I was very fortunate and will always be grateful. I was raised to be a strong independent woman, which is probably why I am where I am now. My parents challenged me, expected a lot, and honestly they
were kind of hardos growing up. My friends were actually scared of them, and I might have been too for that matter. They didn’t want me to make the same mistakes in life that they did. Like most kids, I was most fearful to hear those words, 'I'm disappointed in you.’ Scream at me, punish me, ground me, take away my phone… anything to avoid those four words. But, at the fear of disappointment, their high expectations and love, drove me to do better, to be better.
In retrospect, if I had the outlook on life that I do now, my appreciation for my small town upbringing would have been very different. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Beautiful rolling hills, lush woods, looking up at night sky and seeing nothing but stars. Calm and quiet. When I was a teenager, however, all I thought was how boring our town was and wanting to be anywhere but there. I spent most of my time, like most teens, trying to fit in with the cool crowd. Getting in and out of trouble, making a lot of poor decisions, feeling lost and searching. Things happening out of my control. I needed a fresh start. A place where no one knew my name, a place for a clean slate, a place where I could discover ‘me’. JMU was that place.
I remember when my parents dropped me off at school I was scared, tearing up when they left. It was only a 3 hour drive, but it was still a big deal in my mind. It was a different state! In those four years I was able to start anew. I had the away from home college experience and found ‘me’. I was happy, inspired and internally channeled JMU’s ambiance. Did I still make a lot of poor decisions in this path of self discovery? Obviously. Some I don’t even remember, which is terrifying. Did I have fun, probably too much fun? Yes. But, with all my bad choices, I made a lot of good ones as well. From week one I found my 'people'. My best friends to this day who again, challenged me to do better, to be better. I got a great education that was the stepping stone to open doors. Finally, like that old cliché, I found myself a husband (please insert a thick southern accent). Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t do the, fall in love and get engaged on graduation day thing. We did the long haul, 2 year engagement and 7 years of dating thing. Slow and steady. My husband and I did fall in love in college, as crazy as our story is for those of you who experienced it, but again, we needed to continue to find ourselves before we could find ‘us’. To this day, he challenges me to do better, to be better. Our closest friends all supported us and in their hearts, knew that eventually we’d get married.
After graduation, I moved back home, lived in my parents basement (yes, typical) and went straight into the ‘real world’. Steve on the other hand, decided to drop everything and go solo to Sri Lanka for a month. At this point, I hadn’t been many places in the US, yet alone another country. A country I'd never even heard of. I thought he was absolutely nuts. Moving back home after college, I was a different person. I was ‘me’. I was strong, I was driven, I had aspirations, I had goals. Most importantly, I surrounded myself with people who truly cared about me as much as I cared about them. As you all know, growing up you call everyone your friend or best friend. You then realize there is a difference between a ‘true’ friend and a friend that you go out with on a Friday night. And that’s fine! You should have people in your life to have a good time with, be that vibrant social butterfly! But discovering your ‘forever’ friends, your ‘true’ friends, post high school/college shows growth, shows that you know who ‘you’ are. These are my girls, my ‘forever’ friends, who challenge me to do better, to be better.
This year, 2013, began my love for traveling. My true life’s passion, to have experiences and create memories. It was my first trip out of the country. Holy cow! Did Steve take me to go soak up the sun at a beach somewhere? Not his style. We decided to go to Peru. Quite the maiden voyage I must say. But let me tell you, it was incredible. It’s still one of my favorite travel experiences to date. Peru truly opened my eyes to the world. It got me out of my small town bubble. To experience such a different culture, to witness awe inspiring ancient civilizations that were ahead of their time, to immerse yourself in a 3rd world country and its people, really brings about self-reflection. It inspired personal growth for me. I went home with a true understanding of how blessed and fortunate I am. How those little things that we get bent-outta-shape about, truly don’t matter. How the material things don’t matter. That we have so many opportunities in life, don’t let them pass you by. It reminded me to, most importantly, to stay humble and kind.
Over a year later of doing the distance relationship thing, Steve and I were at a crossroad. Do we call it quits, lick our wounds and move on? Or do we really see a future with each other and give it a shot? Screw it. I saved up some money, quit my job and took a leap of faith. My dog, Astrid, and I moved to Boston. I moved to a city where I knew no one except for Steve’s family and friends that I’d met over long weekends. I remember my mom asking me if I was really sure about this. Leaving home. Leaving my comfort zone. Leaving my friends and family. Taking my dog child. I knew I had to find out if this was my path, if this was the next step on my life’s journey. We moved in together into a small one bedroom in Southie and I took a job as a recruiter. Did I think I was cut out for that world? Hell no, but honestly it was the only job I could find. I was miserable. Long hours, hour + commute both ways, cold calling everyone and their mother, working in a dog-eat-dog environment. I would come home at night, salty as anything, not wanting to even have a conversation with anyone. This was not a healthy environment for me, I’d tear up driving home, thinking I was failing and was starting to lose ‘me’. But I was not a failure, I was strong, I wouldn’t give up. We parted ways and even the company knew I was unhappy and it was a poor fit. Instead of wallowing in my self pity, I decided to do something about it. I began applying and interviewing with companies I actually wanted to work for. Things I actually wanted to do. Places and career paths that I had a passion for, that I could grow with and that would challenge me to do better, to be better. I didn’t take the first offer that came my way. Don’t get me wrong it was a great company, but it didn’t feel right. Luck would have it, I found my fit. The people and the challenge of the job brought back my passion, my drive that I was losing.
Fast forward the next few years in my career. I moved into many different roles and worked with some amazing and inspiring women (and men, but mainly women). Women that worked hard, had a passion for merchandising, and some I would consider superwomen. Juggling not only a high stress job with huge expectations, some also had families. Regardless of the craziness surrounding us, these women remained positive and most importantly, kind. That is the woman I want to be when I grow up. When I am no longer ‘fake adulting’ as I like to say. A strong woman like my mother. Who managed both the demands of life and that of a family like a champ. I am still in awe that after working long and tiring hours as a nurse, she still cooked dinner every night and we sat down at the table and ate dinner as a family. No fast food, no TV dinners, only time together. A woman like my mother-in-law. A strong woman who ran the household, while her husband was working from sun-up to sun-down everyday and traveling for work to put food on the table. That is what I saw in the women I worked with. Strength, drive, compassion and love.
Did I love what I did? Yes. Discovering the link between analytics and the art of merchandising. Using both sides of my brain in harmony. I’d say I was actually pretty good at it. I had a purpose, a challenge, a Rubiks cube to solve, a journey with the product. Were there many days that I wanted to lose my mind due to silly round-about ways of doing things. You betcha. Did I agree with everything I was asked to do? Nope. Did I think about leaving from time to time? Who hasn’t, no company is perfect. Do I miss it? Yes. I thought I needed a break, something different, but now it’s what I miss the most. The people, the internal drive to prove myself, the art. But that’s life. There are many twists and bends on my journey, and you never know… I might be knocking on those big red doors again someday.
For years Steve tossed around the idea that he would like to move abroad. He’s a dreamer, always on to the next idea and can’t sit still. I’m the one reining him in, the realist. He got his MBA at BU at night school, while doing 60+ hour weeks and going through one of the hardest emotional tolls of his life. Through it all he remained the optimist, never letting the uncertainties of life diminish his dreams. The details are not my story to tell, but to this day I am inspired by him and those closest.
As I said, we were together for 9 years, engaged for 2 of those years, before finally getting married. We are the slow and steady type. No rush, just enjoying the now. We actually almost got secretly married just so we could travel to Thailand because our Common Law Civil Status wasn’t accepted by the airline authorities. Luckily it all worked out, because otherwise we’d have some pissed off parents. While I was planning and executing every Type A detail of our big day, Steve was looking forward as usual. I, on the other hand, was just trying to survive and not have a mental breakdown. He brought it up again, moving abroad as a Secondment with work. That and buying Worcester real estate. I literally thought he was out of his fucking mind. I’m over here trying not to cry openly from stress in front of his whole family at the kitchen table. He’s going on and on. Can’t we just focus on the wedding that is almost a month away? Everyone knew I was on my last nerve. Weddings bring out the best in people right haha. Jokes aside, it was the best day of my life so far. I truly married my best friend. Someone that will, no doubt, continue to challenge me to do better, to be better. Surrounded by our closest friends and family who love ‘us’. And don’t get me wrong, it was one hell of a party.
The kid doesn’t rest. What was he doing on our honeymoon? Chilling by the pool searching realitor.com for properties ha. No more than a week or so after the wedding, Steve brought up moving abroad yet again. This time, I knew he was 100% in if I was. It wasn’t just an exciting idea anymore. It was real. Having true international experience was a good long term career move for Steve. It was also an avenue to help us explore the world. To live out our passion for traveling, our dreams, to feel the thrill of adventure. To discover new places, experience new things, meet new and fascinating people with different outlooks than our own, to eat allllll the food. But quitting my job, legit leaving the country, diving into the unknown with no life vest. Wait, they speak German? Was I really cut out for this? Deep breathing away my fears, I agreed. Looks like we’re moving to Switzerland. Then we had to tell our parents…
It was official, we had a date. Moving in June with a July 1 start date. Steve’s family was easy. They each share the same passion for traveling. They just wanted to make sure we would eventually move home and wouldn’t leave forever. My family was a little less gung-ho on the idea. My brother thought it was awesome but had a million questions… none of which we even had answers for at that point. My mom was excited for us, but sad at the same time. Me moving even farther away from home, her not so secretly hoping to be a grandparent soon. We obviously weren’t on the same page. What she really wanted was for Astrid to stay. No chance! My dad thought we were out of our minds. That it was a poor financial decision. And guess what, he’s right! Financially, it isn’t the best decision. Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries to live in in the world. But to pass up this opportunity, would have been something we’d regret for the rest of our lives. You only live once, make the most of it. Don’t worry, Dad came around : ). He was just doing what a dad is supposed to do, look out for the best interests of his little girl.
Moving abroad isn’t a process that happens overnight. It was hectic, lengthy, with 1 million logistical things to figure out. Oh, and we couldn’t tell anyone at our jobs until it was finalized. Imagine going into work everyday, for months and months, still trying to give it your all and keeping a huge secret to yourself. I finally had to confide in my closest colleagues, and made them promise not to tell anyone. Everyone was super pumped and I told them that I’d be giving 3 months notice in February. I didn’t want to blindside my team with a 2 weeks notice. I care about their success, wanted to create an easy transition and only wanted the best for the company. The time came and I gave my lengthy heads up notice. A few weeks later, COVID hit.
I remember getting the email notice that the office was closing and that we would need to work from home. We were la-di-daing out of the office that Friday with a bag of immediate documents and our laptops. Not thinking much of anything. Actually secretly excited because we were never allowed to work from home before. Believing that oh, just a 2 week lockdown and we’re back. No big deal. Funny how naïve we all were. We couldn’t even fathom that this little thing was going to rock our world. Literally. 2 weeks turned into months of uncertainty. No family. No friends. Endless zoom meetings as our only social outlet. Just me, Steve and Astrid in our 890 sq ft condo. Trying to figure out how we can both be on calls at the same time, while sitting on top of each other at the dining table. Not even a year into marriage and I was trying not to go crazy. ‘Me’ time disappeared. Even morning yoga became an ‘us’ activity (continued to this day, but now enjoyed). What the hell is going on? My only ‘me time’ activity was running, the only thing that allowed us to be outside. And let me tell you, I logged more miles during COVID than I ever have in my entire life. Don’t worry Steve, I still love you.
There is no doubt that my experience during the beginning of COVID was a walk in the park compared to many others. I do not mean to make light of it. Please do not interpret my story that way. It was devastating for so many and still is today.
All of a sudden, our move was put on hold. The whole world shut down. No one knows what to think, how to move forward. Companies freeze everything, anticipating the worst. Switzerland became a giant question mark like everything else at that time. I remember feeling like a dog with its tail between its legs asking my boss if I could take back my resignation. Can you even do that? No one even batted an eye, they had bigger problems. We all did.
Another month of ‘weird’ went by, still no end in sight. At this point, most of my company had been furloughed. A word I had to Google because I’d never even heard of it before, yet alone became it. Things weren’t looking good for many people in the world. Job security was on everyone’s mind and the hard questions weren’t being answered. Then we finally got the answer we’ve been asking about, the answer we’d been dreading. My company had to do layoffs. Well over 20% of our corporate office was let go entirely. Most of the remaining people stayed furloughed. Full departments eliminated with one swift ‘X’ of the pen, everyone just a number. I was one of the numbers. I’d find out through the grapevine that another person I had the privilege of working with was also “no longer with the company.” Those strong, passionate, driven women and men that I spoke of earlier. Did it need to be done for our company to survive? Probably. Do I resent the decision whatsoever? No. I honestly feel sorry for the poor people that had to be the bearer of bad news, letting people go one by one. That takes a toll. A position I wouldn’t ever want to be in. I have empathy for those who lost their jobs, fearful of how to pay their bills and support their families. But life goes on, just another twist and turn on the journey. Many that I remained in contact with are happy with new careers.
