“I’m going to work with Huskies in Finland.”
The look on people’s faces when I tell them my plans for post Quit Your Day Job is entertaining. I should start capturing the moment. I mostly get confusion, like they aren’t sure if they heard right, but I’ve gotten everything from puzzled glances, inquisitive stares, slow-forming awed smiles, and straight-up guuurl, you crazy.
“I’m sorry? You’re what now? Quitting your job to take care of…dogs?
“Uh. Yes? This family of five runs a dog sledding expedition business and they have a LOT of dogs and they need help feeding them and exercising them and cleaning all the poo. So. I am going to go live with them. To help.”
“Oh, I see. Why?”
I wish I could give a solid answer to that question. But I can’t. Because I have so many reasons, yet at the same time no specific reason at all. I just know this is what I am doing, and that’s it. I went to school first to be a journalist, then to be an English teacher and now I work in healthcare technology. You ever wake up and go to work and come home and eat dinner and look in the mirror at the reflection that somehow doesn’t quite look like you anymore and say, “Really? This is Life? That all you got for me?” I found myself channeling my inner David Byrne (everybody has an inner David Byrne) as I asked myself, “Well? How did I get here?”
This can’t be it. Life can’t just be going to college to get a job to make money to pay for college or buying a house to fill it with junk. I realize this is NOT everyone’s life experience, but it had become mine. And this can’t be it. Can it?
I know for many, the answer to that question is marriage and The Children. For others, it’s starting a new business venture or creating a bucket list to check off. Or maybe it’s moving across the country to shake things up or building that cabin in the woods to disappear or rediscover. Everyone’s answer is different.
My answer is huskies.
A year ago I picked a date on my calendar to quit my job. On Friday, February 28th 2014, I created an Outlook event that shouts, LAST DAY!!!! On Monday, March 3, 2014, I created an event filled with less excitement that states, If you have not quit by now, you are a failure. Might be a little harsh considering it’s a fairly arbitrary date, but I knew I had to pick one and stay committed, or it would never happen, mostly because I am lazy. And a master procrastinator. It’s not that I hate my job. I just know it’s not how I want to spend the next eight years of my life. And I knew I needed time to reach and accept that conclusion after I had pre-made it for myself. I had gotten too comfortable with some things, to the point I became extremely uncomfortable with everything, and I needed something. I suck at saving money, so I actually started doing that, with pretty much zero plans for what came next. It just became very obvious to every part of my mind and body: I had reached the end of a chapter.
After I set this date, I was chatting with my new coworker Emily about standard new coworker things, but it turned out to be an above standard conversation for me when I discovered she just came back from working with huskies in Finland for two years. I work in the medical software field – this is not something you hear every day. I asked a million questions in awe. She cross-country skied three miles to work every day, trained and took care of huskies, and eventually did some guiding. She went through workaway.info, which is basically like Craig’s List for those in need of volunteers. People from all over the world need help on their farms, taking care of animals or crops, taking care of their children, learning how to speak English, renovating an old hotel, getting groceries, etc. And turns out, a lot of people want to give their time in exchange for a roof.
Everyone has a story, and hers fascinated me. “Incredible. You are literally my new idol. I wish I had done something like that.”
She furrowed her brows in response: “Why can’t you?”
Excellent question. Why can’t I? As soon as I processed that thought, my first next step became very obvious.
I didn’t study abroad in college. I didn’t take a gap year after graduation. In fact, I didn’t do anything really. I just walked down crowded streets of life without taking any detours. Well, here’s my detour. I am heading to a place called Korvala in the Arctic Circle, where it is normal for temperatures to reach -40°C (and Fahrenheit, as at that particular temperature both scales have the same reading), to help out a family with their wilderness safari business. I will be feeding the dogs, cleaning the kennels, chopping wood, cross-country skiing, wearing 13 layers…you know, Arctic Circle things. My “plan” just begins in Finland though. After? Who really knows? But my goal is to do whatever I can to use every single humanly skill I possess to help whoever needs it in Norway, Sweden, Poland, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, England, Austria, Switzerland, Iceland…until I get kicked out of the Schengen countries. Then Croatia, Ireland, Vietnam, Thailand, India, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana. The world is literally my oyster.
From the outside looking in, I can see why this might seem crazy. I have an incredible job, for which I am thankful. I have loads of fun. I do a lot of things. I don’t actually know what I am looking for (or if I am looking for anything at all), but I have a feeling it is more than being financially secure, having fun and doing things. I don’t even know if I’m looking for something that can be found, but I do know with some certainty it isn’t going to magically appear on my beloved Wisconsin doorstep.
Since that life-changing conversation, Emily felt the call of the wild once again and left our job to go to wilderness guide school back in Finland and Russia. We only worked together for a short time, but a big impact can be made in a short period of time. You can read about her adventures here.
And who knows? My “gap” year just might become the first year of the rest of my Gap Life.