It was that dreaded day that I realized I would no longer be living as a free spirit in a foreign country with the “study abroad” excuse. After a semester abroad in Paris, I said au revoir to my French host family, and I boarded the plane to head home. Let me take you back to that flight from Charles De Gaulle airport.
I’m stressed, I’m alone, I’m nervous, and I’m sweaty from lugging my six bags through the aisle to Row 5; In other words, I’m everything but at ease.
My three carry-ons, pillow pet, and I, shimmy past the overweight man in the aisle seat just to sit down and hear a middle-aged Parisian man-bitch yell at me, “Excusez-moi, yew need to…euh…mewve. That is…my…euh…zseat.” I attempt to squeeze all of my bags past the overweight man once again, but this time there’s the pressure of the Parisian man staring. Did I have to wear the stupid rain boots that choke my chunky calves? Did I have to wear the itchiest winter hat that screamed “American tourist?” And damn, did I have to wear four layers of sweaters in the middle of May to minimize the weight of my luggage?
I make my way to Row 6, the location of my actual seat, and get resettled. As I’m opening up the latest copy of SkyMall, a perky, American flight attendant pokes me and requests that I move seats to make room for a couple. I move my million bags once again and follow her to my final destination: Row 7, Seat A.
Third time better be the charm. I take off my calf-choking boots and put them in the space in front of me as a blonde woman sits next to me and says, “the flight attendant is going to yell at you for putting your boots there.”
So I put them on again.
She slides into seat 7B – smack dab between me and conveniently, another overweight man.The plane is about to take off and I instantly feel more sweat accumulate on my palms. The blonde woman looks at me and asks “where are you coming from?” and I think to myself Oh, now you wanna be my friend? I try to take the look of anxiety off my face and engage in a conversation just because it’ll distract my in-flight phobia. “I was studying abroad in Paris, and now I’m going back to my old life, hustling in NYC.” The plane takes off and we have that shared, unspoken thought of yep, we’re all going to die. After I break the silence by admitting I hate this part of travel, she chuckles and introduces herself, “I’m Julie.” Names were shared, and stories of our journeys started pouring out during take off.
Somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean, Julie tells me that she had previously climbed the corporate ladder in a dance company. Despite society’s view of her success in having a fancy title in a prestigious company, it didn’t give her a joie de vivre, because it wasn’t her own company. After about five years in the same job, she took a leap of faith and decided to create her own PR firm. She has since sustained herself for ten years and takes full responsibility for her income as an entrepreneur with clients she’s passionate about.
She asks me what I’m studying in college and this is when it got real. I start rambling about studying International Management, but admit that my mission was to become the CEO of my own company. I just didn’t know what that company was yet…or did I? As I’m rambling on and on about doing my five internships in Management, Marketing, and PR, I realize that maybe she sat next to me for some divine reason.
I tell Julie that I had locked down a full-time summer internship, and that’s when the reality set in; after spending four months of actually living my life abroad, I’d be returning to the life of cubicles, resumé-building, and checking off “success items” on society’s to-do list, while never truly enjoying what I’m doing in the present. In other words, I was always thinking I’d be happier when I had more money, when I had more time, or when I had more experience. Basically any other time than now.
I switch gears, and tell her that I’d started filming these little episodes of my travels with my best friend Damon. She could tell I was more excited about these “little travel episodes” than any other internship I had ever worked, and to her it was clear, “Joanna, I say you go back to NYC, continue to film with Damon, build your fanbase, and embrace the fact that you’re a creative entrepreneur.”
Da woman hit the nail on the head.
It took a while to admit to myself that I was never happy in these corporate internships where I would try to blend in as possible to compensate for my big curly hair and brown skin. She pointed out that I speak various languages that were never used in these internships, that I have a big personality that I constantly felt I needed to toned down, and that a cubicle would never be the dream destination for someone with intense wanderlust.
WTF was I doing with my life?
Four hours into the flight, Julie had permanently sparked my awareness of how I had control over my life. She had reassured me that a life off the beaten path would be difficult, but comforted me by laying down some wise words, “you need to realize that luck is just preparation meeting opportunity.” I had to prepare and the opportunity, or “luck,” would come.
Two years later, Julie and I still keep in touch. Since sitting in Seat 7A, I’ve never thought about working for anyone else, settling for what society believes success is, and I never. ever forget to be happy in the present, because that is what matters.
And that’s the story of how the woman in Seat 7B changed my life.
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