The challenge of making a big change

This is one of my favorite bloggers, Chelsea Fuss, a single woman who left a thriving floral design business in Portland, Oregon and who is now living in Lisbon.

Her blog, frolic, is a consistent joy: frank, lovely, wise.

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Where in the world will you go? What if it doesn’t work out? What if it does?!

Some of her thoughts on the challenges of changing your life, big-time, (of which there are five in her post):

1. Nothing is perfect. Often, when I engage in these sorts of conversations, people are looking for a magical answer, a perfect life. Nothing is perfect. As my brother likes to remind me, everything in life is a trade off. Whatever new life you are able to acquire, one thing is for sure, you will have a new set of challenges. Weigh the positives and negatives and be honest with yourself about what your priorities are and what you are willing to sacrifice to make your dreams real. For example, when I left my home base in Portland, I was giving up a creative community, a great location for operating my business, all of my current and potential clients, most of my business and the ambitions and goals I had for it, everything I owned! The list goes on! Some people might say, “You traded all that and more to work as a glorified slave?” It’s all in how you look at it. At the time, my priority was to get my hands in the earth, apprentice on organic farms (I volunteered on farms in exchange for room and board, cutting out the rent factor), see more of the world, meet new people, and mix things up a bit to see what happened. I actually had no end goal in sight. I ended up staying in Europe and moving to Lisbon. I got a whole new life, and a whole new set of problems, with my new-found-life and accomplished dreams.

Two bloggers I follow have done this as well; Cadence (an American in London) and Juliet, a Canadian in Paris.

I know many of you are immigrants or ex-pats; here’s a brand-new blog, by an American man now living in Bucharest.

I’ve cast off my former life a few times and…it’s terrifying!

OK, it was for me.

The first time, I was 25, and won an eight-month fellowship to Paris (!) to study, travel and work in a group of 28 journalists from 19 countries, ages 25 to 35. I ditched a live-in boyfriend (willingly), my dog (sob), friends, family and a thriving freelance writing career I was sick to death of.

I was stuck in a cosy cocoon, but desperate for some wings.

It certainly gave me that!

I’d left my parents’ home at 19, and there I was, living for the first time in a college dorm room (tiny!) with bathrooms down the hall and a hyper-vigilant staff who grilled me when they thought I had “un clandestin” (i.e. a man) in my room.

I traveled alone (on reporting trips) to Sicily, Denmark and Amsterdam and spent eight days in a truck with a French driver going from Perpignan to Istanbul, still one of the best adventures of my  life.

I’m still good friends with some of the people from our fellowship.

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Lake Massawippi, Eastern Townships, near Montreal

I did it again when I left my hometown of Toronto for a job in Montreal, where I’d once more be working en francais.

I loved my enormous top-floor apartment and quickly made new friends and met my first husband.

But the city was a poor fit for me, as was the newspaper I went to work for. Montreal, a charming place to visit, offered a brutally cold, snowy and interminable winter; very high taxes; limited professional opportunities, terrible public services and a much higher crime rate than Toronto.

I was gone within two years.

Off to a small town in New Hampshire to follow my first husband’s medical training there — but I had no job, no friends or family, and it was long before the Internet and its easy social and professional connections.

Then, two years after that, we moved to a town in the suburbs of New York City, just in time for a recession. Again, with no job, no family or friends and no alumni networks to lean on.

I had never lived in a small town before New Hampshire.

I had never lived in the suburbs before New York.

You can make a huge change.

Chelsea did. I did.

I know many people who have.

It takes guts, self-confidence, resilience.

Savings and good job skills are essential.

It may not work out at all as you’d hoped or planned; my first husband walked out the door (literally) barely two years after our wedding and promptly married a woman he worked with. That was very definitely not in my plans.

But here I am today, with a home, a town and a second husband that all make me happy that I made the move  — and that I toughed it out.

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Grand Central Station, NYC. One of my favorite things about living here.

Have you made a huge change in your life?

How did it turn out?

