I remember it like it was yesterday…how it all started….the prompting in my soul telling me the time was approaching…sitting at my parent’s kitchen table on my 26th birthday, talking with my mother about life goals and dreams and all the things in between. Our birthday is a great time to reflect on how far we have come and where we want to be in the next year and beyond. Having just celebrated my 28th birthday in June 2016 in Canada, it reminded me of how far I have traveled on my journey in the past two years, geographically and personally, and how much these travels were a part of my personal growth.
My mother asked me on my 26th birthday one of the boldest questions she has ever asked me. She asked, “Sonya, what is one of your biggest dreams?” Surprised at this direct question which was so simple yet so awakening to me, I responded, “Well, I would love to move to France for a season of my life and use my French there. I would love to see Paris.” She followed up with a second question. “Well, what’s keeping you from going? What’s holding you back?” I looked up at her with eyes beginning to tear up. “Fear,” I said. “What do you fear?” she said. My response was honest, “Well, you guys are getting older and I want to make sure you have what you need. And I know if I move, I probably won’t come back long-term to Tennessee unless life leads me back here down the road for clear reasons and if the timing is right. I want to move away from Franklin, but you guys are the only family I have and all of our tiny family is here in this area.” My mother responded with the most freeing statement that released me in many ways from this responsibility that I felt for them as they age. She said, “Sonya, you don’t have to worry about us. We’ll be fine.” She said, “You have to do what makes you happy. Not what makes others happy. As much as I’d miss you, you have to follow your dreams and do what you need to do to be you. Seeing you happy makes me happy.”
That was one of the most life-changing conversations I ever had with my mother. When you have lived in or near your hometown your whole life (Chattanooga, TN was my home for 5 years during and after college) — and being an only child — you have a lot to consider when you make an international move or voyage. I had traveled frequently throughout the past several years so my parents were used to that. However, this was the largest voyage I would be undertaking thus far and I would also be traveling alone throughout Europe with certain connections in some cities. I had traveled alone many times before, but this was going to be the largest solo adventure yet.
The next month, July 2014, I headed to Guadeloupe for a 2 week ministry trip where I worked as a French translator for a team from the U.S. and with the French team from Agape France. Guadeloupe is a beautiful French Caribbean island located in the Lower Antilles. After returning from that trip and having been immersed fully in the language for 2 weeks, I was glowing. I was in my element and speaking French about 75% of the time. I considered moving to Guadeloupe and even Montreal in Canada, thinking it was closer and possibly easier to do a move to those places and use my French there. Many possibilities ran through my mind. Ones that might have been easier than crossing that big ocean. It was a literal journey as much as it was figurative. To sail off a shore that was very familiar to me, toward a place in the world with soil that I had never stepped foot on, and knowing I wasn’t coming right back after a week or two. I was nervous and a little scared, but the curiosity and the calling was louder than the fear, so I ran towards it with joyful anticipation.
October 2014 rolled around and I wandered into a local coffee house one evening. A nice gentleman and business owner that I met randomly that evening asked me an important question that I will never forget. I was there only to work on my resume that evening and search for new jobs, with thoughts of starting my own business at the forefront of my mind.
This gent and I had some great conversations and he was curious about me and my life and work. We talked about starting businesses, resumes, and career paths. He asked me, “What do you want to do next?” Surprised at this question coming up again just a few months after my birthday/dreams conversation, I responded with, “Honestly, I don’t know.” This wise man said, “That’s funny actually. Most people, when they start with ‘honestly’ in front of a statement, what follows is the opposite of the truth. I think you know exactly what you want.” I said, “You know, you’re right. I do know. I want to move to France for a season of my life and use my French, enjoy life there, the culture, the language, and work and travel in Europe.” He smiled at me, and said, “Well, what would it take to make that happen? ” “Save up and probably sell everything I own,” I said. He smiled again, “Then you know exactly what you need to do.” 🙂
As I returned to my work life and small one bedroom apartment that week, I started to ponder the reality of this dream. Could I really make this work? Could I part ways with most of my possessions, my cute little apartment, my secure job here (though job security is mostly an illusion and just gets us too comfortable sometimes.) I knew I was ready to move on from the company I had been with for almost two years. I had dreamed of starting my own business to transition out of that job. Could I really step out into the unknown and the uncomfortable? How was I going to make all of this work and come together? Through all of my outdoor and travel adventures from years past, I knew that one thing was true….if I wanted to experience the truest joy of being myself and the aliveness that I had experienced before, I had to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I remembered the feeling during adventures of the past, not a simple high of life, no, this was more than that. It was a way of life. The feeling you can get on any adventure is the euphoria of going beyond where you thought you could in order to experience the extraordinary. Pushing yourself further than you thought you could go. It is the joy of each moment. It is the joy of realizing you are exactly who you were meant to be and exactly where you need to be geographically.
