“The key?” Christina said, holding a comb in the air. A group of Arizona State sorority sisters huddled around our pretty blonde Social Chair while preparing for a party. I anxiously anticipated Christina’s next words as if they were the formula to a 1.5” thigh gap.
“The lift.” With wide eyes we watched as she aptly teased our friend’s hair, pulled a straight section over it and then lifted the hair below with the end of the comb as if fluffing a couch pillow.
The final result was gravity-defying volume with a smooth finish, matching her own signature tease.
Finally I knew her secret.
8 Years Later
Hail fell outside Christina’s Dallas office, i.e. the perfect new home for her pouf. Three college jobs, leadership roles and working her ass off since age 15 had landed her the position of Assistant Vice President of a Mortgage Underwriting Department by the age of 25, and she quickly climbed the corporate ladder from there.
The only problem was that she didn’t know it was hailing.
In fact, a nuclear apocalypse could be occurring, but all she saw were the same four office walls from sunrise to nightfall.
How Is She Doing This?
Admiration, curiosity and mild jealousy led to stalking Christina’s travel photos over the past 4 months. Photos of Dallas bars and restaurants had been replaced with exotic locations from rice fields to waterfalls.
“How is this girl traveling the world?!” I couldn’t help but wonder as I scrolled through Facebook and Instagram.
So on Saturday morning I asked her this very question over Facetime. She was curled up in her Dallas apartment which she has recently reclaimed after renting it out on Airbnb. Neither of us wore makeup. My hair was braided and hers was pulled back with a maroon knit beanie.
Christina’s smile was the same one I had last seen 7 years ago but something was different. In an effort to discover just what made her even more Girl Crush-worthy since graduation, an interview began that uncovered 7 lessons learned from quitting her job and traveling the world.
7 Things She Learned from Quitting Her Job and Traveling the World
1. Work to feel fulfilled
“I came to a point where I realized I was 29 years old and didn’t find a purpose anymore. It was becoming extremely draining to go to work with people who accepted misery as part of their daily job,” Christina explained.
We can all relate to the defeated feeling of asking co-workers how their day is only to hear back sarcasm-laced responses like “living the dream!” She figured it was simply the price you pay for a sizable salary.
Until one day she realized no number was worth the negativity.
“I thought, ‘I don’t want to work for a seat to fill. I want to work to feel fulfilled,’” Christina said. “And I realized nothing is going to change unless I make the change.”
July 1, 2015 marked the last day of corporate work for Christina. “The moment I realized I was ready to quit my job, the biggest weight was lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t know what I would do exactly, but I would rather figure it out than live with gold shackles.”
2. It’s okay to have no plan
Does she regret her prior plan of climbing the corporate ladder? No, she views it as a necessary evil that allowed her to save for what came next: “The No Plan Plan.”
Starting with a one-way ticket.
“When you left Dallas, where did you think you were going?” I asked Christina.
“I just thought, ‘I’m going to go to Bali with my friend Catherine and see where it takes me.’”
Bali led to Thailand which led to a trip to visit her dad in Japan and then…
- South Africa
By luck, fate and the power of Facebook, she always had someone to travel with along the way – or at least a destination.
“I didn’t have a timeframe or a deadline. If I had everything booked I wouldn’t have been able to go to Vietnam,” Christina said. She was invited on a Thursday and booked her ticket the next morning. “It was nice to go destination by destination because you never know who you’ll meet along the way.”
3. The grass always looks greener
“I felt like I was in a dream,” Christina recalled when I asked her which travel memory stood out to her the most over the past 143 days. She and her friend Drew were in Vietnam where a Hmong woman invited them to lunch.
The woman’s home sat on a beautiful rice field surrounded by majestic scenery. Though she spoke very little English, Christina immediately felt a deep connection.
“It was kind of a mind fuck,” Christina admitted. “I was looking at this woman’s life and thought it was so free and beautiful. And she looked at my life and wanted the job I had quit. You’ll always want what you can’t have.”
Language wasn’t needed for Christina to realize something life-changing. “Part of understanding yourself is seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes,” she said with misty eyes.
4. Awkward is awesome
“Bathroom experiences,” Christina admitted when I asked about her most awkward travel moments. “I can’t squat for the life of me; I peed on my foot every time.”
From camping in Africa where the bathroom consisted of a shovel and roll of toilet paper to plenty of holes in the ground, it was clear she was no longer in a high-rise Texas condo.
“In Vietnam I was walking 10.5 miles with no bathroom so I had go down a hill to pee. Of course I peed on my foot, and it had rained the day before so when I stepped back, I slipped and fell on my ass down the hill.”
The bright side? “Awkward moments are the best because they take you out of your comfort zone.”
5. We’re all the same
“It’s really beautiful to see how heavily other cultures rely on tourism – not just because they need it to help their economy, but also because they really want to open people’s eyes to their culture,” Christina told me. “And to show that they’re not a second or third rate culture.”
Along her travels she’s met many strangers. At first it might seem safe to assume that there would be no common ground, but Christina quickly learned otherwise while witnessing “humanity in its purest form.”
“We are all the same but different. Despite your culture, religion, political views, we’re all people. We all love and hurt and cry and have fun. And everyone just wants to be accepted somewhere.” Christina added, “By me understanding them, I learned more about myself also.”
6. You are capable of more
“Bottom line: I learned that I am capable of much more than I ever thought,” Christina said in response to what she learned about herself.
“Towards the end of everything I had an intense moment,” she said. “I realized I was never comfortable with my body. I wore all that makeup. I think I had an eating or drinking problem. I was in relationships that weren’t healthy. I really struggled to figure out who I was and how to be happy.”
My mind flashed back to our Pi Phi Social Chair with the perfect cat-winged eyeliner and curled hair. I began to see what had changed.
“At the end of all of this I feel the most beautiful I’ve felt in my entire life because I’m happy and now all those things are secondary to me.”
There was an authenticity so great I couldn’t help but smile as I recorded the answer.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be eating caterpillars or going swimming in an African river or skydiving or sand boarding. That girl was never me.”
“I’m a rain dancer now!” Christina exclaimed. “I love dancing in the rain and being gross for days. I’ve traveled in the most unfitting accommodations – hot buses and canoes. I had never camped before. Really camped. I realized I am capable of much more.”
7. How to find yourself
Now as I looked at Christina across Facetime, I watched her adjusting a cotton beanie instead of lifting teased hair. With great admiration and anticipation I awaited her answer to what quitting her job and traveling the world ultimately taught her.
“Putting myself out of my comfort zone is where I have found myself truly being the most comfortable,” Christina concluded.
Finally I knew her secret.
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