The decision to move abroad involves toasts in celebration and tearful goodbyes with loved ones. I recall the day we found about the green light to start our new life in Rome. A whirlwind of planning, prepping, and packing churns with raw emotion. Sharing the decision with friends and family is exciting and tough at the same time. The choice may have some mixed reviews. In the beginning (at least for us) happiness trumps leeriness.Eventually, the newness of the experience settles in to the reality of life. You may have left your native country with a certain idea of how long you would be away. The boundary of definite time frame abroad can start to blur once you have settled in to your new environment. Maybe you have fallen in love with the new country. Could be that you are looking for other opportunities for your next expatriate assignment in a whole new country.
Inquisitive voices start to chime in pushing for answers. Okay, so when is this adventure going to be over? How long are you going to be away? Time to get back the real world. What about your career? Don’t you ever want to get married? You are really going to continue to travel alone! You are thinking of having a baby in another country? When are you going to have another child? You are having another child! What about stability? Are you not a little old for that?
In counseling, I work with people on differentiating between things that can and cannot be controlled. On the top of that mountain is letting go of the desire to change things that are out of your control. The importance of letting go is a release of the anxiety that often accompanies feelings of helplessness. In reality, you cannot control how people perceive your life choices. You can control your own worldview. You cannot make someone else approve or disapprove of what you do with your life. You can choose to stop seeking external approval for your path. It can be difficult to understand another person’s decisions since everyone has a unique story to tell. There is no possible way to walk in another person’s shoes, to live their experiences through their life lenses, and to fully grasp how they come to certain decisions. People don’t need to fully understand one another in order to offer love and acceptance.
You have the power not to take what can seem like judgement personally and chalk it up to misunderstanding instead. This leads to learning opportunities and celebration of the different lives people choose to lead. Why should everyone follow the same path? Comments and questions about one’s life do not need to lead to self-doubt. Thoughts and feelings can be communicated directly without defensiveness.
It is also necessary to be aware of how and why certain comments strike a chord within us. We can even perceive objective comments as criticism due to unhelpful thought patterns. Are the voices of others echoing some of your own self-limiting core beliefs? Our own inner struggles leave us more vulnerable to criticisms from the outside. There is often an inner critic that is much louder and more controlling than any other person has the power to be. Awareness and resolution from the inside provides a stable foundation to standing your ground on life choices.
Ultimately, it is you who will live intimately inside the life you build. It is your choice if or when to choose a partner. You get to take the driver’s seat in choices about where you live, what you do for a living, and when or if you want to have children. Everyone has a right to blaze their own trail, whichever form it takes. Making choices based on what other people think can lead you astray from who you are. If I only follow the advice of others, I am living their lives instead of my own. People handing out free advice are very often well-intended with caution, care and love. Sometimes it may be jealousy or their own struggles with following their special path in life. Do what you want based on your own compass. Someone may have something to say about it, and that is okay.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson