Four years ago, if someone told me that I would quit a stable, lucrative job to travel the world, I would have laughed.
I was 23 and ready to start my first professional job as a lawyer, after five gruelling years of study.
Although deep down I knew that being a lawyer wasn’t my ideal career, I ignored that little voice in my head.
But it wouldn’t go away.
Two and a half years after I started my law career, I sat down for coffee with my boss and announced that it was time for me to move on and explore other opportunities.
Although I am grateful for everything that my time as a lawyer provided me, I had burned out with the work and the long hours pretty quickly.
Additionally, I’d always had a secret dream to be a journalist — there’s something about discovering people’s stories and telling them that gives me an intense buzz. Since I’d fallen in love with New York City after a visit while studying abroad, I decided to apply to graduate school in New York for the following year. In the meantime, I’d travel until (theoretically) starting my grad program.
Initially, my desire to travel was borne out of desperation to escape.
The stress of my law job left me wanting to get away from everything that was familiar, at least for a while.
I didn’t think that another law job would make me happier, and the non-law jobs I wanted required experience that I didn’t have.
My then-boyfriend (now husband) had recently returned from a stint working abroad, and was already itching to move somewhere new.
So we decided that it was the perfect time to take a “gap year” — one where we would try to work while we travelled. He would continue building his online affiliate marketing business, and I would try and get as much writing experience as possible, either through internships or freelance opportunities.
A month after I officially resigned from my job and accumulated enough funds, I found myself on a plane to Singapore to start a three-month media internship at a social enterprise. After that, for the following nine months, I would live in Thailand, India, Cambodia, and Indonesia.
There were times when I was uncertain of my decision. At the beginning of the trip, I met up with some old friends who were climbing the professional ladder in Singapore. The type-A personality in me thought, “That could be me. Maybe I should have persisted in law and worked harder instead of quitting.” I realised that I was starting my career from scratch, and that the road ahead was going to be filled with challenges.
But then I remembered the lawyer life that I left behind, a life that I definitely didn’t want to go back to, and I persisted with my decision.
After I finished my internship in Singapore, I was able to land another internship, this time in journalism, through keeping in contact with my former supervisor.
After that internship ended, the publication began assigning me paid freelance articles that I could complete no matter where I was in the world.
The practical experience I gained proved to be immensely valuable — not only for getting published clips, but also to get a taste of what my new career would entail.
I’d already spent seven years working toward a career that wasn’t right for me, and I didn’t want to end up in the same position again, particularly with a Master’s degree price tag.
As I continued to travel and write, and when I received my acceptance letter from graduate school, the excitement of starting my new career overcame any uncertainties that I had. And of course, it’s easy to alleviate anxiety when you have delicious Thai street food all around you, or when you find yourself on a stage attempting to do a Bollywood dance in front of more than 100 guests at an Indian wedding!
The nine months wasn’t all roses and unicorns, however. For example, cities in Southeast Asia (Singapore excluded) don’t have the best public transportation systems, so getting around required constant planning. The hassle was small, but tiny stresses tend to pile up quickly when you’re navigating a new environment.
One early morning in India, we found ourselves engulfed by street dogs who barked aggressively and appeared ready to attack, only to lose interest after they sniffed us.
And then there was the taxi driver in Shimla, India, who drove erratically through mountain ranges, often blind-passing other vehicles and leaving me praying for dear life.
But dealing with the unexpected and uncomfortable is part of travelling and part of life. Having those experiences gave me the mental preparation to tackle a new challenge.
I knew that my new path was going to involve a lot of hard work, and for me, having this “gap year” was the best way to prepare me for it.
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