When You Get a Sign, LISTEN.

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If you’re a longtime reader, you remember how I decided to stop dreaming and actually start traveling.  It began in January 2010.  Within a two-week span, everything in my life seemed to fall apart.

First, my relationship ended.

Next, I lost my freelance job writing about Boston nightlife.

Third, I lost my job.

And finally, a certain major election did not turn out in my favor.

It took four major blows occurring nearly simultaneously for me to realize that it was time to make a change in my life.  I had been frustrated with how my life had been going lately — I loved Boston, but I was bored with my career, tired of the long winters, and I wanted new and exciting experiences.  I had been saving up for a trip around the world, but it was taking much longer than I expected.

In a flash, I lost almost everything anchoring me to Boston, nothing keeping me there but my family and friends.

That could not have been a clearer sign: it was time to leave Boston.

I have always believed in signs.  If you aren’t living life as you should, the universe will make it clear somehow.  If there’s an opportunity, you’ll find out.

It’s not like seeing a McDonald’s ad is a sign that you need to have a Big Mac for dinner.  Don’t take anything at face value.  It’s about taking the signs you receive and interpreting them critically while examining your life.

Signs are everywhere — and nobody received clearer signs than my friend Nadine.  I’d like to share her story with you.

Nadine moved to Boston from upstate New York without so much as visiting the city beforehand.  I know lots of people who have done the same thing and succeeded enormously.  But Nadine had a more difficult time settling in Boston than anyone else I knew.

Nadine’s Story

She found an apartment in Cambridge on Craigslist, thinking she’d be living in the land of Harvard and hipsters and intellectuals.  However, the apartment she agreed to rent was in East Cambridge, a very rough neighborhood.  She never felt safe — and soon she learned that her roommates were meth dealers.  (The fact that one of them had only one tooth kind of tipped her off.  She called him Fang.)  Nadine moved out without even leaving a note.

She found a decent starter job — which is where we met — and a great group of friends.  We would go out for everything from cocktails to drag shows, hitting up Boston’s best restaurants (pretending we could afford to eat there), and going dancing all night at clubs, fixing each other up with the hottest guys we could find.  We were urbanites in our early twenties.  Life was good.

That said, Nadine began to go through a series of escalating disasters.

One night during an intense snowstorm, she fell and broke her ankle.  Traffic was at a standstill and there was no way a taxi could get to her, so she had to crawl home on her hands and knees through twelve-inch-deep snow.

The break was severe and required surgery.  So began a series of hospital stays for Nadine — not only did she need ankle surgery, but she required two more unrelated surgeries, including back surgery that left her out on disability leave for several weeks.

Nadine lived in a few different apartments before finding a great place in a nice neighborhood.  On her move-in day, the landlady met her and apologized, saying that she had to move out within two weeks.  The landlady’s daughter, Nadine’s roommate-to-be, had been charged with prostitution after inviting an undercover cop back to the apartment for an erotic massage.  The landlady ran a day care center downstairs and was forced by the police to close it.

In addition to this bizarrely bad luck, there were Nadine’s relationships, two of which ended badly.  Without going into detail, one of them was the most horrific breakup I’ve ever seen.  I pray that nobody I love has to go through anything as bad as what Nadine went through.

Some people would say that Nadine made some mistakes and had some exceptionally bad luck.  I saw it differently.

The universe was making it clear — “YOU DON’T BELONG IN BOSTON.  GET OUT.”

After that breakup, Nadine had hit her breaking point.  She hopped on a bus to New York, moved in with a relative in Brooklyn, and landed a new job less than a week later.  Four years later, she’s still in New York — and thriving.  She found a neighborhood that she adores.  She gets a lot of vacation time at her new job.  She goes on trips to places like Japan and Hawaii.

Has her life in New York been perfect?  No way.  She’s gone through some tough times in the past few years.  But Nadine has found a level of peace that she was never able to find in Boston.  It also helps that New York doesn’t seem to be trying to kill her.

This summer, Nadine came back to Boston for a short visit.  She and I, along with our friend Esther, talked about how long it took us to realize that Boston was simply toxic to her.  And that’s fine.  Some people are just naturally bad matches for certain places.  I’ve seen that happen with plenty more of my friends.

At least Nadine got out before anything worse happened to her.

My advice to you all?

When a sign comes your way, LISTEN.

Use signs as an opportunity to examine your life in a new light.  Are you happy with where you are today?

If not, it may be time to make a change in your life.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore them.

Many thanks to Nadine for graciously allowing me to share her story here.

