I looked up from my seat in row seven when I heard the gruff, “Excuse me.” I started to get up so my seatmate could pass by me to get to his seat, but he just pushed past me without making eye contact. My heart sank a bit about having to be in such close proximity to this seemingly rude man for the next six hours—until I saw his fingers gripping the armrest and knew that I wasn’t next to a rude man, but a very nervous flyer.
He hadn’t flown in five years, he explained, but he couldn’t pass up this trip. He was flying cross-country for a work project that he took specifically because it would bring him to New Jersey, where he would be able to visit the largest model railroad in the world. His passion was toy trains, and he was invited to come to New Jersey to visit this railroad and repair some remote control problem that only he knew how to fix. I remarked that he was very dedicated to this group, arranging this extensive trip, especially with his aversion to flying. He looked me in the eye, paused so that I leaned in, expectant, and told me:
“You have to follow your excitement.”
And it hit me, in that way that the thing you need to hear always does, like a ton of bricks. Follow your excitement.
For over ten years, I lived in New York City, arguably one of the most exciting cities in the world. Theater, bars, art, shopping, restaurants…all mere steps from my front door. Yet when I describe my time in New York, “exciting” is never one of the words I use. My associations with New York are much different.
Never once have I used the word exciting, because for me, the word didn’t fit.
I knew within a year of living in Manhattan that it wasn’t the right place for me. I was living by myself for the first time in a brownstone studio on the Upper West Side, working in my first sales job, determined to take the publishing industry by storm and live the perfect, glamorous urban life I had imagined for myself. I understood that I didn’t hold this city in the same regard as most of my friends, but I figured this would eventually change. Eventually, I would surely discover what made this place and this life so exciting.
Instead, it continued to elude me.
So I ignored my own instincts and took cues from my friends, who seemed to easily find excitement in New York. I went to the newest, best restaurants with my foodie friends and pretended to be thrilled by culinary concoctions I did not understand and could not pronounce. I went shopping with my fashionista friends, buying clothing I couldn’t afford and collecting designer accessories like some people collect stamps. I happy-houred and pub-crawled and wine-tasted with my nightlife-loving friends, feigning interest in the late nights and the crazy stories they produced, pretending I belonged.
I ended up completely broke, and totally broken down. Following others’ excitement left me with $20,000 of debt and an empty place in my soul that no amount of exotic sushi or expensive Chanel or VIP parties could fill.
I chased happiness, running after it like I would run after a cab in a rainstorm, wishing desperately that I could catch it. But of course I never could. It always escaped me.
How can you discover excitement when you’ve forgotten what excites you?
You start to listen. You start to pay attention. You start to trust yourself.
Things began to change when I finally acknowledged that I was not happy in New York, and that it was unlikely that I ever would be. When the right opportunity finally arose, I leapt on it without hesitation and moved across the country to Los Angeles. It felt right, immediately, in a way that New York never did. Slowly, gradually, I started discovering the things that truly excited me. Yoga, reading on the beach, outdoor concerts, sunsets over the ocean, writing. This time, I didn’t follow my friends into hikes I didn’t enjoy, or force myself to eat avocado on everything like so many Angelenos. This time, I tried new things, listened to my gut about what made me happy, and tossed the rest.
And I get it now. I found my excitement. I found my happiness.
It doesn’t mean that everything in my life is perfect now, or that I don’t have bad days still. It’s not, and I absolutely do. It’s still real life, though some of the incredible ocean view pictures might suggest otherwise, with all of its crazy ups and downs. But there is a level of contentedness that never existed for me in New York. Every single day that I wake up in Santa Monica, regardless of my mood, or the often-thick summer marine layer, or anything else going on in my life, I am excited and happy to live here. I am where I am meant to be.
Following my excitement simply meant listening to, and following, my heart. Following my heart meant finding real happiness.