Leap Before You Look
There's thinking about something, and there there's just doing it.
Plenty of people dream of leaving the lives they've known for so long – all the comfort, familiarity, routines, family and friends – and moving to another country far away to start a new life. But very few people actually do it.
I'm often asked how I could upend my life so many times and move to a new place with no job or place to live, and no actual certainty that things will work out. And I always have the same response: "I just do it." In other words, I take the leap and then find a way to make it work.
Of course, it wasn't always that way. As a kid I was a pretty intensive worrier and I'd often work myself up by ruminating on all the things that could go wrong. There's a reason it took me five years to finally get up the courage to leave my magazine job that I loved and move to France, where I had always dreamed of living one day. There were always excuses for me to put it off a little longer – maybe I could save just a little bit more money, or wait for a time when it would be less impactful on the business. I told myself that I didn't want to let my coworkers down – particularly my boss, who had taken a chance on me all those years ago, hiring me despite my extreme inexperience and then giving me opportunities I could have never imagined. That I would be letting my family down by not being around to help out with my two-year-old nephew and impending niece, or by spending time with my mother who had recently moved back from Singapore to be closer to us all. That the universe would give me a perfect sign that it was time for me to take the leap.
Inevitably, there's always going to be reasons not to do it. And if you focus on them for too long, you'll soon enough have convinced yourself not to do it. In the end, my reasons for taking the leap came from a finite deadline – I either did it now before my opportunity for working visas disappeared when I turned 31, or I could dream about doing it when I was older, and it would be a lot harder to find a way to actually live in most foreign countries. Having that looming over me made it easy to come to a decision.
By committing to it, and telling everyone about my plans, I was basically daring myself to go through with it. As someone who almost always stays true to her word, once I commit to something, I follow it through. It's a technique that's served me well in life during times when doubts begin to creep in or I start to overthink something. I simply declare that I'm going to do something, and once I put it out there into the world, it's like I'm daring myself to live up to it.
Moving to a new city can be daunting, let alone a new country whose language you barely speak. But when you're forced to find a way to survive, that's when your creative instincts kick in and you start to think of things in completely different ways. Suddenly opportunities arise in places you never would have considered, through unexpected people. Right when you think you've reached a dead-end, a door opens up where you never even realized one existed.
The key is not to hold on too tightly – kind of like snowboarding. When you first start snowboarding, the idea of picking up speed while going down a slope is terrifying. So you tense up all your muscles and try to grip as tightly as possible onto the board, fearing every turn that requires you to switch from leaning on your heels to leaning on your toes. Your legs ache, you're constantly anxious, and it's hardly enjoyable. But then, gradually, you become more comfortable and you don't hold on so tightly. And when you finally learn to let go completely and trust that you will find your way down the mountain with elegance and ease, that's when you have the very best rides.
The same can be said for traveling. If you try to plan too much, or have too many ideas of what the experience will be like, you miss the true essence of the experience because you're trying to hold on too tightly. But if you let go of all that and take what comes – both the challenges and the triumphs – as part of the journey, you're in for one beautiful ride. So I've learned not to dwell too much on what may or may not happen when I arrive in a new country, but to be open to as many opportunities as possible and to be ready to completely change course if necessary. Whenever I look back on a year that has just passed, I'm always far from where I expected to be – and almost always in the best possible way.
There are many times while I've been traveling and have done something without thinking about the potential dangers, only to look back on it and think about how risky it might have been. Of course, it's never a good idea to go into a situation completely blind without considering the consequences – common sense is always a good thing – but there are always times when it works better to trust that things will work out. Many times I've been lost, or in a bind, and someone has appeared out of the blue with just the help or piece of information that I need. Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, reset, and reassess a situation – and the solution will be standing right in front of you.
And it's often those times when you're pushed to your limit, completely out of your comfort zone, that the truly memorable travel experiences that you cherish actually occur. It's those moments that help you grow stronger, more resilient, and more worldly. You realize that you can take care of yourself – that you really can be the mistress (or master) of your own adventure.
So, that thing you've been thinking about all these years – why not just do it? I dare you.