As weeks were going by, I knew I was serious about making this dream happen and I posted this photo on my Facebook and Instagram pages at the beginning of 2015. I had this picture of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night sitting on my mantle, a gift from my parents in recent months. I decided it was time to stop looking at that photo of the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to be in Paris and see it for myself.
I wanted to break free from the norm of what it meant to be in my mid-twenties in America. Who said I had to have my own apartment, a 9-5 work week, a nice car, and the American Dream? I didn’t want the American Dream, I wanted my own dream. To live on my own terms, not the terms of others or trying to meet society’s expectations. That’s not a dream or real freedom, that’s being stuck in a social construct. So I decided it was time to aim for something different, the extraordinary adventure of risking a move to a foreign country and I was ready to see where that would ultimately lead me.
I knew it was going to be a journey through the next year to get to the point where I could leave for France. I finally quit my job at Ramsey Solutions in April 2015 and transitioned to running my own business, Yours Truly, Events & Personal Assistant which I had been working on for months prior. I began to watch some inspiring movies over those next few months, The Holiday; Eat Pray Love; and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty were prominent ones. Quotes started arising at that time from these movies and books and random places, pointing me onward. These inspirations were helping me make huge steps toward my year long travel journey. I had no idea I would end up traveling through not just France, but also Switzerland, Iceland, then later Canada to complete a year long journey.
In the Summer of 2015, I was in the middle of running my own business, finding the freedom and time to set myself up financially by selling everything I owned. I still didn’t know the exact date I would be leaving, but I knew it was time to start selling everything. I had a huge yard sale for starters, then continued selling all my furniture and belongings online through Facebook trading posts and Craigslist.
In August 2015, I did a trip to visit several friends in California and to get away to refresh and recenter and think about what I really wanted. During those two weeks, I had some amazing moments with friends and even dined at an authentically French cafe in San Diego which gave me the strange feeling I was at a cafe in Paris. I got a call two days before I headed back to Tennessee with a job offer in Nashville which I turned down that day. I knew clearly the job wasn’t for me as my orientation time got pushed back by two weeks. I never expected to know exactly when the time would come to leave for France, but it always comes to us when we pay attention and are awake and listen to ourselves and the universe. I knew without a doubt that it was time to set sail during that window and I booked the cheapest flight to Paris I could find, ironically through IcelandAir, not realizing that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was actually filmed in Iceland……more about that later 😉
One year after being honest with myself about what I really wanted and seeing the vision of my dream — I was on a flight to Paris, France. The morning of October 15th, after an overnight flight and layover through Iceland, the plane started to descend above the outskirts of Paris…the clouds finally broke through…and I saw, for the first time, the French countryside filled with villas and cottages and old churches and fields. I could not believe my eyes. I teared up as we approached the Charles de Gaulle airport. I was tense with excitement from this long, ten hour journey from Nashville to New York City to Reykjavík, Iceland to Paris.
The day I left for France, while on my flight through Iceland, I checked my e-mail inbox where I receive daily quotes……and this was the quote of the day 🙂
In the following days and weeks, I would come to experience the beauty of a three month voyage throughout France, Switzerland, and Iceland. I grew to understand the philosophy of the French, joie de vivre, which I didn’t realize was a French saying ironically until a year later. I discovered and experienced this joy for myself on this voyage. I made it happen along with the help from many kind people and opportunities and synchronicity from this grand universe we live in. I never knew such joy existed.
Following your bliss will ultimately lead you to where you need to be, always.