The Upside of Risk

Late one night last November, after the girls were in bed and asleep, I finally voiced the words that had been hanging over my life like heavy storm clouds.

“I don’t think we can afford this trip.”

The plane tickets had been paid for. I had already spent hours searching for accommodation. My mind was full of images of what our six-month adventure would look like: days at the beach, frolicking in the sunshine; climbing mountains, visiting family. The thought of escaping the cold and dark Montreal winter was elating. The idea that we might have to stay? Crushing.

As the words hung in the air, I burst into tears. Burying my face in Josh’s chest, I sobbed like a child, a great chasm forming in the pit of my stomach. He talked around the topic, trying to think of ways that we could make more money before our departure. I had been working freelance for most of the year, but the month of October was slow. I had applied for job after job, pitched story ideas to countless magazines and newspapers. I had worked every day, and yet I had seen little success. I was already demoralized and glum. Simply entertaining the idea that we might not be able to make our trip to South Africa was too much to bear.

But after crisis comes resolution. I leapt into action, pitching frenetically and trying to find ways to ease our financial woes. Within a week, things started to come together. One of my biggest clients asked me to overhaul a website. I heard back from a magazine that wanted me to write a column.  I took a few shifts catering parties. Suddenly, I had enough work to keep me going.

December was a flurry of activity. We packed up the house, found a subtenant, drove to Toronto (in an ice storm) and finally made it to my parent’s cottage for Christmas. After two weeks of wonderful family time, we were packed and ready to leave. The future was uncertain, but thrilling. I’ve always believed that there can be no true success without risk.

Our arrival in South Africa was blissful. Heading straight to Langebaan in the summer heat, we were dropped off at our rented house where we immediately wandered through the enormous garden. Prickly pears and lavender; tortoises and fig trees; countless gnarly bushes. We spent our first elated days exploring the town, walking the long stretch of white sand beach, playing together, overjoyed with our good fortune to be in such a place. The girls started at play school. I had consistent work, which filled my days to the brim. Josh left for a three-week sailing trip. Life was hectic, but wonderful.

Then my steady job fell through. I continued to pitch, and had some success.  There were periods of frenetic activity followed by weeks of quiet desperation. I had my hopes rocket sky high with the prospect of an exciting and challenging full-time job, followed by a steep and terrifying descent to earth after weeks of waiting for an answer.

We had expected to find work here, but prospect after prospect fell through. I never knew just how resilient I could be when faced with crisis, but through creative financial wiggling, we have somehow managed to keep afloat. The fact that our subtenant lost his job and still hasn’t paid rent certainly doesn’t help, but while other people may shirk their obligations, that’s not how we function. Having an emergency credit card and amazing parents helps a lot too.

I am now thinking about our return. I have already started looking for jobs in Montreal – the stable kind, with set hours and a fixed salary. I’ve had enough of freelance writing. I want to work somewhere I feel I’m making an impact, a place I can go every day and be part of something. April starts kindergarten in September, and while six months ago the idea of settling down and staying put in Montreal “for the sake of the children” terrified me, I can’t really think of anything more appealing at the moment.

I wouldn’t trade this time for anything. While I haven’t worked as much as I would like, I have spent hours climbing mountains, walking and running along beaches, playing with my kids and falling even more in love with my husband. Despite all of the challenges, the dark moments, the anxiety, I know that we can pull ourselves up out of this hole of debt and insecurity and make a greater life for ourselves back in Canada.

It’s pretty clear that Josh and I aren’t the kind of people who do things the easy way. If I’ve learned anything in the past six months, it’s that no matter what, we can make things work as long as we’re together. It might sound cheesy, but there it is. And for that, all of the upheaval and disappointments have been absolutely worth it.

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