Q & A with one of my favorite bloggers, {frolic} by Chelsea Fuss

By Caitlin Kelly
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If you haven’t yet discovered the lovely images, stories and spirit of {frolic}, I urge you to do so immediately!
I don’t know how or when I found her, but am so glad I did.
Chelsea Fuss — who has the perfect name for someone with such exacting esthetic standards — now lives in Lisbon after traveling to all sorts of gorgeous places, which she has written about and photographed for her blog.
I admire her spirit of independence and exploration. She has spent her life discovering and sharing the world’s beauty — and for that I am a grateful reader and follower of her eye and her ideas.
She and I now follow one another on Twitter; she kindly agreed to let me do an email interview with her.
Tell me a bit of your history…where were you born? Raised? Did you move around a lot as a child or teen?
 
I lived in North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Olympia, WA. My family did move quite a bit though most of my growing up years were spent in Olympia, where my family goes back a generation or two. 
 
What sort of work do/did your parents do? i.e. where does your creative spirit come from? 
 
My dad was an accountant but we were always moving or talking about moving and he changed jobs a lot, setting up business wherever we went. My mother was a speech therapist but very creative with a very DIY mentality. She sewed all of our clothes and baked everything from scratch. 
My grandmother is an artist and my mom always encouraged creativity. I always looked up to my oldest sisters who brought home opera cassettes, foreign films, and art books.
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Where did you attend college and why? 
I went to Brigham Young University (a Mormon school in Salt Lake City.) It was sort of the most comfortable thing to do at the time.

“I couldn’t wait to be “grown up” have a job and my own apartment. It’s something I dreamed of from a young age”

 


Did you enjoy it – how has it helped (or hindered) you? 
 
I loved my art history classes and the lifestyle of college though I had a difficult time with the particular culture of the university I was at. I grew up Mormon, and the most comfortable thing at the time was to go to Mormon University where my best friend was going. Sometimes I wish I went elsewhere but really I was in a hurry to get through university.
I couldn’t wait to be “grown up” have a job and my own apartment. It’s something I dreamed of from a young age.
When and where did you first get interested in the work you do now?
 
I was interested in flowers since the time I was about 7 years old and I asked my mom could we please plant a big huge flower garden instead of vegetables! Flowers have always been an obsession. As a teenager in Olympia in the 90’s, I spent most of time in my herb garden wearing a straw hat, while all the other kids were at Nirvana concerts. I made potpourri and dried flower wreaths. Ha!  I read every book about gardening and flowers that I could get my hands on. At 18 I arranged the flowers for my sister’s wedding.
I always loved reading magazines and studying the styling. Blogging is something that was unexpected. I discovered it by accident and got hooked.
New horizons!
New horizons!
Who, if anyone, encouraged or mentored you the most? 
 
My parents have always been very supportive. My mom was always buying gardening books when she found out it was an interest of mine and my father has always been a huge supporter of my entrepreneurial spirit. My grandmother, Grace, was always cheering me on as well.

 “When I want a “so truthful it hurts” answer, I call my dad, for his pragmatism”

What lessons did they teach you that have proven most useful?
 
My mother and grandmother have taught me the value of optimism and positive thinking. You really have to have a positive attitude and use intention as a small business owner because of the instability and unpredictability. 
 
My dad has always tried to teach me to be more detached and not make as many emotional decisions. I am still learning that one but I’ve gotten better. 
 
When I want optimism and a pep talk, I call my mom. When I want a “so truthful it hurts” answer, I call my dad, for his pragmatism. 
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“Travel becomes a way of life and a comfort zone”



You’ve traveled the world…what gives you the confidence to do so?
 
I think it’s one of those things that the more you do, the more comfortable you get with it. Travel becomes a way of life and a comfort zone. Just like anything else. Even when it is uncomfortable, if you want something bad enough you’ll do it. Travel has always been an obsession I was willing to do anything to make it happen.
It’s funny you use the word “confident”. I’ve never been super confident and was very shy as a child and teenager. The Dr. thought I was mute when I was a kid because I never talked!
I always felt different from other people but because I had parents and siblings who encouraged me to forge my own path and live my own way, I slowly become a more confident person and found my comfort zone in doing my own thing. And I’ve always felt more confident, living life my way.

 


 

“These things come with tradeoffs. Of course it’s not easy. The instability and unpredictability is hard for me”

Other people look at a creative life, and a somewhat transient one, as scary and unpredictable. How does it feel for you?
 
For me, running my own business and being a freelancer has always been more of a comfort zone than the alternative. I’ve always loved working by myself and I think honestly, that’s been the biggest appeal. That, and freedom. 
 
