The Next Great Adventure (Or, Why I Decided to Spend an Entire Month Traveling Solo)

"Have fun on the next great adventure!"

That's how the girl from Melbourne who'd taken up residence in the bunk below mine (only for two days, mind you) bid me farewell this morning. After spending fourteen nights at Isaacs Hostel, I felt odd joining the revolving door of 20-something backpackers taking a "gap year" (or just a "gap summer") before embarking on adulthood -- employment and mortgages and marriages. I watched them cycle out of the bunks around me, like "flavors of the week" at a jello shot stand. When I'd checked in, the attendant at the front desk actually asked me: "Fourteen nights? What could you want to do in Dublin for fourteen nights?"

What could you want to do indeed?

(Hostel Life.)

I'm not going to recount what I've learned on my travels here; I'll leave that for when I return to New York and begin sifting through all of my interview notes. But, as I wait for my 3:30 PM flight to London (for fourteen more nights, which will be interrupted by a two-day sojourn to Glasgow, Scotland), I'm forced to wonder why I decided to take this trip at all. Having never been out of the country for more than a few days at a time, the decision to terminate the lease on my Greenpoint apartment (with its massive square footage and bargain-basement price) and take off for Western Europe seems impulsive at best. At worst? "Bonkers," as one Irish education director that I encountered would have said. "Absolutely bonkers."

I'm not someone who yearns for a life on the open road. I'm a homebody by nature; I'll choose an evening alone in my bedroom with my books every single time. In fact, the thought of being "a stranger in a strange land" provokes bone-deep anxiety. (I spent almost every morning in Dublin at the same coffee shop where the owner eventually started greeting me with: "The usual?" I've learned that having a familiar space to work and an operational cell phone [the hi-tech equivalent of a childhood security blanket] does a great deal to soothe my rattled nerves when I'm traveling.) So the decision to essentially become "homeless" for a year must have been triggered by something cataclysmic.

And I suppose that it was. My entire life, I have only ever wanted to do one thing: start a national youth theatre in the United States. It's been my goal ever since I stumbled on the website for the UK's National Youth Theatre as a sophomore in high school. As I read (and re-read and re-read) their program descriptions, all I could think was: This is it. This is what I'm meant to do with my life. And so I started my first attempt at a national youth theatre as a teenage girl in Western New York. We did eventually recruit students from multiple states -- but that production also drove my entire family into debt. Discouraged (and saddled with thousands of dollars in loans), I decided to put my lifelong dream "on hiatus," while I served a two-year corps commitment with Teach for America. I tried to convince myself that I could be content, teaching reading to sixth graders at a top-notch charter school. But that's the thing about lifelong dreams, isn't it? When you've been chasing them for years, they can be a tricky thing to shake.

(One of the first things I saw upon my arrival to Europe, scribbled on a bathroom stall -- Cheers to you, apropos psychoanalytic humor!)

So I started the National Theatre for Student Artists (NTSA). And it was a success. We produced our shows off-Broadway on stages used by Atlantic Theatre Company and New York Theatre Workshop. Our students came from the top performing arts conservatories across the country. We built a mutually-beneficial relationship with the Educational Theatre Association and secured our 501(c)(3) status and even received grants from government agencies. But it was when we were selected for a residency in a newly-built 499-seat theatre on Times Square that it hit me: I had achieved my lifelong dream.

And . . . it wasn't that great.

The realization was staggering. Like I'd tripped off the top of a cliff and was careening through the open air, grappling for purchase on ledges that kept slipping from my fingers. My friends had always envied my sense of direction. "It must be easy," they'd tell me, "having such a clear vision for your future. Always knowing what you want to do with your life." And, with maybe just a hint of smugness, I'd agreed. Now, for the first time in my life, I found myself directionless. What did I want to do with my life? Who was I without my life's work? What could you want to do in Dublin for fourteen nights?

(Life these cliffs.)

So I left.

I left my apartment. I left my job (for six months, at least). I left the country. I don't know if I'll look back and shake my head, thinking: "God, Victoria. You just had to have your Eat Pray Love moment, didn't you? What. A. Cliché." And yes, this is the midlife crisis that has plagued so many other privileged, over-educated white women before me -- the moment when we realize that, even if you can "have it all," you don't necessarily want it all. So that's why I'm sitting in the Starbucks at Dublin Airport, waiting for my super-cheap RyanAir flight, so that I can check into another hostel with another revolving door of 20-somethings who are just beginning to feel the niggling of existential angst.

On to the next great adventure.

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