Sometimes, we hide from our true desires in life – there’s really no other way to put it. To think of our biggest and boldest dreams can scare us, making us choose the tried-and-tested paths of our predecessors over our own. There comes a time, though, when you find yourself at a crossroads – to take the obviously reliable freeway, or the less chosen path of hidden surprises. Which one will you choose?
A year ago, I decided to move to Spain for a year of traveling. I said early on that it would only be for a year, if that. My mind was made up, and no one was going to change it. I went with the intention of returning some time in the summer with no regrets. While I did come home with no regrets, something didn’t feel right. I was having some doubts about everything while I was still in Spain. Would I be happy if I went home now? Would this be the end? Did I know what I wanted to do when I returned? Was this really the right thing for me to do, right now?
Whether your network of friends and family is big or not, announcing a move abroad always prompts questions from at least a few people. What are your plans? How does this contribute to your resume? Are you really sure this is wise? Europe is an escape, what are you really running away from?
As much as I do think that some travelers use it as an escape from big decisions, it isn’t necessarily that way for everyone. When I decided I would return to Madrid for this second round of Spanish-style living, it wasn’t because of lack of options nor lack of reflecting on my life. In fact, having more options made the decision more complicated than it would have been otherwise. If anything, the move has been accompanied with a lot of large decisions I’ve made about my future – both long-term and short-term. I’ve never felt so confident about my plans before, not even when I started my bachelors degree in 2008. I was still unsure then, but that wave of uncertainty has finally passed through me.
The biggest struggle, for those of us who are goal-oriented travelers, isn’t the actual follow-through part of our plans. It isn’t convincing ourselves of what the best thing to do is. It’s convincing others, our loved ones, that regardless of the stereotypes of “wanderers”, we’re going somewhere. That it’s okay that our plan involves being far away for a little while longer, that it may be better than the alternative. We are young adults, but we aren’t just going through a phase. This “phase” is a part of our lives that very much leads to the next. The struggle is letting others know that it’s not scary, not without purpose, and not losing ground. It’s our way of accomplishing our goals.
There are a million and one articles out there about how millenials – those of us born mostly in the 80s and early 90s – don’t chase after the dream of having a house, marriage, and kids by the age of 25. That isn’t to say that there aren’t millenials who do want those things, or that we never want any of those things. However, our urgency to lead set lives isn’t quite as strong as those our parents coped with. Open conversations with them lead to one conclusion: many wish they had taken more opportunities, and urge us to follow our hearts. Worried and more parental-like conversations sound more like lectures on how time is running out, and that now is the moment to capitalize on our youth and ability in the workforce. Well, which one is it?
The answer is: it doesn’t matter. What another person wants isn’t necessarily what you want. It could also be what you want in the future, even if that future is only a few months away. Any smart planner will think of their goals in advance, and see to it that their choices – even those that take them to another country – are in line with them. The bottom line is: this is your life. If you take the easy road now to succumb to any external pressures, you’ll never know what may have been in store for you in that other city, office, or life. We all strive to live a life without much regret. Whether you were born in 1920 or 2010, this is an undisputed fact. We want to be happy.
I’m not advocating that all 20 year olds live as we, the expats, do. It isn’t everyone’s lifestyle, nor does it have to be. I’m also not suggesting travelers “just do it” without any thought, nor that they keep thinking “I’ll do that tomorrow”. However, there’s a way to travel (or merely live differently) while still working your way up in the world you eventually want to be in. You don’t have to choose between the two – you can make it work.
So, as I spent my last full day in the country I grew up in and call home, I realized that as much as I would miss certain things, that I’m also happy with my decision to leave again. It was especially heartbreaking for me this time, as I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t be back anytime soon (as opposed to last year, when I had definite plans to return in the winter), and that maybe this home wouldn’t be here a year from now. I drove past my childhood home and school with memories of the past – how I was, how things were, how much I wanted my life to be how it is now and yet never imagined it would turn out this way. It’s humbled me, and also excited me. One more year in Madrid, I say. One more year. I’ll make it count.