Timing of my layoff actually panned out. It was summer in New England, Ahhhhhh (hands to god) and we were finally allowed to enjoy the outdoors. We spruced up the condo with a kitchen remodel and a fresh coat of paint. Keeping busy like everyone else. Seeing family and friends finaaaalllllyyyy. Masks and all. Feeling slightly human again, our new normal. Still waiting for any word of if we were still even able to move. Feeling like we were in this weird holding pattern in life. Yes, No, I don’t know. Homelessly house hopping and overstaying our welcome for sure. Our things were already on a boat across the ocean with everything else packed into family homes. The borders are still closed. Maybe August? It came and went. September? Not looking good. Then we got word that Switzerland was accepting visas again. The documentation was much more intricate than ever before with Steve’s company having to prove to the government his worth. We were moving at a moment's notice as soon as the visas arrived. No telling when the boarders would be shut down again. We were waiting on eggshells, booking and rebooking flights daily. They arrived in the nick-of-time and we were off. Giant suitcases, our whole world packed up. Just Astrid, Steve and I, on to our next adventure. The next step in our journey.
And here we are. Today. The now. We made it. Much of our time here has come and gone. Holy cow! The majority of that time was still in weird COVID land. Even through that, we’ve met some amazing people who have been so incredibly inclusive and kind. Teaching us so much and answering our million life questions. Speaking English and laughing at our attempts in German and interpretations of things. We are “The Americans” or “Das Americans” and I like it! The expat community here is so huge, most aren’t even ‘Swiss’ in Zurich. Through it all, we were fortunate enough to be able to begin exploring this gorgeous country and its breathtaking beauty. Ski slopes and outdoor activities were open even though everything else was shut down. So Swiss. But now, today, we are truly living again. Experiencing. Being. Feeling the closest to ‘free’ as we can be for the first time in a long time. It’s as if the whole world finally woke up from this nightmare. It’s finally my chance to explore. To take on the world with my 2 best friends (pooch included). To rediscover our passion, our drive, our motivation, our lives. To follow this path on our life’s journey.
Has transitioning and assimilating into a new culture been easy per say? I’d say it’s been a little bit of a rocky road. Getting situated, learning all new things, understanding the rules, etc. has been difficult at times. They are very rule-abiding here, which is so un-American. But, due to the fear of being yelled at in German, which has happened a few times, I do my best. We are still learning everyday. Understanding these things didn’t happen overnight and we still don’t have it down pat. The recycling system, for instance, is the most intricate, but effective, I’ve ever seen. Something we, as Americans, could learn from. European kitchen appliances... not easy. To this day I still only know how to use 4 of the 12 functions on the oven dial. But now it feels like we belong, that this is our Home (for now). Because “Home is where love resides, memories are created, and laughter never ends.”
My own personal uncertainties have existed for sure. Again, it hasn’t been a walk in the park emotionally. I’ve had times that I’ve felt lost, feeling like I don’t have that purpose and that drive that I had back home. Having difficulty finding a real job has been deflating. Rejection after rejection. Understanding that hiring an American that doesn’t speak the local language (even though everyone speaks English) isn’t a top priority for companies. It's expensive for them to employ us. Knowing that I can’t even work at a coffee shop or other little part-time options because of the language barrier. It’s beyond frustrating sometimes. For the past 10 months I've been hoping for a chance to prove myself. Hoping for that next interview. Sometimes I felt like I was failing. This is my truth, my self-reflection. It's been well over a year now unemployed. Ekkkk. Was it kind of nice at first? Sure, like a mini vacation. But now… it has lost its luster. I've kept busy though, which you wouldn’t think. Applying to new jobs everyday, puppy sitting during the week, exploring the city. Spending more time going to the grocery store than I ever have in my life. Tiny fridge Euro life. Steve has obviously been beyond supportive. He keeps telling me “it’s fine, stop pressuring yourself, we’re fine”. But I want to contribute more than just being a dog mom, to feel that drive again. What you are reading right now, this is where I've found it, that drive. In this pet project, this blog, telling my story, hoping to inspire others. And guess what, everything works out in the end. I finally received a job offer from a company I am truly excited to work for! Woohoo! An organization that shares my passion for creating cultural experiences through travel.
But what have I learned? Life never goes as planned. Experience it while you can. Find your passion, your drive, find ‘you’. That's why I’m writing this blog. To tell my story, my journey. To inspire others to tell their stories, to live life to its fullest, to remind people that there’s so much to experience in the world. Go on an adventure! But most importantly, I’m writing this blog for me. To remind myself that there’s more to a life’s purpose than work or being a wife or being a mom (dog mom included). But really, your purpose in life is that internal validation, that sense of self. It can’t be quantified or truly explained to anyone else. It is the feeling that you are being your best ‘you’. That you are happy and content with who ‘you’ are when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed at night. That person you are when no one is looking. That person who strives everyday to do better, to be better.