Prelude to The Great Adventure
In January, I set out on a journey to take time to reflect, refocus, and reset my life. While every few years this is a natural occurrence for me, this time it felt mission critical to my future happiness. After emerging from the global pandemic, I came to realize that I had evolved in many ways, but didn’t really know this new version of me. Enter 2022: I started by selling my condo, moving all of my personal belongings into storage, and packing up my car (avec my dog) and taking off on The Great Adventure!
With the first destination mapped out, I started my journey to explore the US. I knew going into this that I would grow, but I had no idea how far this journey would take me.
The Great Adventure Begins
From late January to early June, I toured parts of the US (intentionally warm places in attempt to avoid yet another cold winter) on a journey of self-discovery, reconnection with friends, and – most importantly – with myself. I had a loose plan of where I wanted to go, starting in Sacramento, CA and spending quite a bit of time with one of my closest friends. It was just what I needed to step out of the life I had been living and begin exploring the possibilities of what could be – but in a very safe and comfortable setting. I found the constant companionship, love, and support to be exactly what I needed – and more of what I want in my life all the time. In all fairness, I could’ve stayed forever, but the point of this adventure was to learn and grow, not play it safe. With tears in my eyes and butterflies in my belly, in late March I loaded the car once again and took off.
On the Road…Again
Heading into this part of the journey, I had a loose plan of where and when to go, but intentionally didn’t set anything in stone. I wanted to preserve flexibility to allow some freedom along the way. Full transparency - I was also fearful that I’d hate it and wanted the ability to cut the trip short if it wasn’t serving me any longer. Road trips have never been something I looked forward to, although exploration is. Being alone is also a double-edged sword for me – great for reflection, great for loneliness. Miles into this next part of the adventure forced me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to have new experiences I might have otherwise not had.
Over those next few months, I rotated between visiting friends and staying by myself. Making multiple stops across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi, I found myself very much enjoying the journey – and the fears that I had previously were just that – fears. During this time, I was able to get out in nature and hike, explore new states, play tourist, and truly ask myself, “what do I really want.” I slept in, took naps, went to bed early (or late if I wanted), and really took time to care for myself. Gone was the need to be tied to a schedule. Gone was the demand to adhere to the demands of adulthood. I worked out or I didn’t. I worked, of course, but maxed out my schedule to enable the greatest amount of freedom and flexibility that I could.
I fell in love with having this freedom and spontaneity – not fully knowing from one week to the next when I’d pack up and move on, or what I’d discover along the way. It started to feed part of my soul that has been dormant for the past several years…the explorer deep inside of me. It left me curious and hungry for more.
I truly believe that these stops along the way taught me the most on my journey and fed into my big lessons learned…more on that later.
The Great Adventure Continues
In May, I left Tupelo, MS – birthplace of Elvis Presley in case you didn’t know – and drove to my next stop in Atlanta, GA. I rented an adorable bungalow in Grant Park and spent several days with my sister who flew in from Ohio to meet me. This time was invaluable to me as she and I haven’t really spent any time one-on one for at least a decade. We explored the city and talked (and talked and talked). We had amazing meals, exercised together daily, and, most importantly, enjoyed quality time with each other. Oh, and we both got new ear piercings which was the most spontaneous thing either of us have ever done – together!
As sisters do, she challenged me on “what’s next,” and while that was constantly on my mind, it was the first time that I’d been asked point-blank AND was expected to provide a real answer. I struggled to respond, as I still felt that I was in an ambiguous space; I was loving not knowing right now, and wasn’t sure if I was ready to give that up. The nomadic life was filling my soul, though I knew at some point I’d long for stability. Like any good sister would do when pressed, I dodged the question and changed the subject.
A Slight Change of Plans
When she left, I found myself missing that regular companionship again and curious about what that might mean is “next” for me. I felt a tug at my heart to be close to her and to the rest of my family in Columbus, OH. I felt an equally strong tug at my heart to go back to Chicago where I’ve been for the last 10 years, and where most of my friends (my chosen family) are. Chicago is also where my business network primarily existed. The more I weighed the pros and cons of each, the more anxiety I felt regarding this decision. I attempted to push the anxiety aside – this was not the time. I was on an adventure, and I had more of the US to explore.
