Chapter 5: Past to Present

Well friends, it’s happening! Right this very moment I’m on a plane headed to Lima, Peru. After four months of anticipation I’ve finally started my Remote Year journey. Last night as I was packing my bags for the last time, I found myself thinking back on the formative events in my past that have led me to where I am today. I’d like to dedicate this post to reflecting on my life so far and how it’s prepared me for this moment.

I was born almost 30 years ago in Fort Collins, Colorado. My parents had met five years earlier at a hot tub party hosted by a coworker (steamy, I know) and shortly after they fell in love. A few years later they got married and although my mom already had two boys, they decided to try for one child of their own. I was born 15 years younger than my oldest brother and my mom finally got the girl she’d always dreamed of.

My dad grew up in Napa, California as one of six kids to first generation American parents. He grew up in the Catholic church, went to UC Davis and graduated as a computer engineer in the late 70s. Shortly after he moved to Northern Colorado to pursue a job at Hewlett Packard and an adventurous outdoors lifestyle. My mom grew up on dairy farms just east of Fort Collins. When her parents divorced when she was 13, she became the woman of her household, learning to care for her dad and brother. She got married when she was 18, had my first brother at 20 and was divorced five years later. She worked hard as a single mom raising two boys, working multiple jobs at times until she found a job in HR at HP. My parents have been happily married now for 35 years and are almost inseparable. They truly are each other’s best friend.

When I was eight years old, my dad was assigned to a new job in Tokyo, Japan, so we packed up and moved halfway around the world. My brothers had graduated high school and decided to stay in the US, so I became both the baby and an only child. I couldn’t imagine leaving behind my home, my cat and all my friends and I made sure my parents knew it. In the fall of 1997 I started third grade at the American School In Japan. I attended classes with students from over 30 countries and adjusted to life in a foreign country. We learned some Japanese and I acquired a much more diverse world view than I ever would have had we stayed in Colorado. In the four years we lived in Tokyo we traveled extensively taking advantage of our relatively close proximity to Australia, New Zealand and other Asian countries.

In 2001 we moved back to Fort Collins, returning to my childhood home. I was 12 years old and four days later I started school at the Loveland School District’s newest middle school. It was the sole building standing in the middle of a field with the mountains to the west and open space as far as the eye could see. My best friend from childhood, Jenny, met me outside on the first day and made sure to introduce me to all her friends and acquaintances. My dad was late picking me up that day and as I found myself alone in that wide open space, so different from the crowded streets of Tokyo, I asked myself “where on earth am I?” My culture shock returning to Colorado was much more striking than I would have imagined. The diversity of culture and philosophy and the openminded attitudes I’d grown used to at my school in Japan were hard to find in Loveland, Colorado. I was called “tai kwon do girl” and asked “are there trees in Japan?” and told in an accusatory tone that “your people killed my people at Pearl Harbor”. Kids at my public school were not as sheltered as the private school kids I was used to. I learned so much about sex and drugs and other taboos in that first year. But despite all of this, I was popular for the first time in my life and I adjusted quickly doing well in school, while also rebelling against my parents’ strict rules. 

In 10th grade I joined DECA, a high school marketing organization. It was the largest club at school and my friend Alyse and I thought it would teach us what we needed to know in order to run our budding lingerie business, Happy Straps. While Happy Straps never really became a thing, DECA became a very big part of my life and shaped me more than any other single experience. At the end of my sophomore year I ran for a chapter officer position with DECA and was the only underclassman to be elected. Junior year I was elected as a state officer for Colorado DECA and did well enough at the state competition to compete at Nationals. At the national conference in Dallas, Texas I decided I would run for a national officer position in the organization and after a year of planning and preparation, I ran for the position of National President at the end of my senior year. I was elected and served as president of 135,000 DECA members in 2007. I spent a year traveling across the country giving speeches and workshops to high school students.  I deferred my admission to Johnson & Wales University for the year and attended 21 conferences in 18 states, building up my confidence and expanding my network and list of future opportunities. I can only begin to describe the impact this organization had on my life. In my leadership roles with DECA I changed from someone who had severe social anxiety to a figurehead and leader, appearing on National TV and speaking to audiences of up to 13,000 people. My position as National President won me a full-tuition scholarship to university, an internship with Lifetime TV Networks in New York, multiple jobs over the years and a lifelong professional network. I even met my friend and mentor, Kelly Laukemann, because of DECA.

After my year of “service” with DECA, I was anxious to go back to school. I took full advantage of my scholarship and decided to double major in Marketing and International Business (no surprises there). I worked on and off throughout my four years of college, but my housing was covered by my parents, who had saved up money for my education. Because of this, I was able to save my money for a variety of unpaid internships and study abroad experiences. I took internships in New York, Washington, DC and Denver and studied abroad in Sweden, France and South Korea. My junior year I transferred out to Johnson & Wales’ Rhode Island campus for eight months, convinced that would help me find a job in New York after graduation, but the frigidity of the people and the weather wore me down and I decided to return to the Denver campus for my senior year. As I followed all these varied opportunities, I inevitably moved around quite a bit. By the time I turned 23 I had lived in 13 homes with 21 roommates since leaving my parents at 18. I had become a pseudo nomad and although you’d think I’d want stability after all of that, my spirit of adventure just seemed to grow.