The transient part had always been such a dream for me that it just felt right and it felt overdue. As I kid I dreamed of seeing the world and that dream has never left me.
I think getting to the realization that these things come with tradeoffs. Of course it’s not easy. The instability and unpredictability is hard for me. And I definitely have moments of thinking “What in the world am I doing?!” Especially moving to Portugal. In my head it seemed pretty simple and easy but I have to say it’s been much more challenging than I imagined. 
 
Where do you find creative inspiration? Do you have any role models or people you especially admire (in or out of your field?) Why them?
 
I am super inspired by artist studios, other people’s gardens and kitchens and living rooms! I love seeing how other people live and work and what they collect and how they put it all together. I always find inspiration on walks through markets, a museum, and of course a new city.
I really love what Marie from My Life in Sourdough http://www.mylifeinsourdough.com/  is doing because it’s different than anything I’ve seen before. Her series combines a romantic comedy story line with a cooking show. I think it’s brilliant and timeless.
 
What advice would you offer to people who wish they had your life? (i.e. creativity, freedom, travel, etc.)
 
First off — not everything looks like it does on the Internet.. so it’s not perfect and I have lots of problems and bad days like everyone else. Also, everything is a trade off, so while I might have freedom to travel and a flexible job, there’s other things I don’t have that maybe I would love to have.
 
Also: Focus on doing what makes you happy and what you love. Don’t be afraid to market yourself as an artist. The Internet is still the Wild West so there are so many possibilities. Do what you love and use the Internet to the best of your advantage. Also, nothing is perfect. If you want your art or creativity to be a job, you might have to compromise as far as business models, products, etc.
 
What work are you most proud of, so far? Why?
This is so hard. I think every creative person is so tough on themselves! And I always see how I could do better or improve everything I do.
I really like the way these images came out for Anna Joyce’s Indigo Collection, photographed by Lisa Warninger and prop styled by me. http://www.frolic-blog.com/2015/07/indigo-beach-dreams-with-anna-joyce/

 

The joy (and misery) of possessions

By Caitlin Kelly

“I don’t believe in storage lockers” — prop stylist/blogger Chelsea Fuss

If you’ve never seen Chelsea’s blog, go!

I loved seeing these gorgeous shawls -- so much better to take a photograph than buy and regret...
I loved seeing these gorgeous shawls — so much better to take a photograph than buy and regret…

I’ve been following it for years, for which she’s won all sorts of awards. Fuss worked in Portland, Oregon for 14 years as a props stylist and lived like a nomad for a bit, (no husband or kids.) Now, at 37 — an age when some of us are deeply mired in conventional-if-bored-to-tears work and domesticity — is happily re-settled in, of all places, Lisbon.

I enjoy everything about her blog, and her spirit of adventure. She really has the perfect name for a woman who creates lovely images for a living!

I also share her values: a devotion to connection, to beauty, flowers, travel, quiet, making a pretty home, wherever you live, that welcomes you without spending a fortune.

Paris, January 2015. I'd rather be free to travel than stay home, encumbered by stuff
Paris, January 2015. I’d rather be free to travel than stay home, encumbered by stuff

I loved her comments here, on another woman’s blog, readingmytealeaves.com:

When you spend your day driving around town in a cargo van buying $1000’s of dollars worth of props from Anthropologie and West Elm [NOTE: chic chain-store shops, for those who don’t know them] for photo shoots, those products start to mean very little. I am very detached (possibly to the extreme) from possessions! There are very few stores I walk into and find myself ooh-ing and aww-ing. As a prop stylist, after a while, you’ve seen it all. What’s really special are the one-off pieces, the heirlooms, the perfectly weathered linens, or the family postcard with old script that tells just the right story.

As I sort through my stuff, organizing/ditching/selling/donating/offering for consignment as much as I possibly can, it’s a powerful time to reflect on what we own, what we keep and why.

This Tizio lamp is one of my favorite possessions. The light it casts is clean, bright and has two intensities. Because the base is so small, it's versatile. The lamp can also be flipped upwards to cast reflected light instead.
This Tizio lamp is one of my favorite possessions — bought in 1985. The light it casts is clean, bright and has two intensities. Because the base is so small, it’s versatile. The lamp can also be flipped upwards to cast reflected light instead.

