Last updated: 03:21 PM ET, Thu April 30 2015

Opinion Home | Tales From the Leap

  • Shannon Wolf | April 30, 2015 3:21 PM ET

    How I Finally Took the Leap

    How I Finally Took the Leap

    PHOTO: This is the view I dreamed of from my cubicle. (All photos by Shannon Wolf)


    EDITOR'S NOTE: Today, we begin a new blog featuring travel writer and photographer Shannon Wolf, an adventurer who decided to take a new path in life. She'll be telling her tales from this new life, but first, her story of how she made the transformation.

    Four months ago, I took the jump.  I left behind everything and everyone I had ever known to pursue a life I could be proud of.

    I once read somewhere that “A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.” At the time I didn’t know that this quote would become my mantra; the driving force behind what I have become: a 26-year-old female photographer/writer, traveling solo across the globe with nothing more than my camera gear, a laptop and a 22-pound backpack with no intent of stopping.

    On Nov. 25, 2014 my life was forever changed. I made my way through security at Toronto Pearson International Airport and walked past windows filled with departing planes.  I stood there for a moment, gripping my passport and a one-way ticket to Guatemala and took a deep breath in. 

    And out. 

    I wasn’t sure if the knot in my stomach came from excitement or being scared out of my mind but I managed to go through the motions of being happy, eager and hopeful thinking to myself, “You finally did it; you’re free," to being downright scared and everything all rolled up into one.  I felt that way even as the plane left the runway.

    When I lost sight of the city, and buildings were replaced with miles of clouds while the sun beamed through, I had a moment of clarity:  Despite how scared I was, I needed to have an unrivaled belief in myself and my gut that I did this for a reason; even if I didn’t fully comprehend all of the reasons why I was leaving. 

    I was not running away from something – I was running, full speed ahead towards my future, and although the road was unclear right now, everything would work out as it should.

    I continued to stare out of the window and watch the clouds roll by. “Wild Country” by Wake Owl played quietly in my ears.  Inadvertently, I suddenly smiled and found I couldn’t stop:  I thought to myself, “This is the first day of my life.”

    Now, flash back to the person I was almost two years ago and you would have found me living in a beautiful condo I bought at the age of 23 and in a committed relationship with a man who loved me dearly, all while working two jobs:  As a proposal coordinator for a top engineering firm and a photographer making a name for myself in the industry. From the outside looking in, I had it all and yet, beneath the surface, I couldn’t have felt more empty, lost and unhappy.

    After months of sleepless nights and internal questioning while sitting in my dimly lit cubicle, I asked myself, “When was the last time you were truly happy?”

    I sat for a while and out of nowhere, it was as if a light went on. I was taken back to 2011 when I was in Switzerland atop of Jungfrau Mountain and remembered how I had never felt more alive.  That night, for the first time in months, I slept soundly and woke up invigorated, knowing that I needed to make a radical change to my life.

    I began reevaluating every aspect of my life:  My jobs, possessions, accomplishments, relationships and personal life. The harder I examined each aspect, the more I came to the realization that I had created a life for myself that fit the mold of what everyone else had expected of me, not what truly made me happy. Somewhere along the line, I had settled.

    I had purchased the condo at 23 after backpacking through Europe because it seemed like the “responsible” thing to do (the parental pressure didn’t help either).  I took the 9-to-5 job because I was unable to afford the condo on an artist’s income. 

    I felt unfulfilled in my relationship because I was unhappy with myself and felt intense guilt and immense confusion that I could not embrace the love offered by a good, decent man and the trappings offered by the middle-income dream of marriage, kids, a house and weekend barbecues.

    Within a matter of six months, I had flipped my life upside down.  For the first time in two years, despite the tears and stress of doing something so drastic I felt as though I was finally at the trailhead of the right path.  I jumped in blindly - budgeted to see how much money I would need to sustain myself on the road, chose a departure date but didn’t tell a soul, and sold everything I had other than what would fit into a shoebox room that I had rented for $570/month while renting out my condo for a year. 

    My relationship came to an end. I worked nearly seven days each week, picking up any extra job I that I could find.  By August 2014, I’d sold my condo. I slept on a foam mattress because I had sold all my furniture (including my bed) and owned nothing more than a few articles of clothing and camera gear.

    Now, here I am in beautiful Samara, Costa Rica, lying in a hammock and just about to head to the beach to swim at sunset.  Was flipping my life upside down easy? Not for one minute.  Was there resistance from family and friends about my new lifestyle? Absolutely!

    Four months have gone by and I am soon departing for the next chapter of my journey:  Eastern Europe.

    Now, the final question remains. Was it all worth it? You better believe it. 

    PHOTO: My new office view, from the hammock in Samara, Costa Rica.

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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