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"My Best Year Ever Started After I Lost My Job, Home & BF"

Writer Alex Laws had her life turned upside down. Instead of crumbling with it, she embraced her new constant—change—and set out on a year of adventure

coping job loss breakup

Two roads diverged in the Smoky Mountains, and Alex Laws took the one less travelled by

Within three months, I went from living the dream (on paper, at least) to having my life turned upside down: my relationship of three years ended, I moved out of my home and then I lost my job.

When your living situation, work and relationship status change dramatically in a short span of time, it’s like having the rug pulled out from underneath you. The place you sleep, the place you work and the people you hang out with all suddenly switch, and it can make you feel out of control. But something dawned on me: if the only constant in my life was change, I could embrace it by deliberately doing as many new things as possible. I began taking every opportunity that came my way to try something for the first time.

At the start, this approach involved fairly simple things: I joined a boot camp, spent a few days alone in Sayulita, Mexico (where I thought I might “find myself,” but actually found a record for bathroom usage) and played a few holes at a golf course in Nova Scotia (I had deemed this a physical impossibility). Gradually, I became more adventurous: I took a helicopter ride over the Auvergne volcanoes in France, embarked on an Algonquin portage (where I risked being eaten by bears to sleep in a hammock), hiked Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains (more risk of bears) and visited a nude beach on Toronto Island (even higher risk of bears, but of quite a different variety).

I found that trying new things gave me confidence and plenty to talk about, which spread into my work as a fledgling freelance writer. (I was very lucky for this new career path, because, in fact, it was taking on last-minute press trips and story assignments that brought about many of my new experiences.) I began writing about new destinations I’d visited, which included Glasgow, ScotlandBelfast, Northern Ireland, and Vichy, France. When a news outlet picked up a story I’d pitched about celebrity dance classes, I took 11 hours of instruction within a week and learned how to move like both Beyoncé, and Bieber’s choreographer Parris Goebel—and was filmed doing it.

This confidence and conversation fodder became particularly useful as I forayed into the dating world. The last time I was single, OkCupid was new to me. Now I had all this swiping to contend with. After some hilariously disastrous dates—including one where I was interrupted with, “Honey, trustable isn’t a word”—meeting a handful of men IRL led me to some of my better firsts, including a one-night stand which, as it turned out, I did not feel remotely bad about. He was seven years younger than me, which I didn’t feel bad about either, even when two weeks later I woke up to a 3 a.m. “Yo, you up?” text, which made me laugh. Then, a month later, at a friend’s house, I met a 44-year-old bar owner from Brooklyn. After two weeks of talking on the phone, I flew to New York for our first date. My friends thought I was crazy, but I trusted my gut that he wasn’t a serial killer. His house was under construction, however, so the scariest part of the whole ordeal was the bathroom: it was only separated from the bedroom by a shower curtain. We remain friends.

What began as a way to chase firsts, in the end encouraged me to appreciate the uniqueness of every situation I was in. I enrolled in a creative non-fiction course at the University of Toronto (another first) because I realized life is full of experiences that deserve to be recorded. The things that hurt the most (seeing my ex get together with someone I know) give you maximum progress, and the ones that solicit the most embarrassment (getting my period on a rock after skinny-dipping in a lake with a new flame) leave you laughing the loudest.

Taking some chances and focusing on what was happening in my life, instead of what wasn’t, reminded me that the peaks and valleys are equally valuable and wouldn’t exist without each other. Which also brings to mind an excellent OkCupid question that came to be a litmus test for me: What would you prefer? A good life or an interesting one?

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