Until last week, I hadn’t left the country since March of 2011. That’s something that my immediate post-college self would have been blown away and saddened by—but he would have wholeheartedly approved of my reason for breaking that international travel fast last week.
You see, 13 years and just over a month ago, I fell in love with a BMW. It was a black, manual transmission, ’99 328i, and when it arrived one day on the used car lot of the little Ford dealership in Burien where I worked, it was like a visitor from another world. It was love at first sight; after I surreptitiously checked out the keys and took it for a lunch run the next day, it was a foregone conclusion that if I ever had the financial wherewithal to own a luxury car, this would be the one—it was so quick, so responsive, its transmission was so silky smooth, that it seemed like another class of thing entirely from my trusty little Civic hatchback, the economy of which suddenly no longer seemed like the highest virtue to which a car could aspire. The 328 struck a perfect balance between respectability and adventure: it could handle the best driving roads in America without compromise, but you could also fit four people and luggage in it comfortably.
I poked around BMW’s website, visited a couple of dealerships, and quickly decided that someday, if I ever made enough money, I was going to order a brand new one and pick it up via BMW’s European Delivery program, whereby you fly to Munich, drive your new car off the factory floor, and then go gallivanting around Europe for a week or two before dropping it off to be shipped back to you in the States. Nothing truly worth doing is ever worth doing less than flat-out, as far as I’m concerned.
It was definitely a dream deferred, though—at the time, my focus was on living as simply as possible to pay off all of my college debts and save up enough money to travel all the way around the world without flying. I saw the path that led to the BMW as antithetical to my chosen way of life, such a distant possibility that it quickly came to represent the temptation to abandon my values rather than something to which I actually aspired. I gave up on ever actually owning my dream car, but the dream never went away.
My younger self and I had a lot of adventures together in the years that followed, including, when I was 29, choosing stability over freedom and settling down in Seattle once and for all, with no intention to leave this time. That was how I thought about it—my life was a binary in which I could either have freedom or stability, but never fully both. I wasn’t going to compromise one value for the other by, for example, becoming a travel writer, which on its surface would have allowed me to keep pursuing my passions long-term but in my mind would have corrupted the travel impulse by tying it to work.
My solution to the problem was to plan on going to nursing school (I had other reasons, too, some of which were more important, but this was the aspect of that decision that’s most relevant here), which I reasoned would allow me to continue living out my binary work/travel cycle, building a life where I could have both, in full measure, indefinitely. I figured nurses were so highly in demand that I could just up and quit my job whenever I wanted to travel for months at a time and not have to worry about finding another job when I got back, plus there was always travel nursing for living abroad in one place at a time for extended periods. I signed up as a volunteer at a local hospital and discovered that I enjoyed the work, so I started taking my pre-requisite classes in preparation for applying to the UW’s 2-year BSN program.
Nursing school got put on hold, though, when I got wrapped up in the McGinn for Mayor campaign back in the summer of 2009. McGinn offered me a job in his administration after he won the election; I said yes, and I’m not sure that any single decision I’ve ever made has had a larger impact on my life. The job itself was great, but unbeknownst to me at the time, its greatest gift was the incredible network that it left me with after the administration ended and I found myself in need of a new mechanism through which to exchange my time for money.
The decision to become a real estate agent was something the undeniable rightness of which I recognized immediately as soon as the idea popped into my head. Working on commission was a deep part of my soul that hadn’t been fed in over a decade; I was ready to be my own boss; I liked the idea of being able to pay off the mortgage on my co-op apartment so that I’d be free to pursue the things I was most passionate about without being limited by money; and I figured that I knew enough people in Seattle that at least a couple of them would be willing to trust me enough to help them buy a house.
So I jumped in, not knowing what to expect and fully intending not to make my first sale for 12 months, which was one of the possibilities I’d been warned about. As far as I was concerned, if I could make my modest Mayor’s Office salary by the end of year two I’d be doing great, and if I really played my cards right I might reach a point in 5 years where referral traffic was keeping me in business without my having to go out and beat the pavement to find new clients.