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34 thoughts on “When You Get a Sign, LISTEN.”

  1. Such a great post!! Sometimes people see the signs and refuse to realize what they mean–EVER! I’ve most definitely had those signs and I’m so glad I listened. I never thought that some people are just not compatible with certain places…food for thought…love it!

  2. This is such a great post!. I felt like Nadine in Gabon – while a lot of it was due to life in the third world, at some point, we had to realise that Port Gentil just wasn’t for us. We made the best of our 2 years there despite all of the ‘signs’ but we knew it was time to go!

  3. GREAT post! provides a perspective that i think very few people acknowlege, but the universe is ALWAYS giving us nudges in the right direction, or to let us know if we’re in the wrong place…and they tend to get bigger and bigger until we actually listen. so glad you wrote this

  4. I am trying to listen better to the Universe lately, and just go with the flow. I agree that it’s SO important!

    I had one of these “this has to be a sign” experiences this summer in Scotland (a BIG one). I’m still trying to figure out how best to listen, but I definitely didn’t ignore it. (Yes, I realize this is cryptic, but I’m working on a post about it for next week!)

  5. I had a similar experience in Pittsburgh. When friends started moving away and my job ended, there didn’t seem to be a reason to stay. I never thought of it as the universe telling me to leave, but rather that it just made sense to go explore somewhere else now. I prefer to look at it from the perspective that it was my choice to go seek adventures elsewhere, rather than succumbing to fate and being forced to go by some unknown force.

  6. I am recuperating from following a few ‘signs’ with selling my house that didn’t go as planned. My goal is to live a simple life so that I can travel at will. Maybe what I just experienced was the storm before the calm.

  7. A similar thing happened to me within the last few months of my time in Louisville. I was producing news on the CW affiliate. The owners went bankrupt, and the new owner made a deal with one of our competitors. I thought that my show would soon be cancelled (although as of this writing, I believe it’s still on the air). Then, my landlord asked me to move out because my lease was up, and she wanted to rent the room to a college student. These weren’t the only signs, but they definitely were the major ones that said, “It’s time to get out of Louisville.”

    Now, I’m home in Kansas and getting ready to spend seven weeks on the West Coast. Then in November, I’ll spend six months in Central America. I’ve spent two years getting out of debt and saving for this trip. I can’t wait.

  8. Before I left to travel we’d been moved to 3 different apartments in less than 2 years, each one because the landlord wanted to move back in or sell the place. It was a new town for me moving in with my boyfriend, but all the moves and uncertainty of never being able to call anywhere home made it pretty stressful. Plus moving is expensive, you need to pay fees to everyone! I needed to get out and eventually took the plunge to travel. We left on December 31 and are still away now. So glad we did it!

  9. Kate, I rarely post here (but read almost every day), but I wanted to comment on this story because it speaks so close to my heart. I, too, know the painful lessons of listening to the signs – and of initially ignoring them – and whether it’s fate, some higher being, or simply the cosmos’ strange interception, I truly believe there is always something guiding us in our life paths. I just recently read another series of signs that ended up steering me in another direction than the one I wanted, but I am happier and thriving now – and I know I wouldn’t have been had I stayed on the other path. And my round-the-world trip starts in January…something else that wasn’t sitting on the other path. Always follow your heart, but pay attention to your surroundings and the “signs” – whatever they may be – and you will go far!

  10. I definitely believe in fate. My hubby and I went through a very tough year in London, which included loosing jobs, a worsening economy, having health issues due to stress and 3 hours of commuting to get to a job you hate. We saw this as a sign of the universe, packed our bags and flew to Cambodia, where we still are 12 months later. We couldn’t be happier now. We found amazing jobs, can travel all the time, get to know South East Asia and we have made some very good friends. So I agree, when the universe calls, listen and respond!!!

  11. I love this. My first time out the States, I had been saving up to move in with these two girls-then they found a two bedroom for themselves, so I took my savings and bought a ticket to Milan. The Universe told me to go to Europe, and I said hell yeah. I’ve been so happy I made that decision ever since, and I’m glad you and your friend made similar ones that worked out for both of yall.

