M1, circa April 2004, in my Beach Ave apartment in Vancouver
Life is too short to be stuck. If you don’t feel stuck, feel free to skip over this post — there are (to date) 4,749 others.
I’m down to nine half-days at The Firm, and as my last day draws closer these are the most frequently given/asked comments/questions:
You must be so excited!
What an adventure!
What do you plan to do in Portugal?
What will you do for work?
Do you speak Portuguese?
What many at The Firm don’t know is that I’ve done this three times before — this is my fourth expat experience. The big difference with this one is that I will be living in another language. Of course, there are some other differences, too, but this one is the one that will affect me the most.
But that’s OK, because what I have noticed about myself during the past 23 years of mostly solo travel around the world — and Quebec :) — is that when I’m immersed in a different language, I feel differently and think differently, and that’s the point! (That’s probably why it’s more peculiar for me in Quebec, because it’s so familiar yet not, at the same time.) Learning to think differently is a good thing, in my book. Why make the brain tread the same neural pathways when it has the capacity to do more?
Feeling stuck is what happens after living the same way for too long, especially when it’s not ideal. The further away from ideal, the greater the feeling of being stuck. But feeling stuck is not the same as being stuck. Much of it is a mindset of inertia, that the effort it takes to get closer to the ideal is too much of burden.
Some people call this restlessness, but I think there’s more to it than that. Restlessness comes from boredom, which is more of a short-term problem. I’m creative and thoughtful enough to come up with plenty of ideas to not let myself slip into boredom. Canada is a huge country that supports a variety of lifestyles, all of which are available to me. But it’s still operating in the same language (except for Quebec, and yes, I seriously considered moving to Quebec after Toronto).
Choosing to move to another country is more than scratching a boredom itch, it is a choice to adapt to another country’s culture and traditions. I’m moving from the New World to the Old World, which is puzzling to some who firmly believe that the New World — ideologically more pro-change than the Old World — is a more suitable place to live for the non-traditional.
However, I will also say that the New World is filled with people who have created their own traditions, their own quasi-religions, and are just as rooted in their own ideas. Those of the New World are just as capable of being “stuck” as are people in the Old World.
Take, for example, the New World urban dwellers. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, from people who live in New York City, Toronto, Sydney, or any number of large urban centres where the salaries are high to keep up with the cost of living:
I’m a ___-sider, why would I go to the (other) ___ side?
I live in the best neighbourhood in the city! Even the (real estate institution which ranks and rates) says so!
My commute is ______ long, but I’m used to it. Other people commute more than I do.
I live in the best city in the world! Even the (institution which ranks and rates) says so! Why would I live anywhere else?
I live in the best country in the world! Even the (institution which ranks and rates) says so! (Have you lived anywhere else?)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand where much of this thinking comes from: immigration. The New World is populated by immigrants who want more than what their parents had, to achieve lifestyles which were previously unattainable by the rigid social and economic structures of the Old World, or were escaping conflicts (war) and political corruption in the Developing and Third Worlds. The basis for immigration comes from the desire for more opportunities. But upward mobility comes at a cost — more working hours, less family time. People get stuck because of material pressures such as the cost of real estate and child care. There’s a lot of New World guilt, debate, and conflicted feelings over what constitutes as success versus excess.
I was born in the Third World, so why wouldn’t I head that way if I wanted a change? Well, lots of reasons. I don’t have much in common with Filipinos, culture-wise. In fact, it’s related to immigration as mentioned previously: the average Filipino is not ambitious, and the ambitious ones, the ones who truly want change, leave. Here’s an article which touches on some of the reasons why I find the behaviour frustrating. (Note that is only some of it.) And if you think I’m being harsh, remember that it took MONTHS of a needlessly lengthy process to get a copy of my birth certificate earlier this year.
I was raised in Canada, and my lifestyle choices are geared towards living in an equivalent society where I want to raise children, and I definitely don’t want to raise children in the Philippines. It would be like taking my parents’ many sacrifices to immigrate and undoing it all. It would be going backwards. The whole point for them to bring us here is to provide us with options we would otherwise not have, and to be in a position to exercise these options is a freedom I’m grateful for. They paid for it, yet I’m the one who benefits.
If I wasn’t planning on raising children, I would have different ideas about where to live in the future because it wouldn’t involve schools or proximity to the family support network (eg. grandparents) or making child-friendly employment choices. I will be the first to say that choosing change for the sake of change is a luxury afforded to people who have no dependents. But I plan to have dependents, and I’m choosing the change I want for myself which will benefit them, before they come along.
But before I wander too far away from my post title of “Get Unstuck”, the point to this post has less to do with choosing a place to raise children and everything to do with changing one’s environment in order to live closer to your lifestyle ideal, whatever it may be. This might mean moving away from the city and closer to nature, or if you like sailing to move from an inland location to a coastal city, or if you’re more into the arts to leave the big house in the suburbs and downsize to an apartment that’s convenient to arts events. It takes planning and sacrifice, but these are very achievable goals.
If you like to travel like I do, living in a relatively small country such as Portugal means it’s easy to see more of it without needing to fly everywhere. Also, living in a densely-populated geographic area such as Europe with lots of discount carriers means more opportunities to see other countries without spending as much time and money. If I were a homebody these conveniences would be lost on me, but I’m consciously choosing where I live based on lifestyle rather than choosing to stay in the place where I was raised because of inertia.
I’m over 40, but I have a lot of living to do, even if I accept that I’m only theoretically halfway to the average life expectancy for a Canadian woman. I certainly don’t take for granted that I will live that long. After all, David didn’t make it to 39, Vinny didn’t make it to 12, Arliin didn’t make it to 50, and Tyrone didn’t make it to 40. And those are just four people I’ve chosen to memorialize in less than eight years, there are many others I know who have died far too young.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again in a multitude of ways: life is too short to be stuck. I’m saying it as an ordinary person with an ordinary income who comes from a less-than-privileged background. I have no special powers and it’s no secret: we all know money isn’t the main barrier to most goals, it’s the mindset to get there.