Past, Present, Future

Two years ago I studied abroad in Ireland for six weeks to finish my remaining two university courses. I wrote the following reflection paper on my last day:

July 23, 2013

Dublin, Ireland 

This is the first time in my life where nothing is planned for me. My future is a blank canvas. The thought excites me. I honestly have no clue where I’ll be in two weeks or two months or two years. I don’t know what to expect or what will happen or where I will work or what I will do. My life is mine to be molded. I’m ready to find out what I want to do.

I’ve always thought I would get a job in the D.C. area and eventually move out of Fairfax when I have enough money, but I don’t have to limit myself to that. Ireland has opened my eyes to the world. There are so many opportunities to consider. I’m willing to try anything and everything. Maybe I’ll look into seasonal employment or some kind of work experience abroad. I just don’t think I’m ready for a 9-5 for the rest of my life.       

Ireland has renewed my love for nature. My favorite times on this trip were spent wandering through fields and mountains with cows and sheep. I want to hike part of the Appalachian Trail as soon as possible. I don’t need much to be happy. I’m a simple man. Hopefully I will find something to do that satisfies that desire to be outside.

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Getting lost in Connemara. July 10, 2013.

Even if I do end up working and living in the D.C. bubble, I will definitely still want to travel. I’ve realized that traveling can be easy and affordable, if you know what you’re doing. Nothing is stopping me from going wherever I want. Well, maybe money, work, bills and commitments. But that hasn’t hit me yet. I’m still a college student for one more day.

When I walked out of my last final exam in May, I felt a strange sensation. Of course I was happy that I was done with finals week, but I felt empty. I wanted to keep learning. My time in Ireland has made me realize that learning out of the classroom is just as important as formalized college classes. Traveling through Ireland has taught me how other people live. I’ve learned more than history books could ever teach me.

Ireland has been everything I needed it to be. I wanted to travel and find adventure, and I needed a break before I start working. Now that it’s over, I’m looking forward to finding my place in this world. I’m ready for the next chapter.

Killarney, Ireland. July 1, 2013.
After hiking Mangerton Mountain in Killarney. July 1, 2013.

Past Sean certainly was bright-eyed and optimistic, Present Sean thinks, looking back on the past two years. I was completely broke when I started working on Terry McAuliffe’s campaign for Governor of Virginia — earning a monthly salary which amounted to less than minimum wage — a few weeks after I left Ireland. For the next 11 months I became entrenched in job applications, failed interviews, unpaid internships, temp jobs, suits, ties and endless commutes around Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. I was too lost in trying to save enough money to move out of my old man’s house to even think about traveling.

As months went by my resume and job experience grew stronger. I was getting used to the formulaic interview questions and was firing off answers from the hip. I walked out of every interview feeling like they would be crazy not to hire me, but as the rejections started crowding my inbox I thought they must be going for candidates with a stronger personality or better qualifications.

My spreadsheet filling, key-word searching temp job at the Bipartisan Policy Center was set to end on Friday, May 30, 2014. My Dad, with the new Step Mother, told me he was kicking me out of the house on June 1, 2014.

I had been Facebook messaging my long-time friend, Josh, who was living in Alice Springs, Australia. His Dad got a job at Pine Gap, the super secret satellite tracking station in the middle of the desert, and relocated there about three years back. Josh moved there in January 2014 to get away from some legal trouble in the states and found a bar tending job at the casino hotel resort.

May 13, 2014

Josh: my new boss is Scottish and tonight was his first night and he got so drunk he had to be carried to his hotel room by security lol he is like 50

Me: is he like craig ferguson? cause hes a really funny Scottish man and that who Im picturing

Josh: actually he looks quite like him it was just funny to watch this guy it was his second night in alce first night working and he got fucking trashed with all of us the F&B workers plus i got to hook up with this french chick which was dope lol

Me: hahaha thats awesome congratulations on that. im jealous man it sounds like youre having a good time. im getting kicked out of my house at the end of the month.

Josh: wtf?!? r u serious

Me: yea I dont fit in with andrea’s ideal life

The Step Mother was constantly complaining me slamming the front door and the kitchen cabinets. I never noticed I was doing it and it wasn’t on purpose. She sat up in her jewelry studio and said she was startled whenever I left the house or made some food. One night I was watching a TV show in my room. As she was going to sleep she told me to turn it down, a very reasonable request. I was in the process of getting out of bed to lower the volume when she naggingly told me to turn it down again. I walked out of my room and slammed the door as loud and hard as I could. She did not approve of my flagrant act of rebellion. I was so frustrated with her constantly asking me and my family to change. Why can’t she change? It was clear we could not continue living in the same house.

