Voluntarily undertaking any major life change is going to require some serious courage. You’re going to have to take a leap of faith. It’s like taking a step off of a cliff and hoping that there’s something there to catch you. If you’ve gone skydiving before, then you know exactly what it feels like in your mind and your body–it’s the sensation of free fall right before your parachute opens. It’s incredibly liberating to risk everything you know to experience something better. Because there are no guarantees it will work out the way you imagine.

It’s like taking a step off of a cliff and hoping that there’s something there to catch you.

But I can’t imagine ever deciding to produce a travelogue show from scratch for YouTube and travel a year by myself around the United States without having survived my first giant leap of faith–leaving my job at the Department of Defense, selling my house, and moving away from D.C. where I’d spent more than eleven years of my life to a small town on the Gulf of Mexico in South Texas. I’m extremely grateful for the courage that I had in 2019 because it has inspired me to be even bolder in 2021. 

Spoiler: It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing.

Everything started with a profound dream I experienced in early December 2018. During the night, my subconscious took me on a trip to a different life–it was one in which I had pursued my creative aspirations and was en-route to becoming a writer and producer of film/TV. I hadn’t achieved success yet. Not even close. In fact, I was no longer living in D.C., was semi-unemployed, and living on the fumes of my life savings. Things were uncertain, even chaotic. But I was at peace with my decision and my life. And I felt joy for the first time in many years. When I woke up the next morning, I contrasted my emotional outlook during the dream with that of my real life, and it punched me in the gut. 

When I woke up the next morning, I contrasted my emotional outlook during the dream with that of my real life, and it punched me in the gut.

I had become disillusioned with my achievements over the course of my career and had been extremely unhappy in my job for some time. If I wasn’t having my desired impact, what was the point of it all? Why was I suffering so much and living somewhere I didn’t want to be? I felt lost and wasn’t sure what to do about it or where to start in remaking my life. I really didn’t want another job in D.C. I feared it would just be more of the same. Meanwhile, my passion for working on the issues–for reducing the risks of nuclear and biological weapons, preventing WMD terrorism, and navigating the challenges of emerging technologies for national security–all remained as strong as ever. But what if I just didn’t want to do the policy thing anymore? I was frustrated with the U.S. failing to make progress in reducing the risks and even sliding backwards down a steep slope in a number of cases.

I considered my options, but all I saw were the obstacles around me. I’d already started writing fiction novels, but sales had not yet begun to take off. There was no way that I could quit my job and become a full-time writer. If I did that, I wouldn’t be able to pay for a book cover or an editor. Of course, I also felt impossibly trapped by financial considerations–my mortgage, student loan debt, the benefits of my job (health insurance), the cost of living in D.C., and most of all, the notion of giving up on a career I’d invested so much time and money in and was actually still paying off. I found myself… let’s just say it… in a mid-life crisis.

I felt trapped by financial considerations–my home mortgage, student loan debt, the benefits of my job (health insurance), the cost of living in D.C., and most of all, the notion of giving up on a career I’d invested so much time and money in.

But the taste of liberation in a single dream was persuasive–-it was as if the deepest part of myself was trying to tell me something–-just let go, and all will be well. Not long after waking up from my dream, I began setting things in motion, preparing to sell my house, giving notice at my job, looking for consulting opportunities, and asking my parents if I could live in their house in Texas for a short period while they weren’t there (try to guess which one was the hardest). On June 8, 2019, after my last day on the job and successfully closing the sale on my house, I departed DC for Michigan where my dogs and I would spend several weeks before continuing on to Texas. I had some good consulting lined up and felt pretty good about everything. Maybe this would just be a small bump in the road of my life.

After spending three weeks visiting family and friends in Michigan, I departed for Rockport, Texas. I’d already visited my parents at their house a few times, so I knew what to expect. The trip was mostly uneventful–-except for a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, Texas where I’d run over a nail. After two hours on the side of the road in 90+ temps, I had to be towed ninety miles all the way to the Mini Cooper dealer in Houston to get a new one. Malachi, the Doberman, had to ride in the back seat of the Mini Cooper with the windows down and was not happy about it. I wasn’t either. But he refused to be lifted (all 100 pounds of him) into the front cab of the two truck, and I got scratched trying to persuade him.

We arrived in Rockport around 10:30 p.m. on June 25, 2019. The pod with all my belongings arrived a few days later. The first part of my giant leap of faith was complete. I hope you’ll read Part II to find out how things have turned out thus far.

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natashabajema

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