For ten years I have called the San Francisco Bay Area my home.
On August 29th, 2005, I packed up my ‘96 Corolla with all my worldly possessions and drove north towards Marin County. I was nervous and excited and had NO IDEA that I was driving “home” that day, that I would settle in one place for as long as I have, that I would find community and meet the dear friends that I have here. That 10 years later, I would feel as content and grateful as I am to be here.
How do I sum up the last 10 years? How do I describe Home and how living here has shaped my journey?
In an epic post to celebrate an epic 10 years, here are some memories and reflections.
A look back:
I had almost given up on California. My first three years of bouncing around this state were rather tumultuous. I was trying to force my way into a career and lifestyle that didn’t fit me, and after some painful lessons, I knew I had to make a radical change.
I applied for an AmeriCorps position based in Marin County (just north of San Francisco) and crossed my fingers. Luckily, life agreed with my plan A, and I was northbound for a year-long program of bringing environmental education into public schools. I knew nothing about Marin. I even pronounced it “marine” up until I moved there.
AmeriCorps and Marin years
One of my first introductions to Bay Area life, before my program even began, was attending the Power to the Peaceful music festival in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco itself with old college friends. I had never even heard of Michael Franti and Spearhead before, but the experience of listening and dancing and laughing in this big city park surrounded by liberal-minded and free-spirited dancing hippies was a HUGE welcome party, I’ll tell ya, I felt so alive that day, it was a new beginning.
Once the AmeriCorps program started, I felt like I belonged to a community for the first time in my life. And these are some of my nearest and dearest friends to this day – part of my small but awesome support system in the Bay.
It didn’t take long to feel like I had landed where I belonged.
I instantly fell in love with the redwoods, the ocean, the cliff-side trails, and the oak grasslands that make up the open spaces and state parks in the Bay Area. Ten years later, I’m still exploring new trails!
I knew nothing about Bay Area culture, and it was a ridiculously eye-opening first few years. Liberal politics, sustainable agriculture, zero waste goals, and compost all became a part of my regular vocabulary, and I felt a new purpose start to emerge.
Bay Area life and my new AmeriCorps friends presented so many new options for connection and learning – potlucks, educational talks, music festivals, live bluegrass, habitat restoration days – these events were the spice of my life. There was always something going on, and I opened myself up to it all. These were my “partying” days – not the all-night rave get slooshed kind, but more the skinny dip in the ocean and maybe illegally camp on the beach kind. My adventurous spirit was gaining momentum.
My AmeriCorps work felt meaningful; I was teaching the next generation that the “4 R’s” of reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot (compost) were critical to human survival and to preventing our mother earth from turning into a one big landfill.
It was this mission and passion of mine that led me into the next 4 years as a recycling educator and zero waste advocate. First as another year with the Marin Conservation Corps (who had hosted my AmeriCorps program), and then with San Francisco’s garbage and recycling company.
Professional dumpster diving (yes, really!)
My new job as a Waste Diversion Specialist in San Francisco was a dream come true. I was so proud to represent one of the most progressive “garbage” companies in the world (like establishing curbside compost collection, how cool is that?!?). I had two main job duties: to analyze incoming loads of recycling, compost, and landfill waste (AKA the dumpster diving), and to educate local businesses on proper sorting methods to increase waste diversion.
My fellow dumpster divers on my team were also just as passionate as I was which made the transition from the nonprofit world to a corporate environment that much smoother.
Aside from work, I just kept on exploring the Bay and beyond. My sense of “home” extended well beyond my city apartment and for me, feeling “at home” in a place also means having the ability and desire to discover the backyard gems, to fall in love with the surrounding ecosystems and landscapes. And I did. I was never a city girl, and the pull of the open road leading me towards remote trails, secluded beaches, hot springs, and mountain vistas was something I could not ignore. I am an explorer.
My wanderlust was growing.
For two and a half years I was living the dream. I had it all. A studio apartment in Noe Valley, a stable career with the best salary I’d ever had, and San Francisco at my fingertips.
