Standing on the ledge of Cedar Creek Falls in the Whitsunday Region of Queensland, Australia was a defining moment in my life. I was in the last week of my six month trek in Australia and fresh off of a five day yacht trip throughout the Whitsunday Islands with a day spent at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. Needless to say, my experiences had been fulfilling and energizing, though the end of my trip was no longer a pinhole of light at the end of the tunnel but rather a massive halogen lamp.
My newfound friends from the excursion from Germany, Norway, and Switzerland had already plunged the 50 to 60 feet into the waters below, following the guidance of the Australian locals who frequented this watering hole and knew the trajectory for a safe jump. I must have stood there like a statue for the better part of a half an hour, going over all the things that could go wrong with this situation. If one has read my post about skydiving, you know that I have a palpable fear of heights, so standing on this slippery precipice was again miles away from my comfort zone.
At the time, I hadn’t realized that my comfort zone was no longer a narrow sliver but rather a malleable mindset that changed due to my experiences abroad. Nine months earlier, I was a lifelong resident of the same town I grew up in, Medford, Massachusetts. Most people move away for college, but as luck would have it, I was accepted to Tufts University, a mere six minute drive and less than an hour walk from my childhood home. I lived on campus, giving me the guise of new surroundings, but in truth, this proximity to all that I knew kept me from understanding more about myself. After college, I was paralyzed by the fear of being outside of the bubble I had grown accustomed to, so I moved back home. Thinking back on this decision, I’m mortified by the idea of living with my parents as an adult, but at that time, it seemed like the only logical thing to do. I had no real career path, no feelings of confidence that I could hack it in another city, and status quo seemed easier and safer than taking a risk.
I found myself stuck in a perpetual state of depression. I’m an English major who enjoys writing, so all of the jobs I truly wanted seemed far out of reach and unrealistic, leading me down the path of waiting tables. For those who have never worked in a restaurant, it is not an easy lifestyle. Going into work in the early afternoon, finishing around midnight, staying up until the wee hours with a few beers, and then sleeping late into the morning in your parents’ house is not a recipe for happiness. The anxiety inside me continued to grow. I wasn’t where I wanted to be. Where did I want to be? I wasn’t so sure, but I knew it was anywhere but there.
After a few years of this vicious cycle, a friend of mine who had begun working in Melbourne, Australia reached out to me about his amazing experiences. He had a four months remaining in his stay abroad and was looking for a buddy to join him on some trips. “Come out here, man,” repeated in my mind over and over. I didn’t think it was a good idea. I was saving money and the flight alone was enough to make me hesitate. I had always wanted to take a trip to that part of the world, but it just didn’t seem like a viable option.
Then, one night, I had an epiphany. I wasn’t happy. That was painfully obvious. I was stuck in a rut in the same bedroom I spent doing math homework as a fifth grader, working like a dog in a job that caused me a tangible anxiety. My degree wasn’t doing me any favors and I was wasting the best years of my life, and for what? Stability? Safety? To me, happiness is the most important thing I can give to myself, and I was deprived of this feeling. Sure, I had people and things in my life that would provide for me momentary relief from this drudgery, but my overall mood was unhappy and unfulfilled. Finally, after searching for flights for many days, I found an amazing deal on Qantas that took away my main monetary excuse. A round trip flight from LA to Melbourne for $700, an unheard of deal. I set my flight for two weeks, but then thought, there’s no way I can keep my job. I pushed it back to one week, but then thought, how can I fly for 20 hours to spend six days in paradise with half of that time most likely debilitated by jetlag. I was stuck.
Then, the voice in my head started to grow louder. Go. Just go. A passenger in my own body, I set the flight for six months, and without hesitating, bought my ticket. Almost immediately, I felt a surge of utter relief. I’m actually doing this. I thought I’d feel fear or more anxiety, but my only sensations were exhilaration and excitement. Taking that leap and choosing happiness was and still is the most important decision I have made for myself. For the next three months leading up to my quest, I worked six days a week, often for lunch and dinner, saving up every penny. The job that once felt like a chore was now a means to an end. I was going to live in Australia, and this money was going to make my time there realistic and self-sufficient. This choice was a momentous one for me. I became more confident and I was in the driver’s seat of my own life. For once, I took control of my path, and nothing has ever felt so right.
Back on the cliffs of Cedar Creek, I thought back to the man living at home with his parents, thinking about that familiar “woe is me” attitude. That person was a stranger, a reflection in a mirror that no longer existed. Now, I was someone who did things that felt right. Sure, I was mortified. The signs at the cliff told me not to jump, but I had seen others do so and succeed with loud screams of excitement, and I wanted to feel that. The old me might have climbed back down the falls and let the moment get the best of me. Nobody would have thought less of me (at least not openly), but I would have had that all too familiar feeling of regret. My journey Down Under was almost over, and I wanted to look back with clear eyes, regretting nothing. Finally, I mustered up all of my courage, took two careful steps towards the edge of the expanse, and leapt. I landed hard but safely in the water below, my heart racing a mile a minute and a smile that was pasted on my face for hours. I still can feel the adrenaline thinking back on this moment, and I’m proud of becoming a man who seizes moments like this rather than succumbing to them. I took the leap. And I couldn’t be happier that I did.
Post by Pete McKeown, Contributor and Globetrotter