The next planned stop for me was Louisville, KY – to tour the bourbon trail. As a lover of bourbon and all things whiskey, this was beyond exciting for me and what I had anticipated as the cap on my trip. However, I found out that one of my closest friends’ mother had passed and the memorial was going to be held in Tennessee (literally on my way.) I shifted plans to celebrate the life of her beautiful mother and support my friend as best I could. I wouldn’t, and couldn’t, have had it any other way.
The memorial was moving and the love for her mother among the congregation was palpable. She lived a joyful, caring, and authentic life - and even though there was pain, she always had a smile on her face, appreciating what she had versus what she didn't. What a powerful example of living life to its fullest! It was my honor to be at her memorial and to spend time with the family before, during, and after. Being there to help take care of my friend during this time was worth every mile and far more valuable to me than anything that Louisville had to offer.
What a powerful and life-changing cap to the trip. So much more than I had ever imagined.
Let the Swirl Begin
After dropping my friend off at the airport that Monday morning, I plugged Columbus, OH into my GPS and off I went. Getting to Columbus was both exciting and scary to me. Could this be my new home city? Do I really see myself here? What does this mean for my relationships? For my business? How much family time will I really get (and how much family time do I really want)? How much would that disappoint my Chicago family? The questions were swirling in my mind. These questions made be begin to reevaluate what it means to “go home.” Did moving back to my home city mean I failed? Would it be seen as taking a step backwards? Did it mean that I couldn’t hack it in the “big city?”
Thoughts and concerns came and went. After reminding myself, yet again, that I do not have to make any decisions on anyone else’s timeframe, I started to relax and really enjoy being back. Spending time with my youngest nieces and nephew was certainly a highlight, as was getting quality time with my closest friend in Ohio and her adorable son. I spent time reconnecting with friends I hadn’t seen for years. I took advantage of the city as much as I could, exploring to see how much it had grown in that past 20 years (the answer is a lot). I continued my “what do I want” today exploration but found myself slipping back into old habits by putting others’ wants before my own. I reflected, and pondered what balance looks like - and when to give versus when to take. I considered how my actions and decisions would impact the circle of loved ones around me, and how much I am willing to let their needs factor into my own.
It Comes Full Circle - Literally
At the beginning of June, I completed the roadtrip portion of the adventure, an atlas-evidenced circle, and drove back to Chicago. My friends welcomed me with a taco themed house party, and I breathed in a different way than I had the whole trip, feeling home-ish. Still living out of a suitcase, I guest-bedroom-hopped across the city, asking myself what I really wanted. For the first time in nearly 20 years, I didn’t feel connected to the “big city” - I felt fatigued by it. The traffic, the congestion, the lack of nature – it suddenly felt exhausting and lackluster to me. That shook me. I wanted to fight it and continued to struggle with the “here or there” question in my mind. I sought counsel from family and friends. I worked with a coach. I continued to struggle…
The waffling back and forth between Chicago, Evanston (north of Chicago) and Columbus continued into July, and I felt none the closer to making a decision. Fortuitously, a good friend had a condo for rent in Evanston which I took as a sign that I should be there. After all, wasn’t that the universe making a decision for me?! Hadn’t that been what I was asking for – help? I asked her for one more day to make my final decision and was ready to pull the trigger…but something tugged at my heart back in Ohio and I found myself waffling again. So, I did what any road tripper would do – I quickly hit the road and drove back to Columbus and toured a dozen apartments.
The End of The Great Adventure…
If I am being totally honest, part of making the final decision was because I was sick of thinking about it, worrying about it, hemming and hawing, and being unlike my normal decisive self. I weighed the pros and cons: both locations produced logical answers. But when it came down to it, the fact that I’ve had a family heart tug for years won out. I chose Columbus and found a cute apartment in German Village.
While the decision has been made, The Great Adventure feels as though it continues. This is still a year of exploration, trial and error, contemplation, self-discovery, and more. I see this move as a great way to assess whether this is truly what I want, or what works for now. The best part of it all is that there is no timeline or mandate for me to say “this is it” permanently. I am truly living MY Great Adventure and making the most out of every opportunity that I have. I am choosing to be with family, visit my Chicago family as often as I can, and explore more of what’s important to me – an ever-evolving list. And I love that. There is no real end to My Great Adventure, at least not yet. In fact, it’s exactly the life I want to be leading. Learning, growing, exploring, experiencing, adapting, evolving. I am building and the life I want and I will continue to evolve; I can’t wait to share with you the many things I learn along the way!
