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The risk of an unlived life

I was 20 years old the first time I moved across the country. I’d lived in Texas my whole life and had only been out of state a couple of times. For years, I’d dreamed the small-town cliche dream of moving to New York City, but without any money or connections there, I decided on it’s opposite – a laid back beach town in Florida. White sand, happy people, sunsets on the beach. I was just a 12 hour drive from my hometown in Texas, but it felt like a whole new world.

A year later, I was living in San Francisco. I’d decided to go to art school and wanted to see the other side of the country. Some good friends of mine were nice enough to let me sleep on their couch until I found my own apartment, which I eventually did – a $1200 a month studio with a rooftop deck. I could barely afford food, much less the bus, so I spent my days walking to and from work, happier than I’d ever been. I felt alive in San Francisco, like I could do anything, be anybody, live whatever kind life I wanted to live.

I was back in Texas by the time I turned 22. I was broke and missing my family, so I came home to figure out Plan B (or C or D, who can keep track?) I couldn’t afford any of the art schools I’d been accepted to and was frustrated, but determined to live life on my own terms. My family couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to stay in Texas and kept saying things like “why don’t you just go to a community college and get your basics?” And I kept saying things like “it’s as if you don’t know me at all.”

Then I realized : while I was thinking of “getting my basics” as a ridiculous waste of time, they were thinking of all my moving and trying new things to be a waste of time. To them, trying and failing at something new and exciting was worse than taking the path of least resistance and living an easy, basic, “normal” life. To me, failing at something new and exciting was a learning experience – something that would help me figure out where I should go and what I should try next. I’ve never backed down from a challenge and have always tried to find my own way to do things, to think outside the box, to do whatever think works best for me, not to do what everybody else thinks is best for me. Moving across the country twice in two years may have seemed crazy from the outside looking in, but to me, it was transformative. To everybody else it seemed like two bad ideas that didn’t work out, but to me it felt like two amazing life experiences that made me a more confident and independent person. I knew I had learned more from those two “failures” than I would have learned in two full years of community college, but nobody else seemed to get it.

For the longest time, I wondered why people thought of me as crazy, impulsive and risky. To me, risk takers were jumping out of airplanes or climbing Mt. Everest. All I wanted to do was travel a little, live in new places and see what else was out there, outside the small town I had spent my entire life stuck in. Antsy, yes, but crazy? Risky? Not even close. I got good grades in school, started working when I was 15, never slept around, smoked or drank or did drugs. I was never much of a trouble maker, unless you count my fondness for colorful language. But then I realized all those things that I thought were “risky” – smoking, drinking, drugs – those are all things that people can relate to, things everybody does or tries. What people can’t relate to is trying something new, doing things in a way that’s unusual, refusing to sit at a desk for years to learn things that aren’t important just so that you can get a job sitting in another desk for the rest of your life. Everybody is so used to doing what everybody else is doing, they see any deviation from the norm as crazy. Working a shitty job that you hate is so commonplace, nobody would ever call you crazy for not quitting. But it is crazy. It is FUCKING CRAZY to work a shitty job that you hate! People stay in marriages that aren’t working, careers they aren’t passionate about, cities they don’t love because all of those things are considered normal. Why aren’t the things that make us unhappy considered “risky?” We only have one life. Do you want to risk wasting it because you were too afraid to step outside the box every now and then?

I keep saying this trip we’re going on is “risky,” but it’s not. It’s just us, living our lives the only way we know how – happily and on our own terms. We hope to be on the road for six months this year, seeing our country and showing our kids just how big our world is. If our plans change or we end up broke and back in Texas, trying to figure out Plan D (or E), who cares? Life is for living, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to risk wasting another minute of it.


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