Part II - Your inner compass

I've moved enough times in my life, and spoken with enough people who have done the same to notice that every time you move to a new place, you tend to follow a certain pattern. A lot of people have talked about the 'one-year rule', meaning that it takes an entire year of living somewhere before you can really feel at home. I started writing this post in an attempt to quickly re-cap on the past few years, but it soon became apparent that I had a lot more to talk about than I realised. I began to analyse the challenges I faced when moving abroad and noted the lessons that I've learned along the way. This is a highly personal post, but I hope that through sharing these truths I might help someone with similar challenges gain new insights.

In the weeks leading up to my move I was filled with a nervous energy that was equal parts excitement and fear. I felt like I had butterflies in my stomach constantly and lost quite a bit of weight during this time. In a way it felt like it wasn't really happening and that at any moment something would fall through, but I carried on reducing my material possessions until it all fit into a few boxes and suitcases. It felt good to let go of my things and make a fresh start, but it was bittersweet. I tried not to focus too much on the feeling of heartbreak, instead staying mentally strong to meet the challenge ahead.

I had a very romanticised view of what my life in Colorado would be like. I felt confident and eager to prove myself at work and was excited to be returning to big skies, wide open spaces, and sunny weather. I was anxious about meeting expectations but I also pictured impressing people with my hard work and dedication. On my first day at my new job, I awoke in the midst of a mountain blizzard. Snow flurried heavily from the skies but I felt joyous. England hadn't had any snow that winter, only endless torrential rain, and I missed watching the power of a mountain snowstorm coat everything in a blanket of white. Amidst the joy, however, was also the kind of nervous clumsy energy you have when you are running on very little sleep but have a big day ahead of you. I'd been too excited to sleep properly the night before and woke at five in the morning as I was still jet-lagged. As I walked to work through the thickly falling snow, my mind was racing with questions - but still I felt optimistic.

The first few weeks or months living somewhere new are a sort of honeymoon period. You're in survival mode and you're preoccupied with sorting out various 'life-admin' like opening bank accounts, finding accommodation, getting a telephone number and bus pass. You buy new things to set you up in your new place, you meet a few nice new people and it feels good to have a fresh start, a blank canvas on which you can explore yourself anew. All the changes seemingly affirm that you have made the right decision. "Wow the weather is so good here! Wow the nature is so beautiful! Wow people are so nice!' At this point even your neighbour's out-of tune Ukulele practice can seem friendly and charming. It is good to feel optimistic, but it can also be a mask for what else might be taking place in your mind. You probably do have some feelings of disappointment and doubt but you avoid facing them. After all you didn’t come all this way for nothing so you keep busy and don't allow yourself time to stop and think. You're exhausted and mostly just running on adrenaline.

A couple weeks later you'll have settled down into a routine and found familiar habits. Everything is going well, right? Well, not exactly. Having a routine means you're no longer in survival mode and you will let your guard down a little. Now that you have time to think, everything is a little less glamorous than before. Your neighbour's ukulele practice is now driving you up the wall. One day, when you've finished work feeling exhausted, you might come home to your empty apartment, a sink full of dirty dishes, nothing to eat in the fridge and zero motivation to go anywhere or do anything. Or you might come home to find a bunch of people you don't really know are having a party in your living room. You feel exhausted after all the running around trying to adapt to your new environment and you just want some peace and quiet, so you hermit yourself away. Even if you’ve met lots of nice people you can't just magic solid, long-lasting friendships and relationships into being all at once. You might even find it difficult to make friends because most people already have their own thing going and you are superfluous to everyone’s plans. You'll start to miss those people from home that really know you. Interestingly, it takes a long time for us to stop referring to the place we came from as 'home'. By this point your adrenaline has run out and this life isn't new and exciting anymore, it's overwhelming and exhausting. If you're like me, this part devolves into crying into a carton of ice-cream whilst watching a TV show that you used to watch with your other half back home, or listening to sad music so that you can feel sadder. I like to wallow in sadness and get all my big feels out in one go so I can move on with my life. 