May 30, 2014

Me: so ive had 5 job interviews in the past 2.5 weeks. i got 2 rejections yesterday and im like 95% sure im gonna get rejected from 2 others. so now i have one possible job that i have a chance of getting an offer from. so im pretty much fucked. how is it in australia? easy to find a job?

Josh: man two days and y can find a job

Me: really?

Josh: really and 22 dollars an hour

Me: do you need a visa or some shit?I think they are going to kick me out this weekend so im trying to think of my options and going to Australia seems like a pretty good option.

Josh: yes u need a visa i got a work and holiday visa it took me like three days to get it it wasn’t hard but ye man really consider it we could get a place some jobs and we could just see the world money is great here jobs are everywhere its paradise

Over the next week I was offered a second interview for Communications Assistant with Chesapeake Public Strategies, and first interviews for Assistant Press Secretary at NextGen Climate and Communications Assistant position with American Farm Bureau Federation. I declined. I was so close. I gave up. I was sleeping on my college buddies’ couch with no job, no car, no savings.

June 3, 2014

Me: ok so ive been homeless for a few days and Ive talked to kerri and my mom about going to australia and they both said they dont want me to go and i was hoping my mom would pay for my plane ticket and i dont think shes willing to do that. i think im going to stay here and apply for jobs and work at my moms house shes gonna pay me to help with her kitchen and other jobs around her house and ill do that for a week or so and i really want to do a trip on the AT like a ten day hike or something. sorry man but i dont think australia is in the cards for me. if i wasnt dating kerri and if i had more money it would be a no brainer though.

Josh: mannn no worries just know uf u come over here things would be dope man but do whatcha gotta do bro but it was funny tonight… wait so i fucked this tiny lil asian chick pretty cute but today i found out she has a girlfriend and literally today a gir came up to me and told me back off her woman it was one of the most backwards things i have ever experienced

Australia felt like too much of a stretch. I couldn’t leave my girlfriend who, I thought, was O.K. with our current arrangement. She was, is, a nurse and she was, maybe still is, living an hour away. Sometimes our work schedules overlapped and we couldn’t see each other for a week or two. We didn’t communicate well. Our personalities were too similar. Opposites attract.

Deep down I knew it was inevitable. That it wouldn’t work. One night she called me and we talked and cried and expressed what we had repressed for so long and at the end of the conversation I asked, “Did we just break up?”

“I think so.”

June 7, 2014

Me: I’m coming to Australia. Kerri and I just broke up so I have nothing here for me.

June 9, 2014

Me: i dont know what the fuck im doing man this has been the craziest week of my life. i just want to get out of here for as long as possible

Josh: man i get what u are saying before i came over my life was going fucking insane an honestly this place has given me an incredible amount of self worth and purpose plus i got to get away from the most fucked up situation in my life. to me this place is an eden man its perfect i get that u don’t really know what is good for u but this place…. its perfect if u focus urself on coming over here it will be rewarding in more ways than u can count i promise

I felt so lost at this point. Josh was my best friend and he told me he found paradise. I would be crazy not to trust him. Reading back on our conversation I realize that everything he said was right. Alice Springs is good for the soul. Especially for someone who was content with spending a total of three hours and $15 a day to catch the bus to the train to arrive at an unpaid internship for a United States Congressman. Life is easy in Alice Springs. The arid heat, the diverse travelers, the hardened locals, the misunderstood Aboriginals. Transplant anyone, from anywhere, there for a year and they will grow into a better, more complete person.

Walking around the outback with Josh on my first day in Australia. June 22, 2014.
Walking around the outback with Josh on my first day in Australia. June 22, 2014.

I realize now that being forced out of my childhood home — the most difficult decision a parent can make — was the best thing my dad has ever done for me. He gave me a beautiful gift: Freedom.

I remember walking through the kitchen checking for any leftover possessions. The kitchen where years ago my Father, Mother, older Brother, baby Sister and I recorded a home video of a peaceful Saturday morning making scrambled eggs and bacon with smiling faces and laughter. I will never be with family like that until I have my own wife, children, house, scrambled eggs and bacon.

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Those carefree days are gone.

I stood in that kitchen for the last time and thought about the far off possibility of going to Australia. I felt an incredible wave of euphoria pass over me. The Past Sean on his last day in Ireland knew exactly what Future Sean would want. Now the Present Sean is in New Zealand wandering fields with cows and sheep still thinking the same thing: Where will I be in two weeks or two months or two years?

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