I am in the process of beginning a new life, one in which I will spend most of my working career outside of the US. I’m not worried about living abroad. I lived in Taiwan for several years in my 20s, and I really enjoyed the experience.
The only regret that I felt about living abroad back then was the feeling of being out of touch with the US. I read all the news from the US that I could find, which in those days were the two local English newspapers, the China Post and the China News (at that time, limited to 12 pages), and Time magazine.
Now, of course, with the ubiquity of the Internet, there is a glut of news and information. I no longer have to worry about being in touch with the US when I am abroad.
But there is a bigger problem with me leaving this time.
I’m preparing to leave my home for Washington, D.C. and beyond. I will leave by myself. My family will remain in Michigan. My older son is in college, and my younger son is still in high school. My wife and I decided that rather than pull our younger son out of high school, that he should finish school where he is. So my wife will stay behind while I begin my career in the Foreign Service. I will begin my new career on my own.
This is not optimal. If I could choose, I would have my wife join me. We have always done everything together. I will miss her so much that it already hurts.
Beyond missing my family, I feel guilty for leaving them behind while I have a wonderful adventure. Looking at my decision objectively, it appears that I am selfishly running away and abandoning my family. Lately, I often feel like a deadbeat dad who neglects his responsibilities as a husband and father.
So why the heck am I doing this? Why am I walking away from a stable job, a wonderful family, a comfortable life? Why am I causing pain in my marriage, and stress on my family by making this radical career change?
Good questions. I don’t have good answers, but the questions deserve some answer. I know that I am capable of doing more with my life than what I am doing now. I think that I can make a positive impact on more people’s lives, and fulfill my potential, through a career in the Foreign Service. I believe that my marriage is strong enough to survive a temporary separation. I hope that in the long run, when my wife can join me, my kids can visit me and we can visit them, we will look back on this time and say that it was worth it.
I recently read an essay by Anna Alardin in which she describes her experiences after moving from one country to another. It’s a good read, I recommend it: https://medium.com/better-humans/4dbca80eeb1d. One sentence in the essay resonated with me: “I’d rather be living in an honest, hands-on way — even when it’s uncomfortable — than let life happen to me.”
I have never done things the easy way. That choice has sometimes caused more stress in my life than is necessary, and more discomfort than if I had chosen the easy path. But we only get one life, one chance to experience what the world has to offer. I wouldn’t want to eat the same meal every day, I wouldn’t want to re-read the same book or re-watch the same movie every time. If you want to really live, maybe you have to push yourself to move outside your comfort zone, and accept some discomfort and uncertainty. When I approach the end of my life, I want to be able to look back and be able to say that I lived my life, that I didn’t let life happen to me.
When I reflect on my past experiences, every safe choice that I have made has led to unremarkable, forgettable experiences, and many “wrong” choices have led to memorable results. Not every unsafe choice has proven to be the best choice, of course. But not every safe choice has, either. There are no guarantees in life. The possibility that a choice might have a bad result should not be the reason not to take a chance.
I guess the answer to those questions is: I’m living my life, I hope that it turns out great, but either way, it won’t be boring.