Quitting my Manhattan job in February 2015 and selling my things to go travel the world as a travel blogger certainly qualified me as a little crazy in my mother's eyes.
People often ask me why I left everything behind. What was the real reason?
I quit a perfectly great job and salary. I sold my car, took my savings and just left.
I didn't have a plan. In fact, the only plan I had was my flight to Europe. Since then, I've traveled through Europe, South America and South East Asia. Now, I'm living in Australia, where I continue to travel. When I got here, I didn't have a job, friends or a place to live.
Let me make one thing abundantly clear: No ex broke my heart. I didn't find a sugar daddy. Nope, I don't come from a rich family. It was simply because I've learned to live a life that isn't in vain.
Let me explain. In September 2010, I lost my brother to gun violence. He was only 19.
I'm not going to tell you how it happened. It's just that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm not going to sit here and tell you I'm this strong person because I've had to deal with the sh*ttiest part of life when I lost my brother. I've just had to learn to deal with the pieces of this tragedy.
My brother was my best friend. Because of someone else's ignorance, he is no longer here today.
But I am, which means I'm the one who has to learn to cope with change. I have to deal with the unexpected and live on borrowed time. I've learned to live my life. I've decided to take something that destroyed me and turn it into something that builds me.
That terrible day in 2010 changed everything.
My life turned upside down. I watched my family suffer, and there was nothing I could do for them. I was in too much pain. I can honestly say I was at rock bottom. I kept wondering, “What's the point of it all?” I had lost my taste for life.
How was I supposed to live like that? I felt numb to everything that was happening around me.
It took me a long time, but I finally got to a point where I had had enough.
In April 2015, I walked half of El Camino De Santiago, which is a religious pilgrimage from the south of France to the north of Spain. Some walk it for religious purposes. Some do it for health. Others do it "just because."
For two weeks straight, I walked alone. This pilgrimage tested every physical part of me: my muscles, my endurance, my injuries, my aches and my pains. But more than anything, this was a test of mental strength.
On days when I didn't think I could walk any longer, I somehow kept going. I didn't have a choice. Looking back now, I can't tell you why I started the walk. But I knew I had to do it.
It happened the day before I reached my final destination of the El Camino de Santiago: Santiago de Compostela. After climbing the last peak along the trail, I arrived on the mountaintop.
I just started crying.
I literally stood there in tears, alone. I was bawling like a baby. I was hot. I was in pain. I was exhausted.
But I kept thinking about the past few years, and what my family and I had been through. I thought about how much I missed hugging my brother. It all came to a head.
I felt it. I actually felt myself realize this was my life. This was it. Good or bad, I was still here for a reason.
That moment on the mountaintop was a new beginning. It was a journey of learning to separate what matters from what does not. It's a continual journey for me to see the life that is in front of me.
Being in control of our lives gives us a great sense of security. Therefore, unexpected events disrupt us more than ever. Most of our greatest fears are things we can't control.
They're scary because we can't prevent them. An illness or an accident can change our lives, regardless of whether we're the victim or not.
As a travel blogger, I'm always changing. I'm constantly leaving the old for the new. I leave behind the comforts of home over and over again, just so I can visit other countries and live through new experiences.
Sh*t happens, and that's normal. It's all about appreciating certain moments and times in our lives. Since I'm far away from home, I definitely appreciate the time I get to spend with my family and friends. If this journey has taught me one thing, it's to understand there are things in this life we truly have no control over.
Coming to terms with those types of changes is much harder. But it sure makes moving to another country or traveling the world an easier task.
I've done what I've done because I live in the now. The now mindset is when you understand you truly need to live in the moment, and appreciate whatever time you have left.
Now is the only moment you have control of. Be thankful. It's simple: I do what makes me happy because life should be nothing short of that.
My brother used to say to me, “Jen, you worry too much. Chill out.” He was right, of course.
Before my brother's death, I had this whole idea of what my life would be like after I graduated from university. I had it all planned. Now, I know the unexpected is what makes life worth living.
I wish I didn't have to lose my brother to learn this lesson. But I'm proud of him and what he has taught me. I'm just proud I can finally say I'm living my life.
They say if you can change one person's life for the better, you've lived a good life. My brother changed mine. He's given me my adrenaline for life. He's also given me the appreciation and understanding to do what I love to do: live life, travel and inspire others.
If you haven't started living your life yet, get on it. It's your only one.