As an explorer, author and equality advocate, I have learned the importance of embracing life’s blurry lines.
When I first arrived at Geneseo, I’d never been on a plane. Heck, I was born and raised in New York state, yet had never before visited New York City.
My senior year at Geneseo set me on a different path after I enrolled in Semester at Sea. It’s pretty much like what it sounds: a semester on a ship sailing around the world. My field studies included visiting a Shinto shrine in Japan, sleeping on the ground in a Dalit village (also known as “untouchables” in the traditional caste system) in India, and exploring the Chu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam.
Traveling hadn’t been in my plans, but immersing myself in smells, sights and sounds I’d never before experienced ignited a serious case of wanderlust that fueled me throughout my 20s. I learned the risk of venturing into the unknown was less scary and more rewarding than I had thought.
Later, when a college friend invited me to be her roommate in New York City, I said yes. Without visiting the city and with no job lined up, I once again embarked on a journey into the unknown. With a lot of hustling, I got a job as an editorial assistant at the magazine company Condé Nast.
This was in 2002, when glossies were glamorous and even assistant editors got to ride fancy black town cars to press events. I learned the ropes of a world that was as foreign to me as that Dalit village had been during my study abroad. I discovered my love of storytelling, of uncovering what makes people and places tick, and sharing it through words on beautifully designed pages.
I found a way to blur the lines of work when I met two female colleagues who would change the course of my life. After vacationing together to Argentina, they threw out the idea to travel the world for a year. It seemed like a far off fantasy on our $24,000 editorial assistant salaries. Still I said yes.
We got raises, had monthly planning meetings and saved for nearly two years. We made a pact to quit our jobs to embark on a year-long, round-the-world trip in June 2006.
With support (and peer pressure) from those two women, we did what we set out to do, and had the adventure of a lifetime. I learned to scuba dive in Thailand, hiked to Machu Picchu in Peru, got certified to teach yoga at an ashram in India, and volunteered with pre-teen girls at a school in Kenya. We returned in June 2007.
Having kept a blog about our adventures, we discovered that other people besides our moms were following along. An agent asked if we’d write a book proposal. We said yes, got a copy of “Book Proposal Writing for Dummies,” and were surprised when HarperCollins accepted our proposal and paid us a big advance.
Rather than vagabonding around the world resulting in career suicide as I had worried, that journey opened the door to a travel writing career I had not thought possible. I journeyed to all seven continents by the time I was 30.
Today my travel writing career is on pause. I have a mortgage and kids and many of the other responsibilities that come along with adulting. A big trip for me is a solo car ride to Target to stock up on Lunchables and toilet paper. I said yes to being a mom, and it has been the most challenging and most worthwhile adventure of my life.
Now I’m on another path: After writing an article where I interviewed the CEO of The Female Quotient, a company driving equality in the workplace, the CEO offered me a job heading their content. I didn’t know much about gender equality, though championing women has always been a passion of mine. Corporate culture was foreign to me. Despite my self-doubt, I said yes. It’s a different kind of storytelling, but one where I am driven by making an impact.
Each time I blurred the lines and said yes to something that felt scary but right, I grew. I became comfortable with being uncomfortable. I learned more about what I was capable of than if I had stayed in my safe zone.
Back when 40 seemed so old, I thought I’d have it figured out by now. However, my 41-year-old self doesn’t have any more answers about where the road will lead than I did when I arrived at Geneseo.
But what my path has taught me so far is this: It’s okay not to know. Make plans for your future, but accept that those plans will probably change. Remain curious and open. Never underestimate the power of the people who cross your path to help you blaze a new trail. Most importantly, when your heart is telling you to take a chance — even if it doesn’t make logical sense — say yes.
Holly C Corbett ’00 has been an editor at national outlets such as SELF, Prevention.com, MensFitness.com and more. She is co-author of “The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World” (HarperCollins). Her current job is a content strategist at The Female Quotient, a company in the business of equality.