To say that things went better than I could have possibly imagined would be an understatement. I got my license in August of last year and reached out to everyone I knew to let them know I was in the business in mid-September. People I knew started reaching out directly wanting to work with me; by October it was already a more than full-time job, and by December I had sold three houses already. Last Christmas I dared to dust off my old dream just enough to keep me motivated: the 328 was the only big-ticket item I’ve ever wanted that money can buy, so it became my goal. Things kept going amazingly well—at this point I’ve sold 20 houses in the last 12 months, and all of my clients have either been people from my existing network or direct referrals. My real estate career is already at the point I thought it would take me 5 years to reach, for which I feel incredibly fortunate.
This past Spring was the busiest period in my professional life to date. At some point in May, at the height of real estate’s silly season for the year, I decided that I was ready to place the order for the BMW. A few days later I was getting dinner with a good friend, and she told me about a bucket list item of her own in the Czech Republic that already had a date attached: October 15th. It was another decision that made itself—I suggested that we combine our trips, she thought it was a great idea…and just like that, taking European Delivery on a new BMW went from an abstract concept to something with a specific orientation in time and space.
I went into BMW of Seattle, put the order together, and set a firm pickup date: October 12th, 2015. It still didn’t seem entirely real to me, though, right up until the moment this past Monday that I found myself in the BMW flagship showroom in Munich standing in front of the most beautiful car I’d ever seen, operating on four hours of sleep due to a combination of residual jet lag and childlike Christmas-day-style anticipation and separated by my hotel for the night by hundreds of miles of Autobahn and twisty driving roads leading up and over the Austrian Alps.
The car has become a symbol for me of the Hegelian synthesis of freedom and stability that is my life in Seattle right now. I used to write in my journals about my “travel impulse,” that gnawing hunger in my belly that cared less about the destination than it did about the constant meditative motion of the open road. I thought about it alternately as a subtle self-doubt, driving me on to prove that I was capable of existing totally on my own without reference to the support network that I’d had from birth to 22; an obsession with filling my life with as many new experiences as I could; and a desire to front-load my retirement while I was still young enough to fully enjoy it, a non-monetary form of compound experiential interest that’s still bearing fruit in my life to this day. As soon as that hunger went away, I thought, as soon as my appetite changed to things that were more easily accessible and that tied me to one place (a mortgage, a wife & kids), the next phase of my life would begin, with stability as the guiding principle instead of travel.
My life since the Mayor’s Office has shown me the middle path instead, a perfect balance between freedom and stability that’s driven by the essence of my travel impulse, curiosity and joyful exploration and play, but in the context of a loving, supportive community who enable me to be true to the deepest parts of myself in a way that the freedom of the open road never could. Being able to share this trip with a good friend has been wonderful, and I’m in the midst of organizing a month-long cross-country progressive road trip with different groups of friends to help me get the car to Seattle from BMW’s Performance Delivery Center in South Carolina, where I’ll be picking it up in early January (we just dropped the car off with the shipping company in Vienna earlier this afternoon, and I miss it already).
Real estate has really helped in making this lifestyle possible, not only monetarily but also by interweaving my personal life and my work life in a way that honestly doesn’t even feel like work most days. My friends have been just as important in more ways than I could list here, one of which has been helping me see that stability and stagnation are two very different things, and that it’s very possible to have the former without the latter. My life in Seattle right now feels perfectly balanced, with my need for freedom and my need for stability each helping to sustain and nurture the other.
And that’s ultimately what the BMW represents to me: the joining of what I’d previously thought of as two disparate life goals into one unified and seamless whole, just as uncompromisingly in its element on the best driving roads in California as it is on a quick trip to the store to get groceries with a couple of nieces or nephews in tow. It’s the perfect symbol for this time in my life—and I’m looking forward immensely to getting it back to Seattle in January with a little help from my friends.