I had too many bags, and they were heavy. “I knew I should’ve packed less,” I thought as I half rolled, half dragged my luggage across the resistant carpet at San Francisco International Airport. I had just moved from North Carolina to San Francisco to be a flight attendant. I use the word “move” lightly as I arrived homeless and lived out of a hotel room shared with four other people that first week. Justin, my soon-to-be food friend and roommate, kindly picked me up from the airport (we had been through training together). We struggled to fit my bags and his in the small car. With the rear window blocked by suitcases we drove off in search of food. In-N-Out Burger — welcome to California.
My first few weeks in San Francisco flew by in a blur of basic orientation, calls from crew scheduling and 5am check-ins, but I slowly settled into a two-bedroom apartment I shared with three friends from training. I learned that a key element to being a flight attendant is to hate privacy. I shared a room, I shared a bedroom, I shared rides to work. I was never alone, but I sometimes felt lonely.
The City by the Bay is an exhilarating, comforting and romantic place, but I found myself lost there in many ways. Physically lost when I took a wrong turn while walking in the Financial District and found myself in the dodgy part of the Tenderloin neighbourhood. Emotionally lost when torn between feeling homesick and feeling a growing love for my new home and my life there. And mentally lost feeling intellectually unchallenged at work and needing, craving, a creative outlet. Lost and searching San Francisco found me. And I, in turn, found myself.
My first holidays in my new job I spent away from home. I spent Thanksgiving on call all day, but managed a quaint dinner at a dim sum restaurant with my makeshift work family. We were the only ones in the restaurant. It could have been a scene straight out of A Christmas Story. I spent Christmas on a plane and alone in hotel rooms wondering what I had gotten myself into. But come January I began to find my way. On my days off, I took the train into the city armed with a map and a metro card. By deliberately getting lost, I let myself explore and learn the quirks and characteristics of each San Francisco neighbourhood. After a few weeks of this, I didn’t feel so lost anymore.
This was not the first time I had moved away from my home and my family. I left for college, I lived abroad twice and I had a stint living in New York City. But this was the first time I had moved away indefinitely, and I felt emotionally pulled in two directions. I’m an only child, and I’m close to my family, so missing holidays, birthdays and graduations wore away at my resolve to make it in a new city, in my new life. I flew home to visit whenever possible, but at the same time realised that I wasn’t actually meeting people or making friends because I was either travelling for work or travelling to visit familiar faces. I decided that to find my way emotionally, I needed to create a balance between incorporating new relationships into my life and maintaining the established ones. I started socialising with work friends outside of work, and I met people with similar interests by joining an open water swim group. I had long-time friends fly out to visit me, I introduced them to my new friends, and before long all the people I cared about began to know and care about each other. I began to feel stable and content with the balance I had found.
Before becoming a flight attendant, I was a high school English teacher. Although I loved my new life of travelling, I also missed the creativity and mental stimulation of the classroom. Pouring a Coke 35 000 feet somewhere above Texas, I realised that I was feeling intellectually lost and unstimulated. I needed a challenge, an outlet, so as soon as I got home I started my own travel blog because, well, “write what you know.” I was using my writing and editing skills I had spent so much time and money to learn, I was using my creativity to think up new topics to write about, and I was using my travel experiences to teach others what I had learned and observed. I combined my passion for travel and my passion for writing and created a productive outlet that ended up leading to published articles and professional opportunities.
Being lost in any sense of the word is scary. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s uncertain how or if you’ll find your way. But it can also be a humbling learning experience. I have never felt more lost than in this period of my life, but I learned a lot about myself and my ability to get creative, find solutions and persevere. Being lost is not always a bad thing, especially if you can find the humour and perspective in the situation. And maybe, just maybe, we’re never really lost. As Yogi Berra said, “No matter where you go, there you are.”