Finding New Zeal(and)

by Stephanie Walton (United States of America)

A decision that pushed me to the edge New Zealand


Many stories begin with the sounds of things: the clacking of cicadas through twisting vines in a dense tropical forest as you climb towards the crescendo of a misty waterfall. Even the sounds in the names of places beckons the intrigue of origin. One such name has long tickled my ears with the intrigue of a fresh, vibrant, rugged island surrounded by ocean at the end of the world: New Zealand. Despite its somewhat erroneous misnomer by Abel Tasman in 1642, New Zealand rings of a place to discover new zeal for life: a fresh perspective, rejuvenation for the soul, zest, & exploration of lands, creatures, & legend. Besides its reputation for wild beauty + cultural richness of native Maori people who’s folklore weaves together harmonious stories of land & sea, New Zealand—for me—represents a place of hope in starting over and embracing life. After choosing to leave a steady career path, go back to school for a master’s degree far beyond my comfort zone, and create new dreams, I struggled to cope with a deeply personal sense of failure as I felt employers, community, and family members often wanted me to be different than I was. Trying & failing in big ways I started 2 new jobs resulting in terminations within a year, struged with the grief of losing my beloved grandmother to Alzheimer’s & above all, the discouragement or realizing that the life goals I’d tried to achieve, despite my best efforts, sacrifices, and work, would likely not happen in the way I hoped, if at all. Discouraged, broken, & overwhelmed at the prospect of starting what felt like another battle, I found myself at a critical junction with the choice to give up to the pain or to find space for the healing, love, & hope I needed, looking at the many reasons—beyond goals—for being alive & celebrating the opportunities I DO have. New Zealand was that space as I asserted my freedom to take a month-long first-time solo trip into Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, finding my “new zeal” & learning to love who I am as I find a path forward. Like the roads carved into the stunning landscapes flanked by mountains, glaciers, rainforests, & seascapes I explored, the oceanic island, half a world away from home reminded me that there is so much beauty in the diversity, the challenges, & even the volatility of life. Listening to the hum of a ferry engine in the gentle breeze of crossing Cooks Straight, I’m hopeful on my journey home, heart full, and head clear.