Geneva, Switzerland – It’s another Monday morning, and I’m not headed into the office – thank God! Rather I’m sitting in a bougeoius coffee shop in the heart of Geneva. Eating my Bircher muesli and drinking a creamy flat white, that came with an artfully formed heart stamped into the top. I have a hangover. The after effects of three days of drinking rose in the sweltering heat. My yearly jaunt here in July to celebrate my friend Aud’s birthday always puts a serious dent in my bank balance – which now after a year of not working is non existent – and eats a hole in my liver. A lives life to the full. Nothing is done by halves. Her birthday is a full blown affair that always tests my stamina. And compared to her, I have none. She has had little, if no sleep, over the last three nights, partying until 5am. I’ve managed to escape at 2am each of the three evenings out, and feel like death. All I want to do is curl up on a sun lounger in the shade and sleep. I was always old before my time, but now that I am getting old, weekends like this make me suffer. In fact, every year in the midst of the chaos, I vow to myself not to come next year. I just can’t do it. I’ve been saying that for five years now.
This year was harder than the last. I’ve changed, and everyone and everything around me is still the same, or worse. Last night we ended up at this high society bar on the edge of a Lake Geneva. The kind of trendy place with oversized white inflatable deck sofas and chairs. Girls so pretty and perfect you can’t discern whether they are prostitutes or just looking to trap a rich banker, which I guess amounts to about the same thing. The type of place where a cocktail costs three times what it would most anywhere else.
I tried to embrace the vibe. It was definitely the kind of place I’d have happily whiled away the hours at a few years ago. But I couldn’t drag myself into the ridiculousness of it all. All the glamorous people in their Gucci and Louis Vuitton sipping their way through magnums of champagne that would take the average family in a third world country two or three months of hard work to afford. I was conflicted. I liked this place. I liked staring at all the beautiful people. But it seemed so wrong at the same time. My friend Michael (said the American way and not like Michelle, as in France, even through he is French), leaned over to me and announced, “I’d love to own a place like this one day.” I was left speechless. I couldn’t help but think, “Really? A place as fake and soulless as this. Are you really my friend any more? How can we still be friends with such differing views?” I didn’t dare let any of these thoughts escape my mouth. It would be social suicide. And whilst in that moment I wasn’t sure these people could be my friends any more, I wasn’t ready to sever them from my life just yet either.**
Then it hit me again. That weird out of body like feeling that I was physically somewhere, but not spiritually. And like many times before in the last year, I couldn’t help but think, “Where do I belong? No one’s life looks like mine anymore.” Now it was worse. For the past year at least, I could define myself as a traveller. I was exploring the world. And it was easy enough to meet other travellers, although generally, they were 15 years younger than me. But at least I had a title, and a purpose. My travels ended two weeks ago, and I am now officially in no man’s land answering endless questions on what I was going to do next and what kind of job was I going to get.
Ah, I don’t want to get a job yet. I don’t want to be stuck in a 9 to 5 corporate job, spending my Monday mornings in pointless back to back meetings, with people I don’t like, to buy useless things I don’t need, or worse designer things I can find a substitute product for half the price. I don’t want to settle down anywhere either. I don’t want to be shackled to a flat in one specific city for any defined period of time.
My year out was supposed to help define some of these parameters. It feels hazier than ever. Or does it? I guess at least now I know two things I don’t want. I guess I’ve at least defined that I want to continue with a more nomadic lifestyle, for now, making a living through more non-traditional ways. That comes with complications. That life is out of the scope of reality for my network of friends and family. I’ve tested out my theoretical plans to a few people and their eyes just glaze over, “But yes, what work are you going to do to keep up this lifestyle?”
I haven’t the courage to explain I no longer desire hanging out in super chic bars sipping pink champagne in my Jimmy Choos. It’s like the idea of being a mother/wife with a family and two-story house, complete with white picket fence, 2.5 children, and a dog. I love the idea of that life too, and I look upon those who are living out that life with awe and slight envy, but I know deep down, neither of those lives would make me happy. A year of travelling did teach me that one thing at least. For the past 20 years, I’ve been trying to fit myself into the lifestyle of what the American Dream defines as the status quo – a successful career with a major corporate, a house, a husband, kids. I’ve been living the life I was force fed to believe I should want. I learned in my year out that what I really want, is exactly what I wanted as seven year- old – to travel the world and write for National Geographic.
I never wanted the status quo. I always wanted to do something different. Be someone different. But I was also the good girl. I wanted to please, so I always did what was expected of me. I guess that’s how I ended up divorced and miserable as an ex-marketing manager for an investment bank.
Now I see clearly the life before me that appeals. Travelling the world. Suitcase in hand. Floating between this residence and that. Sitting in coffee shops on Monday mornings. Writing. Doing odd jobs to pay the bills. Having time to ride my bike and to become a yoga master. This is hard though. It’s hard to break away from the status quo. People don’t like it. They need to be able to label you and put you in the appropriate cubby hole. They don’t want you to be able to make it work, so they make you feel like you’re just going through a phase. That you’ll come to your senses soon enough and get a ‘real’ job. And there you are, feeling like a square peg in a round hole. Unable to find anyone’s life that resembles yours.
Well, at least not in my social network. I have cousins pulling off the American Dream, or doing their best to convince the outside world that they are. I have friends who are single mothers with successful careers in finance and part-time boyfriends. And other amazing female friends who are single, but running their own businesses. My siblings are married. In fact, I’m the only one in my wider family not in a relationship. Two widowed relatives excluded. I look within my network and there is no one inside that is single, not working, without a home, and not pursuing a traditional 9 to 5 job. I love these people in my network, but I struggle to relate to them sometimes now. I need to find my people.
I’ve just paused in my writing, to contemplate the next train of thought, when I looked up from my iPad. Gazing around the coffee shop from my corner position on a sofa, I see them. My new people. They’ve been here beside me all along. Sitting at tables with their laptops. Working. I don’t see wedding rings on their hands. They aren’t in an office sitting through boring Monday morning meetings.So this is where they are, in coffee shops. Maybe I’m not so square after all.
**This is a flippant thought by the way. These individuals have been my friends for almost 20 years and although we may have become friends at a time when our lives were much more similar than they are today, we have remained friends through ups and downs, being miles apart, and often during long periods of silence. Underneath our exterior lives we share core values, shared experiences, and a deep kinship that I know if it has lasted this long, will last all of our days, no matter what. Love you guys to the moon and back! You’re the craziness that keeps me from becoming an ‘old fart’.