‘I’m Supposed to Be Doing This’
What one Arlington executive learned during an adult gap year in Mexico.
“I have a crazy idea,” I said. “What if we moved to Mexico this year? The kids can Zoom into remote school. You’ve always worked remotely, so it shouldn’t matter where you work. I can take a sabbatical. We can turn Covid into an adventure.”
I proposed my big idea to my husband, Bill, on July 14, 2020—the day we received the email announcement that Arlington Public Schools would not return to in-person learning that fall.
For as long as I could remember, I was the one who had it under control. I knew what I wanted and would go get it. I learned the rules of the corporate game early. My career was a doughnut-eating contest, and I was out to win.
Over the years, I’d honed my craft. I won the contests, only to discover that the prize for winning was more doughnuts. After years of eating doughnuts, I realized I was tired of them. But I had no idea what else I could eat or what I even liked.
Even before the pandemic, I had heard a small voice whispering, Is this all there is? and Am I really supposed to be doing this? But I had worked so long and so hard. I was a partner at a global management consulting firm. I was successful. Conventional wisdom says you don’t walk away from the career that you have built over 25 years to find what you are supposed to be doing. The reality was, I was too scared, or maybe just too comfortable, to change.
“Conventional wisdom says you don’t walk away from the career that you have built over 25 years to find what you are supposed to be doing.”
On that Tuesday in July, the small voice that had been restless for so long finally shouted at the top of her lungs…You are not happy! You can do better! You must do better!
Unfortunately, at that moment, I had no idea what “better” could possibly look like. I was lost. All I knew was that I couldn’t find myself where I was, on the career treadmill that was going ever faster each year. Like Scooby-Doo, my legs were moving fast, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. I had to step off and step away.
An adult gap year in Mexico seemed like the perfect answer.
Two months later, my family and I arrived in Oaxaca. It felt adventurous and energizing, but also terrifying. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no plan. I couldn’t find a checklist for “taking an adult gap year” on Google, so I cobbled one together on my own.
I slowed down. I let go. I listened to my intuition. I figured out what I am supposed to be doing.
In Mexico, I couldn’t operate on autopilot. I had to be present or things would be missed or wouldn’t get done. I came to appreciate where I was and what I was accomplishing. Even the littlest things—like hearing the difference between 60—sesenta—and 70—setenta—or calling the water company, speaking in broken Spanish and actually having them arrive with jugs of drinking water. These were huge achievements.
I said yes to things that would have been a hard pass before we got to Oaxaca. A silent yoga retreat? Sure. (To be fair, I said yes to the yoga retreat; the silent part was somewhat of an unwelcome surprise.) Inviting people over whom we had met for five minutes at a mercado? You bet. Graciously accepting help when Bill crashed on his mountain bike and needed to go to the hospital? I had no choice.
Saying yes often felt like a risk, but I found that I liked living in the space of “I don’t know” because I was learning and growing.
I found the courage to let go of expectations, both of myself and of others. When I met people, they got all of me—even the parts that were searching and growing. I wasn’t trying to play a part. People liked me for me. I was enough without my title or my stuff. When I butchered the language and made faux pas after faux pas, I was enough.
I had never believed that before. I let go of my fear that people would judge me and that I would disappoint them.
“I let go of my fear that people would judge me and that I would disappoint them.”
I came to respect my intuition and listen to the little voice that I had ignored for so long. I valued authenticity and making a difference, realizing that in my life before Oaxaca, I hadn’t been living these values. I wanted to create connections, spark creativity and facilitate experiences that would help people realize their full potential.
If I had stayed put in my life as I had known it, sure, I would have made it and likely been fine. But I would have missed out on so much—like finding freedom dancing by the Pacific Ocean; buying handmade Christmas piñatas from a family-owned business that takes pride in its craft; realizing a childhood dream of swimming with dolphins; reconnecting with and creating family memories I will cherish forever; and above all, getting to know myself again.
My adult gap year was not a vacation or an escape. It was a lot of work. It was a process of taking risks, unlearning and relearning. Dismantling the identity I had created for myself, the person I thought I was supposed to be, the one others saw me as, and charting a new way forward. My adult gap year left me with some monumental takeaways:
There is value in slowing down.
There is freedom in letting go.
I am a heck of a lot stronger than I ever gave myself credit for.
When I listened to my heart and the universe, I found my way forward.
Now back in Arlington, I am living my life to the best of my ability, loving fiercely, living fully, taking risks, learning more and trusting myself. Because I’m supposed to be doing this.
Suzanne Roske is the author of I’m Supposed to Be Doing This: An Adult Gap Year. She is a recovering consultant, a certified executive coach and the founder of Vamonos Executive Coaching, where she helps individuals and teams unlock their full potential. She lives in Arlington with her husband and three children, but a piece of her heart will forever be in Oaxaca.