Even as I’m pitching, Jose and I are treating our home to a few nice new pieces: framing a lovely image by the talented pinhole photographer Michael Falco (a gift); a striking striped kilim we’re having shipped from Istanbul that I found online, rewiring and adding a fresh new white linen shade to an early pale grey ginger jar lamp we recently found in Ontario and a spectacular mirror, probably mid-Eastern in origin, I found dusty and grimy in an antique shop in North Hatley, Quebec.

So…how can I possibly advocate less stuff?

Because we live in a one-bedroom apartment, with very limited closet space. I’ve lived here for decades, and we both work at home now and don’t plan to move into a larger space any time soon, so a constant attention to add/pitch is crucial to our sanity and tidiness. (Yes, we do have a storage locker and keep some things in our garage as well: out of season clothing, luggage, ski equipment, etc.)

I grew up in homes where my parents’ primary interests were travel and owning fewer/better quality objects than piles ‘o stuff. My family home, and ours today, was filled with original art, (prints, paintings and photos, some of them made by us, Eskimo sculpture, a Japanese mask and scroll) and a few good antiques.

I’m typing this blog post atop a table my father gave us last year, which is 18th.century English oak.

One of the lovely Indian textiles my mother collected
One of the lovely Indian textiles my mother collected, atop an Art Deco-era Japanese vanity, a gift for my 35th birthday

It boggles my mind to enjoy and use every day in 2015 an object that’s given elegant service for multiple centuries. I prefer, for a variety of reasons, using older things (pre-1900, even 1800, when possible) to new/plastic/Formica/mass-produced.

Many people inherit things from their families and cherish them for their beauty and sentimental attachment. Not me.

I own nothing from either grandfather, and only a vintage watch and a few gifts from one grandmother — she was a terrible spendthrift who simply never bothered to pay three levels of tax on her inherited fortune. Her things were sold to pay debt; if I want to see a nice armoire she once owned, it’s now in a Toronto museum.

So…no big emotional draaaaaaama for me over stuff. I’ve bought 99% of what I own, as has my husband.

I’m also of an age now when too many of my friends, even some of them decades younger, face the exhausting, time-sucking, emotionally-draining task of emptying out a parent’s home and disposing of (keeping?) their possessions. One friend is even flying to various American cities from Canada to hand-deliver some willed pieces of jewelry, so complicated is it to ship them across the border.

When my mother had to enter a nursing home on barely a week’s notice four years ago, we had to clear out and dispose of a life’s acquisitions within a week or so. Most went to a local auction house.

It was sad, painful and highly instructive.

$31. Score!
$31. Score!

Today I’m lucky enough to enjoy a few of her things: a pretty wool rug by my bedside and several exquisite pieces of early/Indian textiles; she lived in a one-bedroom apartment so there wasn’t a lot to deal with.

But if we’re lucky enough to acquire some items we really enjoy, parting with them can feel difficult.

Maybe better to keep them to a minimum?

Check out this amazing 650 square foot NYC apartment with handsome multi-functional pieces and built-ins.

How do you feel about owning/cleaning/ditching your possessions — or those of others?

A month away — pleasure, leisure, lessons learned…

By Caitlin Kelly

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Done.

A month away from home, from work, from normal life — I will very much miss Europe and my friends there.

It’s not just being away from the tedium of home life or a long break from the grinding pace of work, but savoring a culture that more deeply values the things I care most about — not money or work or power, but food, beauty, intelligence, conversation, friends and family.

 

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I need to flee the United States a few times a year; a native Canadian who moved to the U.S. in 1989,  I’m burned out on its stalled and vicious partisan politics, growing income inequality and fervent attention to pop culture.

One of the reasons I’ve stayed freelance — which costs me income but allows me time — is to take as much time off as my budget allows. The world is too large and filled with adventures for me to sit still in one place for very long; some places I’m eager to get to in the next few years include Morocco, Turkey and Greece. (I’ve been to 39 countries so far.)

Why so long a break?

My most precious belonging!
My most precious belonging!

We were loaned a free Paris apartment for two weeks, which made it affordable given the cost of Christmas-boosted airfares. I stayed with friends in London for the next week, so the only housing cost was $1,200 for the rental of a large studio apartment for my final 8 nights; (hotels on the same street are charging about $190/night for a small single room, about $1,400/week.)