  12. I completely agree. Although I find the signs are subtle at first and then get stronger. I am now trying to listen to them when they are whispers so I don’t end up like Nadine and break limbs 🙂

  13. Kate – love this perspective and I totally agree with you. I’ve been thinking about this concept recently, as I just hit my 5-year mark in Seattle on Tuesday (crazy!). I knew deep in my gut when I got offered a job transfer from the Midwest to Seattle that I needed to take it, and that my life was about to change. 5 years later, I look back on the so-so relationship I ended, the job I quit to stay here, and everything I gained in the meantime – and it’s all so clear. All it took was reading the signs and that first scary leap! I’ve met more amazing people, traveled more and challenged myself more in these 5 years than I ever have in my life. It’s just “right.” I’m glad that you (and Nadine!) have also found those leaps to be for the better….

    Thanks for sharing. It’s been fun to follow your journey out of Boston… 🙂 xo

  14. wow, what a great post. It was like reading a book i couldn’t put down. I love the discussion of positive and negative energy and how we bring things into our lives. some people could say that nadine just needed to change her attitude but others would disagree and say it was just bad luck. There is a difference between completely changing your life because of your current state and chasing your dreams. But nadine’s story shows us that sometimes the fates speaks to us in terrible ways!

  15. A great story, and spin on such events – I totally agree, the world sends you signs about what’s right, what’s not right, and it’s up to you to take heed and doing something about it. Making change is sometimes a challenge, but can make all the difference.

  16. I often think these huge events in our life lead us to ask the questions that we already know the answers to. It’s a shame sometimes it takes a series of unfortunate events to give us the motivation and courage to do what we really want to do.

  17. Saw the title and thought this might be a bit hocussy-pocussy, but in the end was pleasantly surprised Kate. I believe we effect the environment around us to a great degree and eventually the “signs” that we see are but outcomes of ripple effects of our own actions, however small, that have created changes in the environment. So listening to these “signs” is a way of acknowledging our concsious/subconscious desires that inadvertently manifest themselves in real life. Good read this!

  18. I have a similar thing going on (though fortunately no drugs and unfortunately no snow), and it kept going on until I realized this year it was bigger than I thought, so I’m finally taking some actions I always left for some day. I had to make a choice for myself first to realize it, and pretty much, I still need to choose freedom every day, sometimes several time a day. I’m so glad things worked out for Nadine!

  19. I love this post! I remember three years ago I was in a relationship that wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great, but I loved him too much to break up with him. I wondered how I was ever going to be able to pursue my dream of travel if he never wanted to leave rural PA. Well…the future worked that one out for me (haha), HE broke up with me. At first I was devastated, but then I started to realize how much freedom I had. Now I have two long trips under my belt and I’ve honestly never been happier or more excited for the future.

  20. Great post, I certainly do believe in signs! I had one, or rather a whole lot of little ones, not too long ago. Due to various circumstances, I was forced to quit school and put a hold on my career in music. Lots of negative things happened in the span of a month, everything was slowly falling apart but the one positive thing was that I now had an whole year free with nothing to do! I decided I was going to travel, but didn’t have the money. And all of a sudden money started coming to me from every direction, I got paid more for the gigs I was still doing, I got money back from taxes, etc etc. To me, it was a clear sign that I really was doing the right thing! It’s funny, how the universe works 🙂

  21. Great post and so true. I worked in Mongolia for a month and before I went, I had an intense feeling that I was going to love it. When I got there I cried for days and struggled to be myself. I spent the month with so many challenges – was spat at by a Mongolian man and nearly mugged. I didn’t realise how much the country was suppressing me until I was on the plane flying out of it. A huge weight lifted and I actually felt really happy and free.

    The universe definitely didn’t want me to be there.

  22. Great post! I believe in signs. Though sometimes, there are signs something is not right, but you have no idea what it is you should be doing. What to do then?

  23. Those were sure some strong signs for her to leave! Guess Guatemala was giving me those signs when my passport was stolen, money was stolen out of our room then my fiance’s debit card was cloned – all within 2 weeks! I still loved that country anyway and would go back

  24. WOW. Nadine’s life in Boston sounds like a movie (and if it were, I’d totally watch it!). I believe in signs, but sometimes it takes a lot of courage follow these signs. Good for Nadine!

  25. What an interesting and inspiring story. I sort of feel the same at the moment. I’m getting all of the signs that I don’t belong where I currently am. And trust me, I’m listening to all of the signs and getting the heck out of here 🙂

  26. I’m going through exactly the same!
    Three months ago I moved to a new city. Got a job where one boss talks filthy, other is misogynist and third is lazy.
    I contracted chikungunya. I was demoted. Me and bf split. My boss refused to pay salary. I met with an accident. Currently recuperating at my parents house.
    I’m moving back in with parents. The three months have given me a decade worth of pain already. I don’t belong in that city.

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