When starting middle school, my classmates and I were given a choice of which language class we wanted to take: French, Spanish, or Italian. Given my love of pizza and aspiration to one day go to Italy, I chose Italian, a fun language I would WANT to learn and WANT to use.

But I didn’t. Couldn’t. However you want to describe it, I was so awful at Italian that I almost flunked out of high school. In fact, it was only through a loophole in the school’s credits system that I was able to make up my high school language requirement with art. For whatever reason, my brain just couldn’t pick it up, try as I might. And the few words, phrases, and history I absorbed in those nightmarishly difficult years have since faded, gatto and buon giorno being all that remains. And pizza, I guess.

I am just returning from my trip to Italy, a childhood dream come true, albeit lacking the language I had hoped would be my key to entering.

It’s not like you NEED to speak Italian to survive in Italy (though it obviously helps). But I saw it as a rite of passage. A training towards a final destination. When I eventually arrived at that destination, it was in a grand old fashion, celebrating my mother’s birthday with the rest of my family. It was a trip that came and went too fast to respond to, but the memory will linger, much more so than my failed years of Italian courses.

I bring all this up because I think there’s an out symmetry to time. Perhaps it’s my overfamiliarity with story structure, unable to avoid seeing its bones in every aspect of my life. Years before starting Unlife, I was on the cusp of a different family trip, this one to Hawaii (no, I never took Hawaiian). I actually ended up having to bail as it coincided with when I was starting a new job, one that I believe would shape me and my career and life forever. It did, though not in the way I expected. I put my work before my family, something that set the tone for the next eight years. Weirdly, it has lead me on a greater path of discovery to what that “F” word means to me. Were it not for that job, I would never have met my wife, never have met Zack, and Unlife would not exist.

And now, here I am, returning from this trip to Italy. When it was still just around the corner, I was courted for a new job. A new opportunity and adventure going forward. But this time, I made time for my family. Work is important. Hell, I’m writing this on the plane right now. But this trip to Italy feels more like a benchmark for that reason and many others. Each one of us on the trip had something to celebrate this year; 2016 may have sucked in numerous ways, but our perseverance and conquering was all the greater for that. We strived. We stumbled. Sometimes we failed. But we kept going. And in the end…

Here we are. And there we went. We got there.

And I can’t help but feel that feels like a new beginning.