Finding New Life Currencies

It’s been almost a year and a half since I started this blog, and things have changed quite a lot.  

Since moving to Amsterdam, I’ve seen over 30 places across 14 countries, some multiple times.  95% of these places I’ve visited have been first time visits to new countries or new cities for me.

What happens when you go from seeing 1-2 new places a year to 30+?  You get used to it.  Just like a fish that grows bigger in a bigger fish bowl that it is given, or people whose “needs” become inflated when their income rises, everything in life normalizes around your new level.  I find myself having to watch for how I present travels to my friends and family at home. I have to remember what it was like before I moved here, to hear what people that had these opportunities or this access sounded like to that version of me.  I have to put myself back in my old shoes.

You learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, because it is your new normal.   I bounce greetings and thanks across different languages without being ashamed at my poor accent. I meet new people from countries around the world regularly, and I learn new cultural nuances, witty phrases, political stances, and social sensitivities. On a more practical level, I don’t think twice that I will not understand emergency announcements or delayed train explanations on a platform. I am comfortable that my iPhone may very well not work, and that I’ll need to find my way without the blue dot of Google Maps.

This concept of normalizing to new levels, spun negatively, feels like you are never satisfied.  Spun positively, you can always handle what you are given.  Other things that happened this year that are pretty major: I got engaged, I’m planning two weddings (thanks to my marriage to an Australian, I get a legal we-need-to-apply-for-a- green-card-stat ceremony with family, as well as our dream wedding in France), my father died unexpectedly when I lived across the world away from family and friends, and as a result of the overwhelmedness, lack of motivation, and severe lack of focus, I’ve decided to reevaluate the career I’ve been had for the last 10 years.  

So I’m in a place I never saw myself in even 3 years ago:  in a loving and committed lifelong relationship, fatherless, and questioning my career.  Re-defining who I am now is quite a feat; I call it, “finding my new life currency”. What is that thing that now defines my value?  I thought that once I “made it” in my New York career, that I had everything figured out.  I figured out how to define my value in life, and anyone doing it differently was not as smart, not as motivated, not as strong-willed.  Having my job and excelling in my career defined me. Working hard and late, having many projects running at the same time, spending my hard earned money on rent, eating out, and drinking defined me. Being a New Yorker defined me.  

I wasn’t unhappy, but there was a time limit to this way of living for me.  Once I hit a certain age or time of my life, I suddenly realized that I didn’t actually care about the job I was doing; I was just really motivated that I was really good at doing it.  I realized that this was not enough for me – being really good at something I really didn’t care about.  It was time to move to a different place and change my perspective.  

Throughout this process I am finding a way to learn and believe that parallel or sideways growth is just as much a movement upward as moving upward in your job or your income level. My first mentor once told me that a great and fulfilled life does not look like a ladder that only climbed up in the end, but instead is a mosaic of different points, skills, jobs, and experiences.  And when you stand back to look, it has actually resulted in a beautiful piece of art.

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How did I get here, anyway?

When I was a teenager in suburban Philadelphia, I felt very accomplished when I was able to take 2 hour road trips to places like Baltimore and DC. When I graduated to getting on a plane for San Fran and Vegas, or the Caribbean, I thought I had really made it. There’s a perspective that sets in, in a place like I am from– “This is what you were given. Why would you want anything else?” But for me, there was something missing that seeing new places started to fill a bit. Without spending too much time on this for now, I’ll just say that moving to Europe wasn’t even on my radar or in my realm of possibilities.

Eventually, after having moved to New York in my early 20s, my perspective exploded wider than I even knew existed as possible. Surrounded by all types of people and new friends from different backgrounds, suddenly everything I knew in my little bubble was barely the tip of life’s iceberg. 7 years in New York gave me more than I could have imagined. I excelled at a career, created a new group of friends from scratch, and basically lived the New York life. I navigated subway systems daily in one of the biggest world cities. I survived an attempted aggressive mugging. I played the online dating game like it was a second job (unsuccessfully, if success is judged by settling with someone I met online.) My choices of what I enjoyed eating increased by 100-fold (before New York, I had not eaten oysters, asparagus, tomatoes, crab, sushi, fish, couscous, falafel, hummus, strawberries, or any type of Asian cuisine that was not General Tso’s chicken… And I could go on.) I was on the cutting edge of the new music coming in from Brooklyn, the food trends of the moment, and in the stopover area where people visited from around the world. But like anything else, it became my new regular life.

I eventually got a passport and, with a network of old friends, new friends, and new friends’ friends, I started taking one-to-two week long trips and saw Galway, Beijing, Phuket, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, and took drives from the North to South of France, and Montreux, Nice, Monaco, Florence, Pisa, Luxembourg, Lima. I even hiked the Inca Trail.

Tick, tick, tick.  With each city and tourist site visited with my limited American-sized vacation time from work, I started to see the world. And how amazing I felt getting to do it! It made me appreciate a new level like when I left Philadelphia, to the next level. It impacted me on many levels – from the small impacts like making me look at restaurant names differently  (Hey, Cafe d’Alsace… I drove past there in France!) to the larger impacts like making me value my friendships with people with different backgrounds who help me (still) to see that the world is just not only how it was given to you.

Anyway… So that’s a little bit of background. Skipping ahead, 7 years spent in New York expanded my mind but also tired me out. It’s an exciting but exhausting city if your life currency is spent focusing on promotions, making money, eating at the next restaurant, finding free time after work to run, or meet up with friends (or all of the above in a given week). What’s good with that extra cash if it’s spent on your tiny apartment and on your meals for the month? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s a way to strike the balance, but I couldn’t see it and I needed to rip out everything I knew from under me in order to start figuring out the next evolution of me that I wanted to be.

I was lucky enough to meet and fall in love with (blech, sorry 🙂 ) someone with two non-American passports and a tendency towards living around the world and experiencing new international adventures as a default to life, but yet who holds many of the same values and life goals as I do. It gave me the courage that starting anew in a strange land didn’t have to be just for the responsiblity-lacking drifters, trust fund kiddies, or trendy blogging travelers. We could get jobs (I’ll likely never change from requiring a safety plan), and reset our success metrics on a level that I could more easily comprehend and accept.

So, here I am.  I’ve traded my NYC salary for a modest European one, and my modest NYC vacation days for a more ample European plan. My weekends can be spent exploring new places on this European side of the pond without breaking the bank. I don’t have a goal in mind living here, and I also don’t exactly have a plan for the future yet. But in the 6 weeks of living abroad as an expat, I’ve visited quite a few cities and I’m looking forward to revisiting and reflecting on them here, and to document my adventures looking ahead.