Plus meals, shopping, trainfare to/from London, transfers, taxis/subway.

I hadn’t crossed the Atlantic in five years on my last visit to Paris where, as we did here, we had rented an apartment, also on the Ile St. Louis, the small, quiet island in the middle of the Seine, and settled in for two weeks.

My definition of luxury is not owning a shiny new car or huge house, (and have never owned either one), but the time to really get to know another place for a while.

To sloooooooooow down and savor where I am.

I ate lunch in a favorite restaurant across the street from our 2009 apartment and bought a dress from a favorite shop in the Marais.

Les Fous de L'Ile. Allez-y!
Les Fous de L’Ile. Allez-y!

It’s a luxury to reconnect with the familiar in a foreign country.

In my final week in Paris, I dithered…should I rush around seeing museums, shop the sales and/or sleep late and lounge around my rental apartment, which is large and comfortable? (I did all of them.)

I also joined in the Unity March, the largest in France’s history, thrilled that I was here for it.

One very powerful memory I’m bringing home to New York?

How vivid and present, even today in 2015,  war still is in Paris.

Every street, it seems, has a plaque — often with a bunch of flowers attached to it — honoring Resistance heroes of WWII, their bravery now many decades past. Many schools, heartbreakingly, have a large plaque by their front door numbering how many of their children were taken away by the Nazis.

And there are at least four concurrent exhibitions in Paris devoted to aspects of WWII and WWI, from the Liberation of Paris (an astounding show) to one exploring collaboration with the Nazis. Having watched a 31-minute film there, from 1944, of the liberation, I’ll never again see Paris the same way — its lovely streets then filled with dead bodies and burning tanks, barricaded with trees and sewer gratings, women being dragged into the street for public shaving of their heads for collaborating with the Nazis.

A few things I’ve realized in my time away:

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Social capital can replace financial capital

Jose and I do OK for New York, but so much of it disappears in taxes, retirement savings and life in a costly place. So we’re very fortunate to have generous friends around the world who lend us and/or welcome us into their homes. I spent a week with Cadence and Jeff in London in their flat, whose total square footage is about 300 sf, the size of our living room and dining room at home. I don’t know how we managed it, but we did! While I’ve been here, Jose welcomed our young friend from Chicago, Alex, for a week and introduced him to several important new mentors and our friend Molly, from Arizona, has spent many happy nights on our sofa.

What goes around comes around, even globally!

Travel can be tiring

Exploring big, busy cities on a budget, (i.e. taxis are a rare treat), means hours of walking and many subway stairs. I get tired and dehydrated and needed a coffee or a glass of wine to just rest.

Rue des Archives
Rue des Archives

You also have to pay attention to danger, from subway pickpockets to forgetting your address or house entry code.

Sept. 18, 2011. Jose and I tie the knot!
Sept. 18, 2011. Jose and I tie the knot!

— I missed my husband!

My best friend. My confidant. My sweetie. He was here for a week. I’ve missed his company and laughter terribly and we Skyped a few times.

— Routines serve a useful purpose

At home in New York, I normally take a jazz dance class every Monday and Friday morning and go for an hour’s brisk walk in the woods with my friend Pam on Wednesday mornings. Every weekend I read three newspapers, in print. I enjoy my little routines; as a full-time freelancer with no regular schedule, they ground me.

— But it felt so good to get away from them

I usually watch the nightly news at 6:30, but also hate how U.S.-centric and sentimental it is. In my time away, my only news sources were Twitter and the occasional newspaper — I didn’t turn on the TV once, didn’t miss it a bit and read three non-fiction books instead.

I’ve also loved spending 90% of my time in the real world and not glued to social media on the computer. I really loved not driving a car for an entire month; we live in the suburbs and I spend my NY life behind the wheel, tracking the price of gas. Tedious! A city vacation meant lots of walking, buses, trains and cabs. Healthier and much more fun.

— Less is plenty

I wore the same few clothes for a month, doing laundry once a week and it was eye-opening to see how little I really need.

Same for food. I bought fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, soup and yogurt; that plus a fresh baguette every two days supplied my cheap/delicious breakfasts and light suppers at home.