At 24 years old, I was living in Denver and working for a small ad agency. I had struggled to adjust to a nine-to-five job, being told when and exactly how to work. It had been over a year since I’d graduated college and I couldn’t figure out why I was still in Denver. I knew it was time for a change. I started weighing the pros and cons between New York, Chicago and San Diego. New York was too expensive, San Diego didn’t offer quite as much job opportunity and Chicago was the best of both worlds. I gave myself a timeline and moved home to my parents to save money. I had a plan. What I hadn’t planned for was love. They say love finds you when you least expect it. I had dated plenty of men in the past who ended things because I was always talking about leaving and going somewhere else. I may have even stayed in Colorado longer than anticipated, because of one relationship or another. When I made up my mind to move, I told myself I wouldn’t let anyone hold me back. Then I met Kris. At first I was weary, afraid to get attached, but as our first conversation had been about the places we’d traveled and where else we’d like to go, I began to think I might be able to have it both ways. When the time came for me to leave for Chicago, Kris asked if he could come along. I was cautious as I’d heard so many stories of couples moving together and then ending it just months later, but I had to take the chance. I had found a man who shared my spirit of adventure. I thought perhaps I’d found another nomad who would wander this earth by my side.

Kris and I lived together in Chicago for three years. As I describe in my past blog post Love and loss, it was a tumultuous time for both of us. I wasn’t exactly happy as my dreams of what life in Chicago would be like were replaced with our rocky, stressful reality, but at some point I convinced myself that it was good enough and I settled for a life that was nothing like what I had imagined for myself. Kris and I traveled when we could, mostly domestically as his frequent unemployment and my low salary made international travel a challenge. We dreamed of moving to a tropical island someday and opening a small bed and breakfast. While I loved Chicago, I longed to jet set and escape the day-to-day. It didn’t help that my day-to-day was filled with petty arguments, a stressful job and unhealthy lifestyle habits. In July 2016 I decided things weren’t working and it was time to return home and “reset”. Over the years I had always gone back to Colorado in between my adventures to figure out my next step. I knew Kris longed for the mountains and I felt more lost than ever before, so I planted the seed and eight months later we moved back. As we drove away from Chicago I couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss. I longed for what could have been and mourned the loss of what would never be. I’ve felt that feeling time and again these last eight months as well.

In June of 2017 I found a job in Boulder. Two months later Kris and I split up and I moved into my own studio apartment in the heart of town. I’d never thought I’d live in Boulder, but it turned out to be the best possible place for a fresh start. Working in a co-working space I got to know the local freelance community, I tried my luck at online dating for the first time ever, and I bought a ski pass. I regained a sense of confidence that had been buried in my years with Kris, I began to ask myself again “what do I want in this life?” For the first time in years I was truly happy. I even remember thinking “I am so incredibly happy, I’ve reclaimed my life.” But then Kris died. I had been able to start fresh hoping that my leaving would allow him to do the same. I prayed that he would be happier with someone else. I wanted him to be as happy as I’d become. In the first few months of 2018 I had begun thinking of where I’d like to go next. I figured I’d spend another year in Colorado and then make my next move. I was excited for one more ski season and another year with friends and family, but even more excited by the sense of freedom and empowerment I had, knowing I could go anywhere or do anything I set my mind to. Unfortunately, that feeling of excitement and anticipation left with Kris.

In the months after Kris’ death, I felt claustrophobic. I was anxious and no longer looking forward to one more year in Colorado. I felt like I needed to leave sooner than later, but I had no idea where to go or what I would do when I got there. As it tends to do, the universe decided for me. My boss signed up for Remote Year and asked if I’d like to go as well. Days later my Cooper passed away and suddenly my only obligation was gone. The universe had answered my questions with this reply “Go everywhere, and keep the job you love. Be free and heal yourself.” So here I am.

I have tried to hold back expectations for the year to come, preferring to trust the universe as I have before and see what happens. But I do have a few soft goals as I set out on this journey: 1. To grow and nurture my love for myself. I know now more than ever that you can’t truly love someone else if you don’t love yourself first. 2. To live fully and not hold back. I lived in survival mode for three years, doubting myself and too on-edge to let down my guard. I plan to make up for lost time. 3. To seek happiness every single day. As my dad reminded me this morning, happiness is a choice. If you choose to be happy and make others happy, you cannot help but be happy. Here’s to the years past and the year ahead. Here’s to the moments that have led to today. Here’s to happiness and the pursuit of adventure!

Ready for my next adventure

3 thoughts on “Chapter 5: Past to Present

  1. Love you so much, Kelly!! ❤️ You know you have always been such an inspiration to me, and I can’t wait to see what this year brings you. The time is now!! 2019 doesn’t even know the force that it’s reconing with. 🙂

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  2. I am happy you are following your heart and I agree with dad happiness is a choice. I look forward to reading about your life this year. I love you so much daughter.

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  3. May this journey bring you many rich adventures, Kelly. Happy New Year and new experiences, and say hello to Machu Picchu for me.

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