For no particular reason, I moved to Stockholm in the year 2000. I guess I needed a fresh start. I was searching for adventure. Many times since I moved back in 2006, I’ve wondered why… why Sweden? What use is this crazy lilting language I now know? What role did those years play in my life? All those years, to what end?
On Wednesday morning I touched down in Stockholm. A bunch of friends welcomed me at the same restaurant I went to on my first night in Sweden thirteen years before. I ordered an elderflower martini as I had on that first night, and from the same bartender!
Then last night I went sailing with the first person I ever sailed with on my first trip to Sweden in 2000. It was a rare, windless day. We drifted through the archipelago, that long sideways sunlight peculiar to Sweden lit the islands around us like stage props. We talked about doing what you love, regardless of hurdles. We talked about sailing, and made plans to do it again.
On becoming me
“I’ve been worried about you this year,” my father said to me this summer. He was referring to my decision to go all-in as a “writer/sailor/chef.” He was afraid I couldn’t do all three things at once.
Heck, I’d been worried, too. I’d never known any writer/sailor/chefs before. It wasn’t one of the suggested careers at the end of the Myers-Briggs test I took in junior high. Though I’ve been writing stories and plays as far back as I can remember, I didn’t step into a professional kitchen until I was 30+. Until a few years ago, if someone had said “hiking out on the rails” I would’ve thought they were talking about trains.
Back when I was earning a triple-digit salary, I admitted to another successful woman that I was thinking about opting out of the corporate world. She questioned whether or not this was a good idea. “You’ve come so far,” she said. “You need to keep going, so the next generation of young women has a roadmap and sees what is possible.”
For a while I took this to heart. Maybe I did have an obligation to keep progressing up the ladder. I seriously considered staying in, for the sake of young women everywhere.
As I began this new phase of my life last year, all I knew was that I had finally figured out the three things I loved doing most in life. If there was a way to get paid to do them, I would find it.
I had only a slight inkling that this might lead back to Sweden. In fact, it now seems like almost all of those roads have led me here. The day my father told me he’d been worried about me was the day I received three new writing assignments – for Swedish clients. Also on that day, I received a request to cook on a private sailing yacht for 8-10 weeks out of the year. For a Swedish-flagged vessel.
The machinery is complex
I recently read an essay by Borges about Dante in which he says that, “What we call chance is our ignorance of the complex machinery of causality.”
Then I listened to this excerpt from This American Life, about a man who explains the story of his life as hinging on a particular, random event. Years later, when he finally meets the other person involved, he learns that he himself played a huge part in what made the complex machinery of causality work. Chance played far less of a role than the one he had scripted for it.
When I read the Borges passage I mentioned above, I was sitting on a Los Angeles bus. I wanted to jump up and read it aloud to everyone. It’s not like I hadn’t heard some variant of this truth before, but it hit me then as never before. In the last year, many of the seemingly random events in my life have started to take on order. Like when you’ve been staring up at the stars looking for Orion and suddenly you see him, exactly where you’ve been looking all along.
While it may not be a traditional course I’m plotting by being a writer/sailor/chef, I’m sure I’m onto something. In going rogue, I’m also challenging the notion of what’s possible – and I hope that’s just as inspiring to the next generation of women as success along a traditional career path.
As for the machinery, I believe it only looks complicated because we’re trying too hard to see it. Figure out what you love most and do that as well as you can. It’s not more complex than that.