— Experiences beat stuff

— riding the Ferris wheel high above Les Tuileries on a warm and sunny Christmas Day in Paris

— helping to make French history by joining the Unity March on January 11, the largest gathering of Parisians (and others beyond the city) since WWII. Here’s my blog post about it, if you missed it.

— staying in a 15th century country inn in England, eating short ribs by the fire

— meeting a snappy young British journo I follow on Twitter who took me to a secret members-only club above a Soho restaurant. The room was dim, had two small dogs snoozing in lined wooden boxes and fragrant hyacinths on every table. Heaven!

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— a cup of tea at the Ritz in London and the (!) $30 cocktails Cadence, Jeff and I shared in its spectacular Art Deco bar. Worth it!

— my spendy New Year’s Eve, dinner at Paul Bert 6 with a good bottle of red wine. Here’s the blog post by Juliet, with photos, of our evening together.

— spending a cold gray Sunday afternoon in a hammam, a Paris spa with a Middle Eastern flavor

— We are who we are, no matter where in the world our body is

At home, I need a lot of sleep, minimally 8 to 10 hours a night. Just because there are a gazillion things to do and see while visiting Europe, I didn’t force myself to do asmuchashumanlypossible. I now have a painful arthritic left knee, so by day’s end I really needed to rest.

My final week in Paris I took long, lazy mornings listening to music, reading, eating breakfast, then headed out around noon for a big French lunch, (cheaper than dinner), errands and explorations.

— Cosy beats grand/ambitious, at least some of the time

It was so nice to come “home” to our rented flats and settle in for the evening with a glass of wine and my new favorite radio station, TSFjazz; check it out online! Our Christmas dinner was roast chicken at home at the kitchen table and it was perfect. On a rainy, windy day in Paris, I was almost at the museum door, but was just exhausted. I said the hell with it, cabbed home and instead of being a dutiful/weary tourist took a nap and did laundry. Much happier choice!

— Solitude is relaxing

My life in New York requires chasing people down for work and/or payment, teaching two college classes, maintaining a happy marriage — and paying close attention to everyone’s emotional state. Whew! Raised as an only child, I savor quiet time alone, at home or out in the world exploring on my own. It recharges me.

My independence is a muscle. It needs exercise!

— But social media has been a godsend

So many blogging blind dates!

In Paris, Mallory, Catherine and Juliet — all followers of this blog, once virtual strangers now friends — invited me to meet; Catherine en francais. I also met Gillian and Ruth, fellow American writers my age. In London, I met Josh and in Paris my oldest friend from my Toronto childhood, also visiting. I had a busier social life while alone overseas than I ever do at home.

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I’m increasingly ready to leave the U.S. and its brutally industrial work culture

One of my hosts’s many books is “La Seduction”, by New York Times journalist Elaine Sciolino, who sums up my feelings well:

“The French are proud masters of le plaisir; [pleasure], for their own gratification and as a useful tool to seduce others. They have created and perfected pleasurable ways to pass the time: perfumes to sniff, gardens to wander in, wines to drink, objects of beauty to observe, conversations to carry on. They give themselves permission to fulfill a need for pleasure and and leisure that America’s hard-working, supercapitalist, abstinent culture often does not allow.”

I’ve come to loathe Americans’ fetish for “productivity” and self-denial. Pleasure and leisure are seen there with the same sort of suspicion as a felony offense. I hate that and always have.

Jose and I hope to retire to France, even part-time. Every visit back there confirms why…and I loved this recent post by Chelsea Fuss, a stylist from Portland, Oregon who sold all her things and has been on the road ever since, alone.

A longtime follower of Broadside, photographer Charlene Winfred, is doing the same thing.

An excerpt from Fuss’ terrific blog, {frolic!}:

Does your trip have a point? It seems like you are aimlessly wandering around?

Seeing the world enlightens me. This trip was about facing the nagging wanderlust that had been bugging me for years and getting back to gardening, hence the farm stays. I have a blurry picture of what it is I want to do at the end of this and am figuring it out along the way. I’ve told myself it’s ok not to be overly ambitious right now. I keep busy with work, creative projects, and soaking up my environment but it’s definitely a slower pace than I lived at home and I think that’s ok for me right now. Slowly but surely this vision is getting clearer. I have days when I feel like I am going backwards and I should be climbing the career ladder, but that’s usually when I am comparing myself to other people. For me, this is right, right now.