It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows however, I went through my usual ups and downs, and City Living itself presented its challenges. Like hard to find parking! And car break-ins. And I always felt like I “should go out” more to meet new people, but I would feel lonely in a crowd when I did. I retreated to my studio more and began to feel a bit isolated, my closest friends being up north still and my introverted self struggling to meet new people in the Big City. I tried though, I joined a tennis league, a hiking club, and dabbled in online dating.
It was during this time that I found Quantum Martial Arts. I was looking for an exercise routine and a community. I had really enjoyed my karate training in college, and knew that martial arts was kinda my thing. The key was in finding the right dojo and I found it in Quantum. It is community, it is a personal body-mind-spirit connection, and it is a kick-ass work out (pun intended!). Training with Quantum has enriched my life immensely over the past 6 years. And continues to this day.
In June of 2010, two major “life shifts” happened. First, my team at work was re-structured and I was assigned to full time dumpster diving (it was only 50% time before). This involved 4 days a week of 4am wake-up calls and digging through the trash, recycling, and compost. I still loved the cause, but my body became very sensitive to the sights, smells, and noises of working in the sorting facilities. I wore safety gear of course, but the dirty diapers, fish guts, and loud machinery started to take its toll on me. I was nauseous every day at work and I never got enough sleep with the early mornings. The dream job of a few years ago had lost its luster. I was done with it and I had itchy feet.
The second shift was that I realized that I didn’t have to continue living like this if I didn’t want to. I didn’t have to stay on the straight path of what “traditional” success looks like, I could take a left at the next fork in the road. And I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world. My wanderlust could not be contained to just California anymore!
It was time to get radical again.
The Wildest Year
I voluntarily quit my job on January 1, 2011 and boarded a flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina ten days later. After 6 months of planning and saving, my dream became reality and I was off to South America! What a wild ride I was in for!
I was drawn to South America simply for the diversity in landscapes. And I was not disappointed. I hiked all over the continent, from Patagonia to the Bolivian jungle to the Peruvian Andes to the Amazon rainforest. I volunteered on a farm in the gorgeous Lake District of Argentina, went on a jeep tour of the other-worldly Salt Flats in Bolivia, and saw the great Machu Picchu ruins. I met fellow travelers from all over the world, and went out of my comfort zone on a regular basis. It was an exhilarating, eye-opening, and at times, exhausting, time on the road.
And I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else in the world.
It was on a bumpy bus ride in Ecuador when I felt my strongest pang of homesickness for the Bay. As my iPod shuffled to one of my favorite local bluegrass bands’ songs (bringing up happy memories of dancing at shows with my friends), I knew that I could travel the world ‘round, but the Bay is home.
After my planned 5 months of solo travel in South America, I was back stateside with no solid plan for what would come next. I reached out to a dear friend of mine who runs a CSA farm in rural Sonoma county and asked if I could help out in trade for a trailer to crash in. I spent the next 4 months playing in the dirt, learning what it takes to run a CSA business, and learning just how freaking hard small-scale farmers work to do what they love and bring healthy food to the public. Seriously, thank your farmer today!
Post travel transition
Once back in San Francisco after the CSA season, I tried to return to my chosen career field of recycling education. I was convinced that I could get hired into a non-dumpster diving position that fit my skills and passions.
This was the part of coming home that I didn’t plan for. With dwindling savings, I needed an income again and I was ready to “settle down” for a bit. I had to take what I could get, and through a friend, I had become aware of an SF-based eco-tour company that was hiring for customer service positions. Perfect, I’m a traveler so I’ll love talking with travelers and I’m detail-oriented enough for the logistics portion of the job. So why not? It’s only to hold me over til I find a “career” job again… so I said.
I stayed with it. It was around a year and a half into the job (summer 2013) when the novelty wore off and I started feeling stagnant. I was burnt out on answering the same kind of calls and doing the same tedious tasks. I enjoyed working around fellow travelers, but I wanted to grow professionally, and I wanted to save money instead of just barely breaking even. San Francisco is hella expensive! I also wanted to travel again. I missed it.
I was reading several different travel blogs for entertainment by then, and soon enough, I was looking to these blogs for the advice and inspiration to ditch my cubicle job and work remotely in exotic locations around the world. Suddenly, I wanted to become a digital nomad. But I didn’t know how to make an income from the road. I didn’t have any of these skills that the digital nomads out there had.
