Making big life changes can be scary. Often they push us to feel uncomfortable. In this discomfort – or even in the anticipation of it – we have two choices. We can either push through and follow these life changes, or we can decide to turn back around and follow the easier path.
Familiarity is EASY. Without a compelling reason to be uncomfortable, it’s easy to resort to what you’re familiar with.
Unless you find your why – the reason for why you’re actually, truly, making a life change – it’s even easier to follow the comfortable path. Finding your why is critical to solidifying the decisions you make. It can help you make the most of them and keep you in good spirits when life throws curve-balls at you.
I remember when I was in college, back in 2007, my best friend suggested the idea of studying abroad. We’d been friends since grade-school, but we ended up going to colleges in separate states.
For us, the idea of studying abroad was tantalizing. It was perhaps the only time we’d have in our entire lives where we could realistically live in Europe.
After a few long conversations, we agreed that in the fall semester of 2007, we’d study in London. Neither of us were fluent in a foreign language (ask me about the time in Spanish class hahaha) so London seemed like a great option.
Besides, being from a smaller town in Wisconsin, we didn’t have the experience of living in a big city like London. Initially my ‘why’ for studying abroad was two-fold.
First I wanted to live the college life with my best friend. Who wouldn’t want that?
Second, I wanted to live in the big city.
Let’s be real here: these reasons were pretty damn basic. So when my friend decided that he had to back out, I had a decision to make. Would I follow the easy path, and stay at my current college?
Or would I go it alone in a foreign country for four months, where I knew nobody. For an introvert, this seemed like an easy decision.
How I Found My Why for London
But here’s the thing. I did some soul-searching. What did I REALLY want to get out of this experience, especially now that #1 was off the table?
After thinking about it for a while I found my real why.
The real reason I wanted to go to London was to learn more about myself. I wanted to learn about other cultures and experience the way other people lived. I wanted to feel more comfortable being outgoing and more extroverted. While I had no self-esteem issues, I really wasn’t pleased that I found new social situations so awkward and intimidating.
So I decided to go anyway. Besides, what was the worst that could happen? The way I saw it, the worst that happened would be I lived in London for four months, hated it, and came home. Sure it’s an expensive way to travel to Europe, but the risk of me hating everything was relatively slim.
I got my passport ready, took the necessary prep classes, and packed two suit-cases and a backpack. In September 2007 I was off to see the world. When my parents dropped me off, they were the last people I saw who I’d known for any significant amount of time for the next four months.
So here I am in the airport thinking “Holy shit. What have I signed up for?” But I power through my feelings of doubt.
My nearly-8-hour flight departs, I settle in and, since it was a red-eye, sleep basically the entire way. I was freaking out a bit but at this point I had no choice but to at least land.
When I got to the airport in London I was truly on my own. I knew nobody and felt so lost. I didn’t even have a way to call anyone for help. With no phone, a dead laptop, and all of my belongings, I wandered Heathrow airport for a bit.
While in the airport, another traveler spotted me and could tell I was out of place. We started to chat, and instantly bonded. He was in the same study abroad program as me, so we became friends (what up Phillip? PS I have no idea if you read this or not haha).
It was at that instant that I knew everything was going to be okay. I was going to take control of the situation and fulfill my why. I was determined to make my trip fun, worthwhile, and enlightening. Just by gaining one friend, I had the reinforcement I needed that I made a good decision.
It was totally worth it. If you ask my mom when she saw the biggest change in me as a person, she’ll cite London as the catalyst. After London I became a bit more serious about my future. I was more positive and upbeat, and felt more comfortable in previously-uncomfortable situations.
And in addition to that, for the first time I felt like I was really in control of my life. I knew that my life could be determined by my actions. I wasn’t the byproduct of a set of actions that I passively was impacted by. When I was there I was the only one responsible for me, the only one to make the best of my time abroad.
The friends I made then – ten years ago – are still some of my good friends today (hey!!). They are relationships built on that same feeling of growth and adventure. And a bit of The Office.
London proved to be a monumental, life-changing decision for me. My initial reasons for wanting to go were shallow.
But the real reason – my real why – led me down a path I didn’t imagine it would, and helped me stick with it.
Change can be scary. Whether it’s moving across the world, paying off an insane amount of debt, or making a career change, it’s always going to be easier to do what’s familiar.
The unfamiliar is where you grow. It’s what will drive you forward. And if your experiences are anything like mine, you’ll come out better on the other side.
What are some big decisions you’ve made and your ‘why’ behind them?7