Today started with receiving a care package from my Mom’s half sister, Michelle – a care package of Butterfingers and strawberry and blueberry poptarts. Upon emptying the contents of the package I was overwhelmed with happiness and nostalgia; a little piece of the states was within arms reach for the first time in 6 months!
That’s when it hit me – I have been in Europe for exactly 6 months today. I have decided that, in celebration of this “monthiversary,” I will open up about many things I never have, including my last time in the US and I will share what I learned when stepping outside of my comfort zone in hopes that it may inspire you to do the same. You will probably get to know me better than many people do simply by reading this post, but that’s the point of personal blogs, right? Okay, let’s go:
September 16, 2014 – the day I boarded the plane. I remember the day clearly. I was not able to sleep well for several days due to excitement and nervousness – even as I’m writing this the butterflies are suddenly starting to invade my stomach and extremities again as I am yet again reminded of the realization I faced that day – the realization that life would never be the same again after setting foot onto the plane. I had not slept much, yet I was fully awake – I probably had adrenaline to thank for that. The last several weeks I saw everything from a different perspective; I realized that everything that I had once taken for granted was soon going to become a rarity – the trees, the roads, the stores, and, of course, the people. As a result, I began to treat everything with care in a way I had never done before and I began to gaze upon everything with wonder and adoration – something I wished I had done earlier.
When driving down I-85 on one of the last days in Atlanta and looking at the familiar surroundings with which I would soon part, I realized that this move in many ways resembles life as a whole. Things end. Everything does. I am not sure what happens in the afterlife; it may be wonderful or it may be alarmingly similar to our deepest, most dreamless stages of sleep, but I am sure that if we could retain memories in our afterlife, then something in our memories would call us back. Something in our memories would present itself to us as home in our hearts – either a place or a moment in time or something as seemingly insignificant as a flower or a word – something so powerful and beautiful that we would wish with all our soul that we could reach out and grasp the lost moment, if for just a second, but to no avail.
That brings me to the first change that comes about when leaving your comfort zone (and it’s really two things in one): Measuring life in small moments and taking nothing for granted.
Whether you stay in one place or leave, the snow in the winter will still melt, the beautiful flowers in your vase will still wilt, and some of deepest friendships will still falter while others will grow stronger than you could have ever imagined. Dance in the snow while you can, take in the beauty of the flowers, and tell everyone how much they mean to you and how they’ve changed your life for the better. The ones who always wanted a place in your life will stay. That actually brings me to the next thing: Accepting that friendships will end, but that it’s not a bad thing.
The people who want to stay in your life will, regardless of whether you stay in the same place or move. The only thing that moving far away changes is the rate at which the friendships that are “meant to be” improve and the rate at which the people who never really cared that much “leave.” To me, that’s wonderful, because there are few things that frustrate me more than people who seem to be good friends, but scatter as soon as anything of importance happens. One person even told me, “Psh, well you’re moving to Sweden anyway,” and to this day I just laugh and wonder why I ever spent time on that friendship to begin with. I love being able to spend time with my friends often, but the one thing that can beat seeing them on a regular basis is quickly finding out who my true friends are and who aren’t, and trust me, moving abroad is the one way to find out. Once you know who you true friends are, your friendship(s) will be taken to a whole different level of absolutely freaking awesome. Thought you were good friends already? Just wait.
Rewind back to September 16th again. Around 4 PM – time to board the plane. I was alone, heading into a life I was going to start, alone. When boarding the plane I took a last look back and reminded myself of why I was leaving everything behind. Why did I get rid of anything that could not fit into my two suitcases? Why did I sell the desk on which I spent long nights studying for nursing exams, and my comfortable bed that I loved so much? Why did I leave all of these people behind – these people that I had spent over 10 years getting to know, and people who had spent 10 years of their lives getting to know me? I went over all of it in my head once more: I yearned for something more. I wanted to see the world, to learn everything there is to know, and to teach others in the process.
A fire lived inside me that I could never seem to put out whether I was awake or asleep. I had dreams almost every night of boarding a plane and setting out into the unknown. I had dreams of leaving my apartment to find that I had suddenly stepped out into Stockholm, just to wake up and realize that I was still a world away, a realization that was oftentimes accompanied by tears. I felt that something was calling me, like a luminescent sign with capital letters spelling, “THIS WAY TO YOUR LIFE PURPOSE!” and it seemed that even my dreams failed to sever it from my gaze. I had no idea what awaited me on the other side (let’s face it, I barely knew anything about Europe at this point, save for the few childhood memories I retained), but after swaying back and forth between “Do I play it safe by staying close to my friends and finishing everything I’ve worked for,” and “Do I throw myself out into the unknown and take this opportunity that I have presented for myself?” I realized that I needed to stop complaining and actively take steps toward changing the things that made me unhappy. Something on the other side of the ocean was pulling me toward itself, but that there was a barrier – and that barrier was me.
I was excited, but I was terrified to lose everything I had once had and all the people whom I held dear. I thought back on a day in Atlanta only days before I was going to leave the state when a calm evening by the neighborhood pool turned into cry fest. When I got home the first thing I did was write to one of my best friends to tell him how much I already missed him. One step, then another… I was on the plane. There was no going back now – I had taken the first official step far outside of my comfort zone and when looking back now, I realize it is the best thing I have ever done.
Upon arriving in Sweden though I initially felt lost and tremendously vulnerable. The last year in the US I considered myself more independent than I ever had; I had learned to put my foot down, to sever myself from unhealthy relationships, and I even began to make peace with solitude. Even though I felt that I had grown stronger and that I could handle anything, taking this large a leap outside of my comfort zone rendered me terrified at times. More than anything, though, moving and traveling alone taught me the importance of finding comfort in solitude. Meditation, solitary walks (one instance being when the above picture was taken), exploring a city in another country (or two)… Peace of mind comes only when we find comfort in solitude and when we muster the courage to block out the surrounding noise and listen to our own thoughts. Furthermore, when stepping outside of my comfort zone I learned to trust myself. I learned that I am adequate and that I am capable, and that I honestly do not need anyone but myself, but that the company of others adds to the exhilaration I already feel after finding peace and happiness within myself.
Muster the courage to step outside of your comfort zone and embark on a quest to find out who you really are. Look for happiness within yourself instead of others and you will shine like a beacon of light for those who are trying to find their purpose!
Lastly, I want to share with you the most important lesson I have ever learned: You, and only you, have the power to transform your life into the life you want to live.
I will not tell you to move out of the country. Even though I highly recommend it, I believe that taking a step outside of your comfort zone, no matter what that may entail, is one of the best gifts you could ever give yourself. Not happy with an aspect of your life? Not happy with any aspect of your life? Change it, or, since it’s rarely as easy as changing it all at once, take little steady steps toward your goal every day. We are the only ones who know what our dreams are made of and what would make us come alive. It is so easy to become trapped in what we deem comfortable – so much that it is difficult to imagine what a positive impact we could make on ourselves if we mustered the courage to actively change something. It takes work and a leap of faith, but you will be so happy and so proud that you did it. You are so capable, and you can and will make it happen!
Always remember that we are the authors of the story of our lives, and we, and only we, hold the pen. We only get the chance to write one story, so make it a good one!