This sort of complicated existence can go on for some time, all the while wearing away at your willpower to succeed. A few months in, the edge of manic excitement I felt from the first few weeks was replaced by constant feelings of doubt. I started to question whether I made the right decision. For a while I began to feel paranoid, especially when it came to my work environment. At this point, the cracks were beginning to show in my job situation. I had wanted to work at this company so badly - the work on their website was stunning and the types of projects I got to work on were interesting and challenging. However, before I moved my mother had sent me some reviews she found online about the company culture which made me feel nervous. People had written about toxic energy, long hours and a challenging boss. I tried not to worry too much and to keep an open mind. As with anything written online, you need to take it with a grain of salt. Sometimes all it takes is one person to get a bee in their bonnet and unleash a hell storm from behind their protective virtual shield.

Being open-minded is one of my greatest qualities and I love that about myself, but I'm also acutely aware that it makes me much more vulnerable. In the past I haven't been so observant and my naivety has led to difficult situations. Sometimes I accept things as they are without challenging them, thinking that maybe I have something to learn. When you're in a positive environment with people you trust, this is a great attribute and you can establish meaningful relationships. Unfortunately there are some people who see openness as a weakness and will exploit anyone who is willing to give them the time of day. As much as I like to think that I am better than falling for manipulation tactics - I am just like every other kind hearted person.

For me there was a particularly low point after moving to Colorado. The boss was giving me a hard time and being very persuasive about staying late and putting in extra hours. I felt an atmosphere of fear prevailed over patience and encouragement, and I worried about losing my job.  I had two big projects due early the next week which I knew the boss was looking for me to prove myself on. I won't go into all the reasons why the whole situation sucked because it would be long and exhausting and boring to read... but the point is, I found myself working non-stop through an entire weekend, only taking a break to go home, walk the dog I was dog-sitting and sleep a few hours. I took only one hour to have lunch with my oldest friend who was in town, even though I hadn't seen him in years. I sacrificed a lot of time and energy. The boss periodically came into the office to offer unhelpful advice and change the direction of what I was working on, causing me to overthink everything and make more work for myself.

Sunday night came and I knew I would have to stay there all night to finish everything. After walking the dog that evening and microwaving a burrito, I sat myself in front of the computer and worked solidly until four in the morning till I was at a point where I could no longer bring myself to do anymore. I walked home from the office in the dark, through the frigid air feeling absolutely shattered. There had been a recent snowstorm and the ground was blanketed in snow but I felt none of the excitement or winter-wonderland feeling that I had felt on my first day. The temperature was below freezing, the snow was frozen hard and coated with a slippery ice, and the sky was black with only a tiny sliver of moon. By the time I got home, I had 2 hours to sleep before I had to be awake again, walk the dog and go to work. I dreaded it and asked myself if it was really worth it. I had sacrificed so much of my time and happiness, and I was terrified that I would lose my job and I would have moved my entire life for nothing.

I didn't get fired, and over time I learned to cope with the situation, but it took a long time to find balance and regain trust in my own thoughts. It was not the last time I sat in the office till the small hours of the morning or had to start over on a project the night before it was due. Working there was a constant struggle for me. Not having people around you that you can trust is isolating but eventually I did make friends with some of my coworkers and found I could speak to them about how I felt in the workplace. A lot of people felt the same way which was a relief to me and some people went to extra efforts to help me out. One of my coworkers even taught me how to drive. My boyfriend also stayed for 3 months during the summer and while he was there I felt much happier having a support system around. At work I felt like I was beginning to prove myself and that the long hours were worth it, but then the time came for my boyfriend to go back to England, I felt like we hadn't had enough time together. I had wanted to go on adventures together but because I was constantly busy we never did. Hardly anyone I worked with ever went anywhere (except for my boss). Not long after my boyfriend left I took my entire blessed 10 days of vacation to go visit North-Eastern Australia with my family. Getting away from work melted some of my stress and lifted my spirits, but when I came back, everything came crashing down harder than before.

