Thursday, June 25, 2015

"What's Next?"

I've had a lot of people asking me lately about what I'm going to do after my year abroad. In fact, people asked me that the moment I told them I was leaving. It almost felt like they immediately deleted this year from their database, and were wanting to know the next line of code to insert. But I understand, if traveling abroad isn't on your radar, you probably don't really know what to do with news like "Hey, I'm moving to France, see you in a year!" You want to be able to know what's ahead, and feel like you know where you're going. I get it. Me too.

I've learned a lot of things this year, and one of them is how to be there for yourself in the future. You see, up to this point, I've really been living in the now moment. In high school, in college, even my first big girl job. Most of my decisions had a year or less expiration date. I was driven by what I wanted for my life now. And I don't think that's completely wrong. But I can't do that anymore.

See, I want to stay in France. I love France more than I ever dreamed I would. You know when you wake up somewhere and it's like you've been there all the time? You don't have to think about whether you should be there or not, how you got there, how you are going to get out. That's how I think a lot of people wake up, sadly. But in France, it's not that at all. It's like all these parts of me that were strange to the American way of life slip right into their trench coat and ballet flats and peer over Le Monde paper at me like, chérie, what took you so long? I belong in France.

But I also belong in America. My family and friends are there. My heritage is there. The whole foundation of my outlook on life is there. How do you reconcile to completely different beings that coexist but cannot cohabitate? Only until I return home will I know how much the other me was me, and how much I am returning to more of myself, also. The truth is, I knew this could happen when I chose to move abroad. I knew I would fall in love with Europe. And I knew I would have to come back and it would break my heart.

But this is where I get to grow up a little. This is where I get to face facts. Like that last year Paris ranked as the 2nd most expensive city in the world. Or that it is nearly impossible to find a company to sponsor a visa for an American. Or that if you do get that visa, the cost of relocating to a different continent permanently is an enormous expense that you have to provide upfront (security deposit on apartments, bank accounts, medical records, etc). And the truth is–I hate to burst the bubble out there–but the truth is if you want to make a kind of move like that, a permanent move as an American to Europe, you have to have a lot of patience and money. And if you are my age, you have to have family in town or be a trust fund baby. There it is, now you know.

The other option could be to come back as an au pair, or a waitress at a cafe or go back to school at one of the universities here in Paris. And then I have to ask myself, do I want that for myself. To live like a student for another year. To put off what I really want to do for another year. To deny myself the satisfaction of work that speaks directly to my career and calling. And the answer is, no.

I'm ready for the next phase, I'm ready to embrace the life of a young professional. I'm ready to invest myself in my work, to know I am really making a difference with my career, to be surrounded by talented people in my field who can mentor me and mold me so I can do the same down the road. And maybe right now a lot of you are thinking, that's about as realistic as moving to Europe. But there was a time when moving to Paris seemed like a dream, too.

That's not to say I'm giving up on being a world traveler or living for the moment or staying young at heart. Because if I work hard now, it will give me choices later. To move back to France, or Italy, or China if I feel like it. Or not. Maybe I will like it in the States. Who knows?

I know that for me in some ways to go back home after Paris feels like a failure. I imagine all those important people I'd like to impress in my life saying, "You traveled Europe, and now you're settling for this again?" It brings about good questions, though. Am I going home because it's easy? Because I want to? Because I don't have any choice? The truth is, I love Columbus. I wrote a whole post about it when I moved here. But is that my next step, or a step backwards? There is a part of my brain, the big bad career woman, who is telling me that if I don't land a job in a big city like D.C. or San Fran or Chicago, then I'm settling into a lifetime of settling. She is screaming in my face, "IF YOU DON'T MAKE THE JUMP NOW YOU NEVER WILL!!!!"

There is always a good cop to every bad cop. My sweet, insatiable curiosity sidles up beside me, squeezes my hand and whispers, "But what else is out there? Sure you could move back home, but what else could you explore? What other cities could you see? What new subcultures could you discover, languages you could learn, foods you could taste, music you could hear? What about that?"

And then there is the reasonable one, the one with glasses and her button-down and her brown straight hair pulled back in a modest low ponytail. She doesn't look me in the eye when she speaks because she is sure she's right, but she knows I never like what she has to say. It's always just so... realistic. Sigh. But she persists. "Wouldn't it be nice to grow some roots," she says. "Wouldn't it be nice for once to stay put. To be around family and friends. To work with people you know and you know will make you better? Is it so bad to take the more familiar path? Even for a season."

"YEEEEESSSSS!!" scream the good cop and bad cop in unison. And here we go again.

It's the same conversation I have been having most my life. Boastful Ambition, Insatiable Curiosity, and Responsible Reason, always present, always the same lines. My three companions. I can't divorce one of them, they are all a part of me, and to lose one would be like losing an arm. I must balance them with each other. So I continue to reach out in all three directions, and see which direction takes flight this time. Sometimes one wins, sometimes another. (Recently Insatiable Curiosity has been racking up the points.)

Paris will always have my heart. Like a first love. Rarely the one you end up with in the end. But it's a love full of passion and fire and memories that never grow dull. We'll always have Paris, my three amigos. No matter what happens in the future, we'll always have Paris.

So what's next after Paris. Darling, I don't know. But I will find out soon enough. We all will. And in the meanwhile, I'll work hard to find out. And I will work hard to enjoy these last special weeks abroad. And maybe instead of asking me what's next, send me some light and love, and ask me about what is going on now. I'm already talking enough about the future with myself.

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