“Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.” — Khalil Gibran
It has been a long time since I wrote a blog post here, and a lot has changed in my life. I wasn’t sure I would continue posting, as I was uncertain as to whether my ideas would still be relevant for this space. Nevertheless, writing is helpful for me to process ideas, and I was inspired to post something more personal today.
Last summer I visited a friend in the Netherlands while on holiday. I immediately felt like I belonged there, and returned to Canada desperately homesick for a place I had never lived. After some careful and thoughtful reflection, I embraced my commitment to my 2018 word: “Yes”, and began making applications to positions in the Netherlands. It took some time, but eventually the right job found me, and I was offered (and accepted) a position at a highly regarded academic university as an educational specialist/trainer. Immediately after finding out I had the job, I sold my home and the majority of my worldly belongings, said goodbye to my family and friends, and in January boarded a flight to begin the next chapter of my life, bringing with me only 6 suitcases and a hugely hopeful heart.
I LOVE living in the Netherlands. I do not question or regret my decision to move here. It is absolutely where I am supposed to be. My new city is beautiful and historic, while simultaneously lively and full of energy and culture. Some days I need to pinch myself just to check if it is actually real. One amazing thing about living in Europe is that everything is very close and travel to other places is relatively easy. Now that the weather is nicer and I am feeling more settled, I have begun to venture out more on my days off.
I am extremely grateful for the ability to use tools such as Facebook and Instagram to connect with friends and family - no matter how far apart or how many different time zones we may be in. I appreciate the ease of communication and feel immense gratitude for tools like Marco Polo that allow me to experience “conversation” with people I care about, even though we are not awake or available to talk at the same time. I have been posting a lot about the places I have visited, both within my own city and in the others I have travelled to, mainly so that the people who care and worry about me can see that I am safe and happy.
Despite my gratitude for having these tools to keep in touch, I have also started to notice that the more I post, the more I feel like a fraud. I frequently receive comments from people saying things like:
I wish I had your life!
You are really living it up over there! Awesome!
You are having such a great time! It’s not boring there like it is here.
Keep posting! I am living vicariously through you!
You are so lucky!
While these comments are meant to be positive and supportive (and I have said similar things, myself, to others in their own posts previously), they leave me feeling like I am weaving a tale that is not true. Each photo is simply a snapshot of a carefully framed and curated moment, and a very inaccurate representation of real life. While this is the reality for all of us that use social media to post about the (mainly good) moments in our lives, it has started to bother me more and more over the 4 months I have been here. I want to be honest and share the true story that you don’t see in the posts.
I AM fortunate to live here, AND I was fortunate to live in Canada. When I show my Dutch friends photos of my Canadian hometown with its lakes and mountains and valleys and sunsets, they are incredibly jealous of how beautiful a place I came from. Sometimes we become desensitized to what’s around us and think that what we find “normal” (and, as a result no longer truly see) is boring. It’s not. Please start noticing the beauty and uniqueness around you. It is everywhere if you just pay attention.
My arriving here did not have a lot to do with luck. It had a lot to do with heartbreak and loss, and wrestling with identity when huge pieces of my life crumbled unexpectedly at the same time. It required a willingness to give up the comfort and security of the “known” in order to follow my heart and intuition, and to “put myself out there” and apply for multiple jobs, knowing that I would need to deal with repeated rejection until the right one appeared. It meant doing lots of really difficult and stressful things, and moving far away from people I love more than anything. Luck played such a small role. What it did have a lot to do with is COURAGE.
Moving abroad is rife with headaches. Immigration paperwork sucks. So does trying to figure out how to get established in another country, even for seemingly simple things like cell phone plans, bank cards and setting up household utilities. It sometimes feels overwhelming and like a canal full of purple crocodiles (a Dutch phenomenon that my colleagues educated me about).
I still have to wash dishes, vacuum, clean my toilet, shop for groceries, pay bills, and do all the other mundane tasks that go along with everyday life in any country. I also still work 40+ hours per week. I just don’t post photos of any of that stuff (and I don’t think anyone wants me to).
I feel lonely. A lot.
Living and working in a new country requires development of an up close and personal relationship with constant failure. I fail at understanding and communicating in Dutch. I fail at understanding systems, programs and procedures new to me at work. I fail at understanding and complying with cultural norms and nuances. I am a beginner learner again. I feel like I suck at everything… ALL THE TIME. I do not feel fully competent at anything… yet. When I tried to express this to colleagues, I felt like even more of a failure and ended up with a massive vulnerability hangover. (And I will likely have another one after posting this publicly).
A lot of people ask me why I decided to move here. I don’t really have an answer. All I know is that this is where I am supposed to be. I am as curious for the reason to show itself as anyone else. What I do know is that it will have something to do with people and purpose and connection. Already I am humbled by the kindness and helpfulness of people, the incredible opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and the gift of being trusted with their stories. I’m still struggling to figure out the bigger purpose piece, but I am sure it will come. When I get frustrated and impatient, I think about this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke: “Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
That, and I listen to this song on repeat. Every. Single. Word.