This story was originally published on Quarterlette.com
By: Ali Slous
As children, we experience "change" as a routine part of life. Each year, we are introduced to a new grade (or a new school altogether), different teachers, classes, subjects, hobbies and the potential to learn new things, make new friends, and reinvent ourselves.
Between sixth and eighth grade alone, I went from Pumas, Doc Martens, flannel shirts and ripped jeans (grunge) to oversized Guess t-shirts, "sagging" jeans, nameplate necklaces and hoop earrings (hip-hop).
Despite the consistency with which we experience change as young people, these transitions can still bring up our innate fears and insecurities. We wonder: Will people like me? Will I get good grades? What should I wear on the first day? Nonetheless, we accept that change, and the emotions that go with it, is an inevitable part of our young lives.
Ultimately, we tap into our excitement and curiosity to overcome and face our fears. As adults, we experience change far less frequently. On the contrary, we are encouraged to change less and make more long-term commitments. We are told that it will look bad on our resume if we change jobs too frequently, that we should own a car, a home and make a lifelong commitment to one partner.
Where our formative years are spent hopping from one new experience to another, our adult years can become certain, repetitive and even stagnant. Toward the end of 2012, and approaching my decade mark in Manhattan, I had reached a point where I was craving change. I had worked diligently and been blessed with career success, a beautiful luxury apartment, and a strong support system of friends and family.
However, gradually and almost imperceptibly, my needs had shifted, and the life I had created for myself was no longer working for me. Whereas in the past I might have started contacting recruiters or trolling StreetEasy for a new place to live, I already knew that no new job, apartment, or other material item would fulfill this growing desire. What I truly wanted, in a deep, quiet place inside myself (a place I had begun to access through my yoga practice), was a means through which I could experience radical, transformational change from the inside out.
I wanted to live somewhere else entirely, somewhere "off the grid." I wanted to feel what it was like NOT to have a job for a while, after working (hard) for ten years straight. I wanted to begin creating the next phase of my life, but I wasn't sure what it looked like yet and was too tired and burned out to start putting it together. How could I implement changes in my life when I didn't have the time, energy, or space to envision them?
By the infamous 2012 December Solstice, I already understood that one world was, indeed, ending; but what new world would arise in its place remained to be seen. I now had 2013 to save money (read: not completely empty bank account), complete a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training I had already committed to, and, eventually, plan my exit strategy. When it was time to begin planning, I turned to Google to research potential destinations, inputting keywords such as "yoga," "retreat" and "volunteer." I figured that volunteer work would infuse some structure into my time off (I could neither afford to go on extended vacay, nor did I necessarily want to), and would allow whatever money I was able to save to buy me what I wanted more than anything: time.
It wasn't until a sick day home in bed, watching "The Descendants" that I began to contemplate Hawaii. A friend's passing comment a few days later, "let's go to Hawaii!" reminded me, and I immediately typed the words "yoga," "volunteer," and "Hawaii" into the search box. My eyes scanned the results, gravitating to the phrases "Volunteer in Hawaii" and "Kalani Retreat Center" that topped the list.
As I explored the Kalani website, watching videos, reading blog entries, and looking at pictures of the sprawling, lush, green property nestled in a remote part of the Big Island, it became clear that this was where I was going. I called the volunteer office that afternoon and spoke to a man named John, who encouraged me to apply as soon as possible. I sensed almost instantly that my search had ended; but my transition had just begun.
On the Kalani volunteer application, I had to answer the question: What transitions will you make in order to come to Kalani? I replied: "In order to come to Kalani, I will give up my apartment and proximity to friends and family, I will take an extended leave of absence from my job, and I will leave my familiar city life behind to create space for what is to come and take steps toward doing what I am really here to do."
On February 2nd, 2014, I arrived at Kalani, having done just that; having gone through each and every item I acquired during my ten-year stint in New York City, deciding what to keep, what to throw away, and what to donate; having uprooted myself from the place that had become my home; having secured an extended leave of absence from my job; having said bittersweet goodbyes to my best friends, my parents, and to all the people and experiences that have made this chapter of my life memorable and meaningful.
I gave up the certainty of knowing what each day will hold, and in that I will experience the freedom, insecurity, and uncertainty of change. I traded in my 29th floor luxury studio for a tent and an air mattress, and my corporate digital marketing job for four shifts a week in a kitchen. I traveled, by myself, from one of the world's biggest and busiest metropolises to a remote corner of the planet near an active volcano.
In the spirit of Aloha, a word among whose meanings are "hello" and "goodbye," I said goodbye to one life and hello to another, a chapter that has yet to be written. And in the spirit of change, I was equal parts scared and excited, an intoxicating elixir of emotions that carried me across the threshold as I reinvented myself in a transformational year.