I wrote this just a few weeks ago, so it still feels a bit raw and I’m afraid it sounds exhausted (because at that point I truly was.) I like to look back at the last year once a year though and my birthday is a good time for that. It just so happens that it also has coincided with two international moves. Maybe I’ll make this a regular thing.
Dear Me –
We’re in Auckland right now, escaping for a 5 day weekend before the last push in the move to Bangkok. We’re in Auckland because you just had to get out of Asia for a bit. It’s all going to be ok, even Bangkok. I know you need to hear that. We’re worried, but just look at your last letter and remember how intense simply running all those errands and selling the townhouse felt? Ha! Just one week of working in Singapore was more intense than the moving prep. You can so handle Bangkok.
Besides, the fact that we’re in Auckland means two things:
1) we’ve learned how to cry “uncle.” Some days we’re just not up for the fully present experience in a foreign land. And for crying out loud, we’re tired! Please keep this reminder posted to your forehead. We need more care and sleep than we are getting. Comfort is not a bad word.
2) we’ve gone “all-in.” I know, you keep guiltily remembering those weekends where we binge-watched The Mentalist and Orphan Black but look at those photos and passport stamps. You completed your resolution: somewhere new EVERY month in the last year. In fact, you have been in 17 different countries since January of 2015. Daaaaamnnn girl. I think we’re allotted some binge watching weekends. Let it go.
So yes, Auckland IS an acceptable vacation destination even though you used to judge other expats for choosing Western and comfortable locations. Which reminds me, watch out for that judginess. Until we moved abroad I don’t think we realized how judgy we were. Lately we’ve been digging up our biases and dumbfoundedly staring at them like clams on mud, unsure of how they got there or what to do about them. Give it some time, stay open, and keep going full force because the last year has been quite a ride. Just try to lower the judginess. Glass houses you know.
Good news: you don’t have a comfort zone anymore. Not really. It’s more of a terrain that varies between easy and nostalgic places where you can run entirely on habits to the less familiar where the window dressing looks a tad bit different to a thrilling wilderness where even the basics can be harder to accomplish. We haven’t been anywhere lately that’s very deeply uncomfortable. I think that’s a good thing.
Speaking of which, the “basics” and necessities in your life have been whittled WAY down. In just one year we’ve not only decimated the number of things you own (that minimalism trend is really starting to take off) but your relationships with people have gotten much, much clearer. Family has truly taken a prime spot in our heart, as have a few select friends.
These are the people who now fill the space our comfort zone once did.
Every time we have started to lose our footing, or get lost in a long hallway of choices, there are a few people whom we can call and they will remind us of who we are. And who remind us of who we are at our best no matter how far apart our lives and experiences are diverging. We know some pretty darn amazing people. How lucky we are to know people who never say “why the heck would you want to do that!?” or “seriously, please come home.” And instead cheer us to be… well, us. Me. Whatever.
Plus, our broader network of friends has gotten stronger too. And lest you forget this, go read all the Facebook and LinkedIn emails you’ve received around this time. From past professors willing to chat through academic opportunities, to warm thoughts from B-School and college friends to high school friends reaching out for travel advice (almost as though we actually know what we’re doing!) We’ve discovered that not only is the broader world a generally welcoming and nice place, but our past is filled with warm and spectacular people too. Be grateful for Facebook. It’s your lifeline to a group of grand people.
Boy do you have some dating stories, too. Remember the guy who was starting up stem cell clinics because 40 was just a bit too young to begin a life of lounging on the beach in the Maldives? The one who was watching the horses he owned run in the Hong Kong races and who was a doctor for princes? (You really should have gone on that second date instead of flaking by the way.)
Or the drunken kisses after that one night out when you first arrived? (And please don’t drink that much again until you at least have television connected. A two day hangover plus forbidden desire and inner turmoil without a distraction equals one very unhappy us.)
There was that sweet French-Argentinian Economist who was in town presenting his PhD thesis, and that guy who seemed normal … until he launched into a 45 minute rant on how people who subscribed to a religion were deluded and lacked intelligence. “Free-thinker” my eye!
“Oh look at the time” was much too nice an exit there.
You’ve learned a lot. How to eat with chopsticks – though ramen and pho may forever thwart your hopes for a neat meal. How to speak and understand some Mandarin. How to negotiate and bargain for….. everything. (Mom may have been a tad bit embarrassed when you tried to negotiate in that King of Prussia store though, so maybe cool it when you’re stateside.) How to bow in China, Thailand, and Japan. How to properly present and accept business cards. How to teach others how to manage people…. it’s quite a list.
You’ve been sunburned a LOT. Please consider this a reminder that sounds like our parents, grandmothers, and Baz Lurhmann and for heaven’s sake: wear sunscreen.
You are a lot better at gratitude than you once were and it makes you a nicer and happier person. Don’t forget to try harder for compassion, gratitude, and serenity and go where you need to be reminded of these things. These also make you a better and happier person.
For the bad news…
The homesickness is not fading. You can be leading a team of people and working out strategic opportunities for a country, feeling very adult and competent, or chatting up a handsome bearded Brazilian sailor with whom you’ve invited yourself to sail across the Pacific Ocean and yet still have dreams at night where you are back in elementary school and are desperately hoping our parents show up for Special Event xyz.
We also haven’t found a way to indulge in music. It’s a gaping hole right now that at least we are trying to fill with serious photography. But until we’re ready for the next life-shift entailing months in one place and full commitment to a group, we’re limited to YouTube, recording ditties for our niece, and accepting this as a trade off. If this made your heart sink, you need to go watch another James Corden carpool karaoke. But hey, please try to go to sleep before 2am this time.
While our future path continues to be somewhat murky, especially on some big topics, we have finally stopped asking what-ifs about our past. Don’t forget that had things worked out differently with different people, different job opportunities, and so on, we would not be here now. And no matter how exhausted we are, this is without a doubt where we are meant to be.
I wish we could go back and tell our younger selves that the twists and turns, heartbreak, and years of feeling like a bit of an outsider without a cause earn us a place and person we like, but obviously we can’t. In case you are struggling in the future though, or this sensation is buried in more exhaustion because you ignored 50% of this letter (I know you well, remember?) at least remember that all the fighting has gotten you to who you should be and where you should be at 36.