Deciding to move countries every year can be exciting but stressful. Image by Jacob Axford.
I have a confession: I’m sometimes jealous of those who travel the world with a partner.
I’d enjoy it not just for the company, but for help in making the “where to?” decisions. I almost moved with a partner once. But, ultimately, I’ve decided on my own where I would go with each move. The liberty of traveling (and moving) solo is that you make big moves without the risk of resenting someone else, but you are also solely responsible for the decision.
Having moved six times and lived in three countries in the last eight years, you would think I experience absolutely no emotional turmoil over the idea of packing up and moving almost every year. Instead, it’s the opposite: Every year’s decision requires months of constant self-reflection and stress about what direction my life could, would, or should go in.
On one hand, I experience a lot of internal conflict over moving so far from loved ones, asking myself if I’m just avoiding responsibility and questioning whether I’m delaying the chance of building lasting relationships by starting over every year.
Yet these issues are counterbalanced by the fear of missing a great adventure, by an increasing desire to see as much as possible, and by a genuine worry that I’ll look back and realize I took the easy route.
This is one Wanderful woman’s annual dilemma when deciding: Should I stay or should I go?
When both paths are attractive, making a decision can be paralyzing. Image by Patrick Mackie.
Fortunately, some big decisions have been handed to me, often in the form of opportunities I didn’t ask for, like when a lover ends something you knew you should’ve ended anyway. But most other big “go East or go West” decisions have been absolutely excruciating. Those are the decisions that weighed two equally desirable possibilities that would have taken me in obviously different directions. Moreover, following each would have supported a different but equally important personal belief or goal.
Some people might find this dilemma to be trivial: “What’s wrong with having to decide between two excellent options?” you might ask. “What a gift!” Well, while I am aware that either option will likely lead to satisfying results, it’s the awareness that each direction might literally take me to a different end of the world that makes it most challenging.
Step 1: Over the last eight years, I’ve learned that to get at the root of my indecisiveness, I only need to figure out one small but well-hidden issue: my fear.
The answer is often one of two options: either it’s a fear of the unknown of what will come after, or it’s a worry that I’m running unnecessarily. The two worries seem to alternate in precedence each year.
Admitting this is humbling for a Wanderful woman who takes pride in leaping to adventure and craving the new and different, but fear of the next decision is often the biggest issue. For, as good as I may have gotten in analyzing my choices, I’d quite like to make a choice that doesn’t require another dilemma in a year’s time.
After accepting that my fear is either insignificant, unnecessary, or something on which I don’t want to base my life, the choice becomes clear: I choose the thing that scares me.
Then there is Step 2: Double-checking.
A fellow Peace Corps Volunteer once told me how her mother used to decide which movie to watch if her daughters couldn’t pick between two. She would simply hide the two videos behind her back and have one daughter pick a hand. It wasn’t simply that the selected video had to be watched, but that the reaction on her daughters’ faces would make it clear whether they had wanted to watch that one or the other one. Sometimes disappointment is a more obvious indicator than anticipation.
I, too, find it easier to tell if I’ve already made the wrong decision than if I am about to make the right one. But that isn’t always practical when you’ve just moved across an ocean. So, if possible, I often pretend I’ve already made a choice and see how it sits.
If I feel no pain of regret, I leap. I jump headfirst into my new life with no regrets and no resentment.
As my next decision will actually take me to the opposite side of the world, I find myself much calmer about it, but I would very much like to have two years in a row when I didn’t have to make this type of decision. Because my options can take me not only in different personal directions, but very likely and literally to different ends of the world, the decisions feel bigger than they probably are.
This detailed description of my annual thinking process might sound exhausting. It is. Yet, it has led me down paths that, once chosen, have always felt right, even if they were left.
Airports are a second home to the perpetually moving. Image of Madrid’s Adolfo Suárez Airport from Wikipedia.org.