The backpacks are unpacked. Laundry finished. Passports put away. Hiking boots back in the cupboard. Coming home from a big trip can be a bit surreal. To re-enter ‘normal’ life after having the kind of adventures I’ve had for the past few weeks can feel like a bit of a let down. I feel changed but as I look around, everything at home feels unchanged. And it’s taking me a bit of time to fit back into my life.
The truth is, things around me have changed too.
When I left for Peru, it was winter in Canberra. I’ve come home to Spring – daffodils in the garden, wattle bushes in bloom and warm enough weather to sit on my deck and drink coffee each morning.
I arrived home in Canberra on Thursday night. We were on one of the many commuter flights that zip between Sydney and Canberra each day and this one was full to the gills of corporate types returning to their homes after a day of meetings in Sydney. I used to be on that very flight at least once a week, if not more, in my corporate working days. As I looked around the plane on Thursday evening, I was struck by how I don’t miss that lifestyle at all.
Sure, Zoë and I had just had three days straight of travel to get home and it would have been nice to have access to the Qantas business class lounge like in the old days, where I could have a shower, food and reclining chairs. Instead, we’d stretched out in the Santiago airport over four seats each, feet propped up on our backpacks, blanket thrown over us and tried halfway successfully to sleep at the gate.
I realised I wouldn’t trade access to the business lounge for the freedom and life I have now.
As I boarded the plane to Canberra, exhaustion caught up with me and I slept the 45 minute flight away, only waking up as the plane landed on the tarmac. I looked around; everyone around me grabbed their phone, flicked off flight mode and started answering emails. The flight had only been 45 minutes. But they were all answering emails like their lives depended on it. I remember those days too. They were too busy, too stressful.
Just after our bags came out of baggage claim I ran into an old acquaintance who had been on our flight. I had noticed her but her head was down, fingers flying over her mobile and I hadn’t bothered her. As I watched her on the plane, she reminded me of the old me. When she saw me at the airport, she greeted me with a huge smile and kept exclaiming how well I looked, which made me laugh. I was wearing the same clothes I had been wearing for three days. I wore flip-flops because my foot that had been attacked by sandflies in the Amazon was so swollen I couldn’t wear a proper shoe. I hadn’t showered in days, I wore no make up and my hair was disgusting. Yet, she kept going on about how great I looked. I said that low stress levels were my secret. It was funny running into her. I felt the Universe had put us in each other’s paths for a reason. I needed to be reminded in that moment of how much I’ve changed in my life. What my priorities are now, as opposed to what my priorities were then.
My priorities have changed hugely.
Most importantly, I put myself first. I learned the hard way that constantly trying to please everyone else in my life led to exhaustion and burnout for me. And nothing I did was ever enough anyway. People are always going to get upset with me and want me to do more. It’s up to me to protect myself and only do what I feel is right for me. I’ve learned what I need to keep my energy high. A bit like the safety demonstration on the plane, I have to put on my own oxygen mask first, then help others.
Which means once I look after me, I have more energy for the people who are truly important to me in my life. My family, my friends. People who are good for me and I am good for them. I can be fully present with them when I’m with them. I’ve let a lot of people go from my life; especially the energy vampires who sucked the life out of me and who I don’t need to give energy to anymore.
I have come to see how important it is for me to follow my passions: traveling, writing, connecting with people around the world, being in nature, painting. Those things fill me up.
Part of re-entry for me is spending time on my own. My daughters have spent the past couple of days with their dad and it’s been weird to be on my own again after three weeks of being surrounded by people. But this time has been vital for me to be able to recharge.
Another part of re-entry is re-connecting with people close to me. I’ve talked to five of my closest friends since I got home Thursday night. Three of those five each had close family or friends die unexpectedly while I was in Peru. They all mentioned how fast things can change when you least expect it.
It’s that knowledge that life can change quickly that led me to take both of my daughters on some amazing trips in the past year. None of us know how long we’ve got here on this planet, in this lifetime. I have a limited amount of time with them to make memories, build our relationships and spend quality time with them. I spent too many years working, sitting on planes, making money, prioritising email over children. I’m not making that mistake in my life again.
My kids need me more now than they did when they were small. Anyone can make a vegemite sandwich and get a young child off to school. But teenagers need to be able to talk on their timetable, about things that are important to them, with someone they trust. I’m grateful I can be here for them now, as they transition from children to adults, forging their own paths and testing their own boundaries.
Although I spent much of Friday looking at flights for my next adventure, I know that I need to stay put at the moment and be here for my daughters for the next few months. Soon, life will change again (nothing stays the same very long in life) and who knows where that change will take each of us.
Right now, I’m where I need to be. And I’m grateful that my life is one I’m happy to re-enter.
(But there’s no harm in dreaming about my next adventure, right?)