My Great Adventure Lessons Learned
Before I wrap up the journey for you, I want to share with you my biggest lessons learned and takeaways from My Great Adventure. While I know this is growth and learning is still underway, I learned some very powerful lessons that are shaping how I am moving myself forward.
Lesson 1: I Don’t Always Need a Plan
For those of you who know me personally, you know that I love planning – and live and breathe and die by my calendar. I plan far in advance and am known in my circle as the one who brings us together. Having a plan makes me feel secure, calm, focused, intentional, etc. but being so planned has resulted in me over-scheduling myself, missing out on spontaneous activities, and certainly not embracing the “what do you want” question with any real seriousness.
Stepping into The Great Adventure, I had a loose plan. I purposefully played it by ear and explored being comfortable with that discomfort. And believe it or not, I found it to be exhilarating! I loved the freedom and I learned that even without a plan, I still can be active and have a full life. I realized that a lot of my desire to plan came from fear of missing out, so rather than continue to live in fear, I’ve opted to find a sweet spot in the middle and plan when needed but play it by ear the rest of the time.
The planner in me is strong. She has 44 years of experience, but my new focus is to be an intentional planner and go with the flow more often.
Lesson 2: Nature is Necessary
Throughout my life I have moved 20+ times. I find great joy in experiencing new things. But on this trip, I experienced an old thing and realized how much I missed it. Nature.
From hiking in the mountains of northern California, to the dunes at White Sands National Park, to the Carlsbad Caverns, to waterfalls at Turner Falls Park in Oklahoma and more…nature became a calming presence for me. Having lived in big cities for the bulk of my adult life, I had pockets of nature but wasn’t immersed and certainly did not prioritize it.
I’ve heard data points about needing to be grounded to the earth, forest bathing, and more but never really thought it applied to me. Until now. Being outside and appreciating the beauty, and feeling the wind, and hearing nothing but silence…these are now priorities to me. Being outdoors in nature fills me up, centers me, and provides me clarity.
Lesson 3: Community is King
I’ve prided myself over the years on being very independent, knowing that I can figure virtually anything out, knowing that I can take care of myself fully and well. I’ve always placed a high value on relationships and connections and have often cited “relationships make the world go around.” The combination of these two things historically has put me in community, but not fully reliant upon or open to community in the fullest sense of the word.
Being on this trip and experiencing life through the eyes of my friends (and strangers), I’ve come to realize that being in community and having deep rooted connections is really the thing that makes the world go around for me. I am extremely grateful to the friends along the way and cannot even begin to express my thanks for their hospitality, open arms, support, encouragement, and fun they offered to me along the way. And more so I am thankful that they showed me how important community is and while I CAN do it myself, I don’t WANT to do it myself.
Lesson 4: Don’t Take it for Granted
Throughout this adventure, people have told me how exciting it was for them to watch me explore, how envious some were, or how lucky I was to be able to do it. I completely took for granted that I had a unique opportunity that not everyone can take. Packing up and road tripping for the better part of a year is not a common thing, nor an easy thing but to me it seemed like exactly what I needed to do, so I did it without appreciating what it really provided to me.
But more than that, this journey taught me to be more appreciative of life. To appreciate what it is that I have – whether it’s relationships, things, or opportunities – versus what I don’t have. To choose joy every day and to choose to live my life exactly how I want to. I learned that life is far too short and can be taken from us at any time and I refuse to take any of that for granted moving forward.
And with that, I leave you with one final thought. My Great Adventure is not just a road trip anymore – it is a way I want to live my life. Every day I choose to be open to exploration, to nature, to community, to gratitude and to honoring myself and those around me. I choose to see the good in what I have, where I am, and who I am with. I choose to listen to my heart and commit to following it without fear.
I hope that if there is any one thing that you can learn from My Great Adventure, is that “life is a journey, not a destination”. Enjoy the trip and create the life that you want to live along the way.
Tami Chapek is the CEO, Founder and Head Coach at WeInspireWe. Tami believes in community and positive change and has dedicated her life to bringing these concepts together. By empowering one, we empower many - and she believes that answer starts within. After careful consideration, Tami went on an adventure she will never forget and encourages you to explore in whatever way you need to in order to life the life you truly want to live.