The Death of Remote Year

I was supposed to write this post three days (editing, because, ok, it’s been a week…) ago as the final one in my hour-long series. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. In between the events happening towards the end, the craziness going on back home that was constantly looming in my brain and the lack of time that I knew was lingering with this group of people who I could possibly never see again, I knew I wanted to save it for the plane ride(s) home (and, editing again, some feels a few days after it was all over). This post would take more than an hour, and I wouldn’t be able to truly capture what I wanted to within the time limit I had set for myself. So I’m doing it in parts; I figured it’d be more interesting that way. Plane ride, another plane ride, and a week post-plane. Let’s start at the beginning.

Buenos Aires, Argentina > Santiago, Chile

It’s the first travel day I’ve had in a year that I’m not slightly tipsy. Travel days have been a joyful occasion with Remote Year. All the logistics were in the hands of our program leaders; all of the booze was in ours. Today?

I’ve got a Remote Year hangover. One so bad, I don’t think I could possibly drink.

*Two hours later* [Ok, except for this bloody mary in the lounge at the Santiago airport.] This was the best lounge we all went to as a group all year. The ingredients for bloody marys are scarce in South America (V8 should really whip out a campaign) and the last memory I have here was with a huge group during our layover. A ton of us, Priority Passes in hand, took over this orange, champagne-self-service lounge. We screamed at the thought of tomato juice existing on this continent. As we sipped on that sweet, sweet nectar, we all looked over to discover even more of our tribe walking into the same lounge – a ton of the Remote Year staff, many of whom we were all close to, waltzed in on their layover to another continent. We all smirked, hugged, and thought,

“Wow. This is funny and weird but also, not weird at all.”

It’s a good thing I’m currently voiceless, or else I probably wouldn’t be so engaged and shut off to the world around me in the airport lounge. I’m typically outgoing and like to talk to people that are around me, especially in new places – I think the feeling of loneliness gets to me, and being an extrovert has always served me well in these cases. However, after the last week of partying, yelling, crying, day after day after day – yeah, my body and my voice have given a big, “SCREW YOU!” to me. And alas, I sound like Fran Drescher after smoking three packs of ciggs. So I’m trying to save my voice, but I also could give less shits about being social right now. I’m drained.

I’m sitting in this lounge, tucked away in my own world; hibernating in an unwelcoming chair, headphones in, laptop out – all the ways I’ve sometimes felt working out at an unfamiliar gym:

“Please don’t talk to me. I’m sweaty, I’m emotional, I’m watching this episode of Food Network’s Chopped as I attempt to run off the mac and cheese I made for dinner last night, and I really don’t care that you like the stupid phrase on the tank top I’m wearing that I actually bought from a Goodwill 4 years ago.”

As I wrote before, I’m unexpectedly going home for a funeral. While there is never a good time for funerals and death and the impending darkness that we often think about as humans (oh, just me?), it’s a really bad time for two deaths at once. The one of my grandmother, and the one of a period of my life that has suddenly come to an end.

One death planned, one death unexpected, both an enormous amount of pain, guilt, and confusion.

You wouldn’t think anyone who traveled the world for a year would be, could be, this stressed out, sad, ecstatic – emotionally unavailable and exhausted, mentally drained and disordered, genuinely unsure of almost everything going on in their life.

And yet, I am.

Ikigai, the name that was given to our Remote Year group, is a way of living. It’s a Japanese ideal; four things in life that all come together and meet in the center, like some sort of perfect venn diagram (seriously, the symbol is this cool 4-way venn diagram):

What do you love?

What are you good at?

What does the world need you for?

What can you get paid to do?

Your Ikigai is the reason that you wake up in the morning.

My friend Lucy said it very well in her own post:

People who go on Remote Year aren’t happy. 

These people that I’ve met and bonded with are undoubtedly talented, kind, smart, humble, and very special human beings. But they were not happy. Neither was I.

We were all discontent. Something was missing. Something needed to change.

My Ikigai is still out there somewhere, tucked away in a canal in Asia, hiding in a tree in the amazon, or maybe just hanging out in a booth at Whataburger.

[Santiago, Chile > Houston, Texas]

I think I kind of expected to come back a “changed” person in the sense of worldview, experiences, and relationships. This year has been one of changes, and I am so grateful for what I’ve gone through – the ups, the downs, and the plateaus. (Yes, people plateau even while climbing 17,000 ft mountains. It’s mind-boggling.) I’ve left pieces of my heart, my soul, and my dignity all over the world. And,

I’m returning with both more and less of what I started with.

I am returning with less money. Less things. Less of an idea of what I’m meant to do in my career. Less “portfolio pieces”. Less of an idea of what to do in, or with, my love life. (What’s that?) Less stability. Less reasons to return to an office life. Less reasons to need more money or worry about it at all. (What’s money? Do you have a lot? Are you more or less happy about what you’re doing with it and how you’re spending your time?)

The craziest part? I left looking for answers. Yet,

I am returning with more questions than I had before.

I am returning with more friends. More experiences. More wounds. More reasons to live. More places to see. More bucket list items to check off. More reasons to say “yes”. (Doing improv began that one for me.) More jumping photos. More tears. More memories. More reasons to leave again. More reasons to be independent. More people’s couches I could crash on. More reasons to smile.

I've had more experiences in one year than most people have had in their entire life.

Houston, Texas > San Antonio, Texas

Are you kidding? I didn’t even get my laptop out. It’s a 40-minute flight.

San Antonio, Texas, one week later: My parent’s living room

People keep asking me how my “trip” was. This wasn’t a trip, Martha. This was an entire year of challenges, culture shocks, taco-eating contests, bridge jumps, reality checks, robberies, surf lessons, camel rides, losing things, not having running water, sunsets, sunrises, broken body parts, sleepless nights, amazing vistas, amazing hikes, becoming unrelatable, questioning everything, making some of the best friends in the entire world…and then having to leave them.

Though this portion of my life has come to an end, a few people have said something to me that has resonated in the reality that is death:

It’s special because it ends. 

Whether it be the life of a loved one or a chapter of your own life that comes to a close, you’ve got to learn to believe in yourself. To be all of those cheesy motivational posters that everyone makes fun of but secretly loves to keep in the back of their minds:

Follow your heart, tell who you love that you love them, and cherish every moment. Live life to the fullest. Dreams don’t work unless you do. And if life keeps punching you in the face,

To my Remote Year friends, my [other] family, and everyone who’s anyone: know that you are human. And that is fine.

Know that humans are all the same. Know that we all want to feel loved, feel important, and feel like we’re making a difference. Know that someone is listening, that somebody does care, and that we’re not all on this crazy ride called ‘life’ alone.

And if you can’t do that just yet, well, that’s okay.

This chapter is over, but the effects of it are not. All you can do is rest assured that this has changed you; for better, or for worse,

until death do you part.

Professional writer, designer, and do-it-aller. Remote Year citizen/alum. Currently living in San Francisco and probably trying to avoid the terrifying amounts of pigeons.