Carrying on with our guest post series where writers offer their thoughts on living the life you want to, not the one you think you should. Introducing Gigi Griffis…
Five years ago, I was doing exactly what a good born-and-raised American girl is supposed to do.
I had a prestigious job as the lead copywriter and content strategist at a travel-focused ad agency, a job that I had built for myself from the ground up in just three years.
I lived in a nice neighborhood, only a few blocks away from a lovely lake with a nice mile-long path around it.
I dated when I had the time.
I had friends and went out for girls’ nights.
I quite literally had a white picket fence in front of my tiny ranch house.
And, secretly, I was exhausted, depressed, and wildly unhappy.
Because the truth is that good jobs and picket fences aren’t all that it takes to be happy, no matter how much the American Dream says it’s so.
So, I quit my demanding agency job and started my own business, searching for flexibility and some relief from the constant go-go-go.
Still, though, I struggled.
I felt stuck.
I loved having more freedom and flexibility, but I didn’t love my life outside work. I craved adventure, newness, and change. I wanted creativity and new challenges. I wanted to feel like my life was rich and full.
Which is when I started thinking about traveling—about giving up my lease on the white-washed, picket-fenced ranch house, about running my business remotely full-time.
My original plan was to spend four months on the road, living in Lake Tahoe for one month, in Portland for another, in Seattle for still another, and in Vancouver for the last. I would only be a time zone or two away from my clients. I would still work. But I would do it against a different backdrop. I would explore a new place. I would be forced to get out of my rut.
I was excited about this plan, but I was also lying to myself just a little bit—because I didn’t really want to explore the Pacific Northwest (which is not to say anything about the Pacific Northwest, except that it wasn’t my real dream).
I really wanted something bigger.
Luckily, the week after I came up with my Pacific Midwest plan, I sat down with my therapist to talk it through. And she asked me a simple question that changed everything:
If you had nothing to lose, if you weren’t worried about time zones and losing clients, if you weren’t afraid of anything, what would you do?
The answer was immediately obvious to me. If I had nothing to lose—if I wasn’t afraid—I would go to Europe.
What I really wanted was to wander around deep-green, rainy Scotland, to work on the beaches of the French Riviera, to eat Belgian waffles in Belgium, to hike Germany’s Black Forest.
But I was holding back because I was afraid that it was simply too far. That my clients wouldn’t like it. That the time zone differences would make it too hard. And, at the end of the day, that I’d fail.
When I told my therapist all this, she reminded me that life isn’t all or nothing. That I didn’t have to compromise my dreams before I’d even tested them out. That I didn’t know what my clients would think until I tried. And that if things did go wrong, I could always come back. The Pacific Midwest would still be there. Denver would still be there.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it?
These days—after nearly two years of full-time travel in Europe and around the world and, now, settling into a home base in the Swiss Alps—when I think about the idea of living the life I want to instead of the one I’m supposed to, I don’t just think about making my own way in the world.
Because before you can make your own way in the world, you have to be willing to go after your biggest dreams—the ones that scare the crap out of you.
You have to be honest with yourself about what you really want (because life is too short to always be living Plan B without even attempting Plan A).
You have to understand that life isn’t pass-fail. That you’re allowed to try. You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re allowed to go for the thing you really, truly, secretly want most—even if you fail and have to try again.
And you have to be willing to take that risk.
After that conversation with my therapist, I went home and started planning. I ditched my American adventure and started looking at guesthouses in Scotland and apartment rentals in Belgium. And less than a year later, in May 2012, I boarded a plane for Edinburgh with just a hiking backpack and my small dog.
Since then, I’ve hiked the Black Forest, eaten those Belgian waffles, made pizza in Italy, and wandered through the Swiss Alps. I’ve applied for (and gotten!) a residence permit in Switzerland—a thing that I was told would be impossible. I’ve even published two books.
Turns out, I didn’t even need plan B.
Turns out, the life you want to live isn’t as scary as it seems.
Turns out, there’s no such thing as should.
About Gigi Griffis
Gigi Griffis is a world-traveling entrepreneur and writer with a special love for inspiring stories, new places, and living in the moment. In May 2012, she sold her stuff and took to the road with a growing business and a pint-sized pooch.
These days, she’s hanging out in Switzerland, planning epic European adventures, and promoting her newly launched unconventional travel guide, ITALY: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, and How to Fit In.
All photos by Gigi Griffis.