I was stuck, stuck, stuck. And feeling overwhelmed by Big City living again. And this time I didn’t have my own place to retreat to, I could only afford living with roommates in a cramped downstairs apartment. My fears, anxieties, and insecurities all tumbled out into my daily life leaving me with little hope to move forward and feeling lost and confused about my purpose and potential. Who was I?
My saving grace that summer and fall was that I made time to get out into nature, my happy place, and I fell in love with backpacking again. The wilderness became my retreat.
I had (and still have) a good support system in friends and family as well. Which is a huge part to being in a place that feels like home. My sister had moved out to San Francisco when I decided to travel, and she’s still here, fully settled into Bay Area life herself, and we are now best friends.
It was after a particularly frustrating day when I came home and declared to myself that enough is enough and I had to find a way out of the rut. I started scanning Craigslist for ANY kind of administrative job that I had the skills for. I noticed that most admin jobs required some bookkeeping type skills and I knew that I was detail-oriented and that I enjoyed working with structure. That’s it, I thought, bookkeeping! Who woulda thunk?!? This was a brilliant moment of clarity!
Once this seemed like a feasible skill set to learn, my brain flooded with ideas on what I could do with my life once I became a trained bookkeeper. Every company around the world needs a bookkeeper, right? Finally I had some forward momentum going into 2014 and it felt so good.
Another positive shift going into 2014 was that I was gaining the confidence to show up openly and honestly in my writing and use my blog as a creative release during these ups and downs of my journey. My support system expanded to include fellow bloggers who inspired me with their own stories of overcoming struggle and forging their own unique paths.
That spring semester, I was taking a Quickbooks class through the community college, but still worried about how to gain the real-life experience I needed to secure a new job. I put it out to my current employer that I wanted to gain new skills and I was taking this bookkeeping class. Our company was growing rapidly due to our new partnership with G Adventures, a world-wide tour company. That summer of 2014, I got my big opportunity and was trained on basic bookkeeping for the company. I felt so proud to be part of the greater operation of small-group travel across the United States. And working for a company that aligns with my ethos.
It was an intense summer season, I learned so much and I worked my butt off. It didn’t take long to discover that professionally speaking, I’m better suited to working with numbers than people.
This journey of self-discovery just keeps on teaching me exactly what I need to know! Imagine that!
Officially bookkeeping and moving to Pacifica
In the fall of 2014, about one year after I first had the idea to become a bookkeeper and after surviving a hectic summer, I was officially promoted to the company bookkeeper position. Yee-haw! (I’ve now been with this company, Incredible Adventures, for over 3 and a half years, longer than with any other employer.) I wrote this post to sum up how I felt at the time of the promotion. Grateful but still restless as a San Francisco resident. While the Bay Area as a whole still felt like home, the City itself did not.
My next move (literally!) needed to be out of the City.
Finally, just this past April, I moved into a wonderful home in Pacifica, just south of San Francisco on the coast. I am settled here for the foreseeable future.
This past year especially has been a year of transformation, inspiration, self-awareness, and working on self-acceptance. There’s been more internal shifting than ever before. I’ve learned to trust in the process, to take it one step at a time, to believe in myself, and stay true to Self. Most of all, I’ve learned to embrace all of my journey, the good, the bad, and the ugly. All of it. Because it’s all led me to right here.
And right here, this is beautiful!
A look forward:
I’ve grown tremendously since my 25 year old self drove northbound 10 years ago. I’ve gained invaluable wisdom, confidence, grounded-ness, and an ability to embrace the unexpected through all the joys and challenges and twists and turns, that these years in the Bay has provided.
I don’t know if I’ll be in the Bay Area for another 10 years.
I have no definitive plan and that’s okay because I’m living and thriving in the present moment more than ever before.
I still dream of trying to be a digital nomad, to have that freedom to work wherever I want, at least part-time, with the Bay as my home base. But for now, I’m happy and content, and just full of gratitude for all the opportunities and all the people who have come into my life as a result of living here in the Bay, my home. Thank you especially to my support system of friends and family, you know who you are!