When we think of big dreams the question of “what if I don’t really like it?” is always at the back of our minds. Just because you dreamed about living happily ever after with the prince doesn’t mean you will, and the same goes for that perfect job, move, family, trip, or hobby-turned-business.
When you change your mind
Recently I saw that fellow long-term traveler Ayngelina, a Canadian woman who left a good job, a relationship, and a nice apartment behind to satisfy her wanderlust in Central and South America, had decided to stop traveling and put down roots. She’s been all over the world, documenting people, places, and food, and her open and honest writing style about the joys and pains of travel has earned her a loyal following.
She says she knows travel will always be in her life, but it was no longer what she wants as the main focus in her life. Two years after giving up her entire life back home, she is done with this dream.
Since I’m writing about Fear for our next book and a real fear of chasing your dreams is wondering what will happen if the dream just won’t work out, I asked Ayngelina to share her thoughts on the decision. Below is our conversation.
Q: You turned your life upside down in order to travel, leaving a job, a relationship, and your friends and family for the open road almost 2 years ago. You said at the time: “As much as I’m afraid to go, I’m more afraid to regret not going.” What was your specific fear about going? Even though you’ve decided to stop living the nomadic lifestyle, are you still glad you did it? What did you learn about yourself that you couldn’t in Toronto?
A: The unknown is frightening and at times paralyzing. I had a good life and I was worried about giving it all up for something that may not have been as good.
I am so happy I left. To be honest there is nothing I learned on the road that I could not have learned in Toronto. It is why I don’t tell people they have to sell their things, leave their job and loved ones. All the changes I made in Latin America I could have done in Canada. But I was holding myself back and I needed to get rid of all the things and people who defined me in order to see who I was when alone.
I’ve written about this a lot but I have always considered myself a bit cold, distant, afraid to show emotions. In Latin America people share their fears, sadness, joy and anger without fear. I learned to do that as well.
Q: You also said at the start of your most recent travels, “The fear is petrifying but it’s not paralyzing.” Do you feel the same way about this new challenge in front of you, or does each change get easier with time and experience?
A: Up until a few weeks ago I would have said that it is easier, that I can see the possibility in each challenge. But a few weeks ago I felt tired and unhappy with my situation but I could not see that it was time to take a break and come home for a bit, because turning against the nomadic lifestyle felt like a failure.
It wasn’t until a friend told me that I had already done the hardest thing – choosing a different life, that I could decide however I would live that and it didn’t have to be perpetually on the road.
It really released a sense of burden to hear that, I was starting to feel like the poster girl for being constantly on the road. I realized that my lifestyle will evolve and I should not allow what others want or expect from me to shape how I live – after all that is why I left my old life in the first place.
Q: How do you use fear as a compass to propel you forward?
A: Every time I have taken a risk I have been positively rewarded, it doesn’t always feel that way initially but in the end I realize working through the fear was the right thing.
I really believe in sharing your fears with others. So many times we keep our fear, sadness and insecurities to ourselves and it has really created a society of people who feel alone, wondering why everyone else is so happy and confident. The truth is we all have moments of insecurity, self-doubt and fear. If we were more open about them we would feel less alone.
I don’t really consider myself a pure travel site, sure I write about where I am and what I experience, but peppered throughout the site are posts about self-doubt, loneliness, how I dealt with the break-up. For me the greatest risk is sharing my insecurities publicly but every time I do it I feel so overwhelmed with the support from readers. People comment and write me personally to share their own secrets and I end up having a connection with strangers that I could not have had before with my own friends.
Q: What is the shelf life of an average dream, and why do you think we have a tendency to focus on “forever” timelines when every bit of life evidence says otherwise? What do you think is the more realistic version of the “I want to be X when I grow up” statement?
A: There once was a time when you finished high school or university and then stuck with a spouse, house and career for the remainder of your life.
I remember when I finished university at 21 I told my mother I was not officially an adult until I was 25, and then at that age I thought 30 would be adulthood. I was so afraid of choosing the wrong path. I am now 34 and just easing into calling myself an adult.
I was always concerned with the finality of making changes, it was terrifying to choose a path and think that I had to follow it for the next 40 years. Now I don’t look beyond 3 months and when people ask me my 5 year plan I am baffled.
That may seem to be a bit irresponsible but it helps keep me in check to see if what I am doing is what I really want to do or what I think I should do.
Q: I don’t think you can have it all – at least not all at the same time. We give something up when we make a choice (which is why it is a choice). Do you think your decision to stop the constant movement is a balancing move to restore/refuel what you gave up to travel? Is this something you think we can do successfully throughout our lives so we can have it all…even if it isn’t at the same time?
A: You can’t have it all. We need to stop trying to have it, and feeling like a failure when we don’t. When I left 18 months ago I gave up much hope of having a relationship, steady friendship and healthy income. But I needed to do that because something was pulling at me to leave it all.
Now I really miss that sense of connectedness to friends, family, a city and a boyfriend. At first I felt a bit hopeless but then I realized it was exactly what I needed to feel, to come back and be completely happy where I was instead of feeling like I should be somewhere else.
I am trying to find a new sense of balance, my hope is to do contract work here in Toronto and do shorter spurts of travel throughout the year. I still want to have the flexibility to take off whenever I want, for however long I want but I need some roots.
Q: To someone reading right now who has a fantastic dream but wants advice on how to overcome the paralyzing fear to make it happen, what would you say?
A: One of the wonderful things about taking the leap is that you meet so many others who are doing the same. At home it seemed odd for someone in their 30s, with a boyfriend and a successful career to leave it all, but on the road I met so many others who were doing the same.
And I have learned when it is no longer working for you, you can always choose to do something else.
Happily ever after is a journey, not a destination
A friend recently decided to go back to her previous lifestyle after a pretty dramatic change over the last year or so. She satisfied her craving, resolved her “what if?” questions, and is returning a more well-rounded version of her previous self, ready to take on new challenges and experiences.
Another friend is a successful entrepreneur who has decided to adjust her goal of world domination to having children and buying a farm. Her business acumen is helping her create and finance the start of this new lifestyle, and she’ll never have to wonder as she’s baking bread or picking veggies in the garden with her kids if she could have been a successful businesswoman. She knows. And she also knows she’s ready to move on to the next stage in her life, fully present.
In our own life, we have changed our original “one year around the world trip” into a permanent lifestyle, adjusting our vision of daily travel and adventures to include periods of productive work to finance it all. When we first started planning this life, we did not envision working at a desk in paradise, but here we are, happier than we ever imagined we could be, knowing that we can adjust our dream to fit our current needs as we go.
For those of you considering a change in your life and holding yourself back because
- You might fail
- You might not like it
- It might not turn out like you hope
consider these final words from Ayngelina about choice and change:
“The reason I am sharing this with you is to explain that one choice doesn’t decide the fate of the rest of your life. You can choose change and when it’s no longer working for you, you can do something else.
So many times we feel like we have to make the perfect decision or we’ll screw up our lives.
We really don’t. Life is a series of changes and when one doesn’t work make another one! We make things out to be much more difficult than they are.”
You know how we feel about this. It’s why we publish this website, write our books and share the weekly podcast. It’s why we’re writing this book on Fear now. It’s why we remind you that life is short and action is better than analysis.