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The trouble with being able to move anywhere in the world is choosing where in the world to move. That seems like an odd thing to complain about, but as a freelance writer, I could spin the globe and close my eyes. But wherever my finger lands, would that be the “right choice”?
I’m hoping many of you wanderlusters reading this relate to this quandary. Having an insatiable curiosity to see the world, learn all the languages, and hike all the fjords is…a lot of pressure. There’s too much to see, and only one lifetime. Plus, there are student loans to pay and responsibilities to uphold.
In fact, there’s a psychological gridlock that happens called “choice paralysis.” We experience it pretty regularly, actually. For example, I always get stuck on the jam aisle at the supermarket. There are so many options (Huckleberry-ginger-basil! Apricot-mango!) that it takes forever to choose. Plus, psychologists have found that having too many choices actually decreases happiness with the decision. So, when I booked a ticket to New Zealand and asked myself, “How long do I stay?” I decided not to decide.
I bought a one-way ticket and told myself I’d figure it out later.
Putting off the decision made my anxiety and uncertainty worse. A few months ago I held that one-way ticket in silent panic. Now, I’m one week from departure, feeling confident in my uncertainty. The process resembled the Kübler-Ross model, also known as the five stages of grief, with a few adjustments. Here’s what happened:
The Five Steps to One-Way Acceptance
- Denial. Sweet, blissful denial. This is where I lived for months. Living in beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico, I hiked and fell in love and ate green chile burritos. “Nothing’s happening; moving is a distant future.” I happily compartmentalized thoughts of New Zealand and tried to live in the present. Which worked. For a while.
- Anger / Fear / Doubt. Two months from departure, the fear set in. This is the worst stage by far—it’s dark in there. But I pushed through it by doing two things: feeling scared and being OK with it. Instead of demanding, “Emily, stop being scared! This was your choice!” I tried to be kinder. I repeated, “Moving to a foreign country is a scary thing. Fear is a normal reaction. Breathe.” And second, I remembered a piece of advice my entrepreneur friend, Ryan Rouse, once told me: “Your success is in direct proportion to the uncertainty that you’re willing to handle.” I think that applies perfectly to one-way ticket travel, too. Face the uncertainty. Try to make peace with not knowing.
- Bargaining. At about T-minus one month, I started negotiating with myself. “If it sucks I can just leave.” “This doesn’t have to be forever.” This helped mitigate the stress and open up other options.
- Depression. Then suddenly the fear and stress fell away, and I was just sad. I had to face what I was about to give up. I looked around at Albuquerque’s dusty pink mountains, my flourishing tomato garden, my favorite corner table at Humble Coffee, and, most importantly, all my beautiful friendships. Dammit, I’m going to miss the hell outta this place.
- Acceptance / Excitement. But once I processed the fear, negotiated through the stress, and fully mourned, I finally felt excited. What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you, right? Sure, there was a lot of uncertainty, but that could mean anything. Instead of seeing the what-if’s as potential threats, I saw them as happy unknown opportunities. In one week I could be kayaking! Bike touring! Milking sheep! Who knows!
Will I look back after a year (or two, or three?) in New Zealand and think, “But what if I’d chosen the pineapple-jalapeño jam?” I’m guessing no. Even if I get run down by stampeding sheep or roll my kayak in a fjord, it’ll still be worth it. Because it happened in New Zealand.
These steps also apply to any big life decision—whether it’s switching careers, buying a car, or moving halfway around the world. Sometimes we have to scare the shit out of ourselves. Because, ultimately, on the other side of fear is beauty, self-knowledge, and growth. Here’s to not deciding, and letting “the right choice” be whatever feels right right now.
And now, please, pass the jam.
I’ll continue to report on Wanderlust Festival in Lake Taupo, New Zealand, so you’ll be hearing from me as the one-way adventure continues!
Photo by Ali Kaukas
Emily Hill is a nomadic health and wellness journalist. In her travels from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Auckland, New Zealand she’s reported on everything from underground electronic music to nerdy nutrition science. Emily is an avid women’s cycling advocate and amateur yogi. Her favorite food is red wine. Follow her @EmilybyNight.