Life in Limbo: Having it All & Giving it Up

I’ve always been better at numbers than words, algorithms than anecdotes and lists than long-form prose – so I’ll start here…

7 = # of years I spent struggling, failing & eventually succeeding in New York City.

6 = # of jobs listed on my resume that got me where I am today.

5 = # of countries I’ve been to in the past 6 months.

4 = # of close friends I left behind when I moved.

3 = # of failed relationships while in Manhattan.

2 = # of years it took to get over a broken heart.

1 = the 1-way plane ticket out of NYC.

I should amend the title to say “(Almost) Having It All.” From the outside it looked like I had a great job that I loved, fantastic mentors, friends & connections, a rent stabilised apartment in the heart of Manhattan, a decent salary & lifestyle, a healthily-dysfunctional dating life and a family that lived close enough to visit multiple times a year, yet far enough away for me to irk responsibilities…. But with all that fullness, I was still feeling empty. The persistent pressure of the corporate grind stifled me on a good day & paralysed me with fear of failure on the worst day. But what else could I want? I first really started asking myself that question 2 years ago.

This year, I thought I finally found the answer: location-independence. So I quit my job and started consulting; allowing me to travel 75% of the time. The result: I spent most of 2015 electively living out of suitcases, being stressed, overwhelmed & sleepwalking through foreign cities. Those things were all fairly familiar, having traveled for work, but the one unexpected surprise was this constant feeling: loneliness. I hadn’t felt truly lonely in a long time; the throng of Manhattanites always providing a cozy buffer of humanity to my solitude. This intrusion of loneliness made me question all of my “digital nomad” dreams.

I had made the decision to leave NYC before beginning my adventures, timing client contracts to end with my lease. I thought a new city, a new throng of people, any change in environment would finally fulfil me. But by June I still hadn’t found a new temporary home and it was time for me to leave the Big Apple. So I did the most drastic thing that my egotistically-independent New Yorker self could do: I moved in with my mother. In Westmont, Illinois. At age 31.

I deliberately chose to live in limbo for at least 6 months. So far I would call it the best (and hardest) decision I’ve ever made. It took buckets of tears over gallons of wine to pry myself out of my bustling comfort zone. I sold off, gave away and threw out 7 years of my life and left NYC with 2 suitcases of clothes to my name. I made a drastic decision to become electively unemployed. I chose me over my career. I chose to not have all the answers just yet. I chose to try and just “be” for a bit instead of catapulting into a new life. I chose my family over my fear. I chose to re-ask myself the tough questions: Do I want a husband? A kid or 3? What can I do that’s “more” than just surviving? Do I have any interests outside of what I do for work? I never had time for hobbies, so I truly didn’t (and still don’t) know.

Right now I’m writing this on a plane in my cracked-screen iPhone’s notes and I don’t know the answers yet. But here’s what I’ve realized so far…

1   I’ve got one life and it’s all mine right now. I want to live the sh*t out of it.

2  The age that my niece and nephew currently are. I have gotten to know them more over the past month than I have their whole lives. Seeing them grow & change every single day is priceless.

3  The number of entrepreneurial failures I’ve budgeted for before having to return to the working world.

4  How many minutes it takes me to make homemade hummus.

5  The # of months I have left to figure out where to live next and how to survive.

6  How many miles it is to walk the scenic route to the nature preserve and back from my Mom’s house.

7  The speed I set my bike at when going downhill.

Bonus Number!! 25 = The # of years it’s been since I’ve had a bike.

I’m forcefully slowing myself down instead of racing through life. I’m letting those hard-earned walls crumble a bit around my heart. I’m listening to people more than talking. I’m feeling more than faking. Experimenting more than fearing. Watching the sky more than the clock. I’m looking up and realizing there actually is more to life than a computer screen, a paycheck and a post-work martini… Like my niece’s “smooches”, a long walk and a poolside margarita.

I guess I’m writing this to encourage those out there who can relate to the daily grind, the constant pressure, the never-ending pile of stress… Give yourself the most important asset in life: time. Don’t let life get away from you while you’re on auto-pilot. Take the time to assess or re-assess your priorities and goals. Don’t be afraid to make a change without knowing the end game. Make a bold move for a minute, a day, a month – whatever you can do. Get out of your own way and let yourself thrive outside of your “success zone.”

Then meet me in Bali for a beach-side marg. Cheers.

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  • Abby Whitmer (@AbbyLaneWhitmer)

    @deborah – Thank you! And safe healing with that broken foot (I’ve been there too, hope you’re enjoying catching up on a bit of Netflix).


  • Deborah Mitchell

    Thanks Abby,
    This is a beautiful ode to life and taking time to enjoy it. I recently broke my foot and am forced to slow down. Now I’m using my time (4-6 weeks) in a cast and on crutches to think about what’s really important in life. A trip to Bali could be on the list.

    Enjoy your time and keep us up to date.


  • Miss Em

    Inspiring!!!

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95% of life is spent on autopilot.

Then there’s the other 5%.