Coinciding with my return was the fact that I had just moved out of my family friend's place and into my own apartment - sparsely furnished with a couple of things I'd picked up at a garage sale. The fact that I was now completely on my own, going back to the dreaded work environment put me in a bad place. I felt like I was being pushed to work harder and harder and that I couldn't stop because my job was at stake. I felt burnt out and miserable. I didn't have many friends to hang out with and had no regular activities. I missed my boyfriend, my friends and my family. I felt like I'd made a mistake and wasted my time coming to Colorado. I was depressed but felt too embarrassed about how I felt so I didn't talk to anyone about it. It felt too painful to try and talk to the people who were close at heart but distant in person when all I wanted was a big, safe hug. At one point I decided that I needed to take control of the situation and I started to use Talk-Space, an app that allows you to contact a licensed personal therapist online at anytime. I had never had any kind of therapy before aside from a counselor at University, but I found it helpful to talk about things with someone who didn't know me personally. It also felt less embarrassing to type what I felt - even now I am much more comfortable writing how I feel than talking about it in person. 

Through talking with my therapist I learned something crucial about myself and people in general. Everyone has an inner compass tuned into a set of values to which we attribute different levels of importance. Some people value relationships most, some people prioritise career, some people crave adventure. At different times in our lives, we might prioritise different things. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we are constantly balancing these different desires to make important decisions and create our ideal lifestyle. This is challenging and often times our compass can be swayed by outside influences or we can feel the pull of two opposing desires leading to difficulties in decision making. Sometimes choosing one thing means sacrificing another. Often times without realising it, we want everything all at once and we try to change external factors around us to fit our ideal, but this only amounts to pain and frustration. You can't have your cake and eat it too, somewhere along the way you have to compromise or make a sacrifice.

My compass was confused by all the conflicting ideas and swung wildly all over the place - leaving me feeling aimlessness and depressed about what it was all for. I felt like giving up because the initial plan that we had was coming apart. When I got the job in Colorado, my boyfriend and I had both planned on moving there together. We wanted to have an adventure and leave England for a while to experience something else. What we didn't expect was how hard it would be for my boyfriend to find a job that would sponsor his visa. We also didn't know that my work situation would be so challenging. We didn't know how expensive Boulder was to live in. When there are a lot of unknowns, it's easy to overlook things and romanticise a situation.

In my ideal world, I wanted to be with my boyfriend as soon as possible, but I also didn't want to give up on our Colorado dream. I wanted to be satisfied in my career but I didn't want to give up on my job after only a few months. I wanted to have more time to visit my friends and family, but 10 days holiday maximum is the norm for most jobs in the United States. I wanted to invest my time and money into making my life in Colorado more comfortable, but I didn't want to acquire a car and furniture that would make it more difficult to leave if I chose to. Should I stay or should I go? More than anything I wanted to see some kind of future that was stead-fast and I could work towards. I felt exhausted by the constant indecision, stuck in a purgatory of my own creation.

My therapist asked me if I had to choose between relationships, career, adventure, what would I choose. Without a second's thought I knew that if it came down to it, I would sacrifice everything for my relationships with the people I care about. So why was it so difficult for me to make a decision? I was complicating things by adding layers on top of options rather than stripping everything down to the basics and listening to my intuition. She suggested that I 'try on' what each decision would be like by imagining how it would feel. I imagined what both scenarios felt like and it wasn't difficult to realise that what my heart truly desired was to move back to England. I'd had this idea in my head that it looked really bad if you left a job before a full year so I was telling myself that I couldn't make a decision until I'd been there for a year. I also had the 'one-year' rule in my head, and thought to myself that I can't make a decision about living in Colorado til the one year has passed. Either way, I knew that I would never be able to forgive myself if I sacrificed my relationship with my boyfriend for anything, never mind a job that was actually making me miserable. Colorado wasn't a mistake or failure, it was a nice scenic detour where I learned a lot. One of the positives about the job was the fact that the people there were great and they were very skilled. I realised that I could change my focus to learning as much as I could while being there and in the meantime I would begin looking for job opportunities in England. I also made it a point to focus on developing friendships, activities and routines outside of work After all, now the pressure was off and it didn't matter so much if I got fired for not working enough.

As soon as I made that decision, at least 90% of my worries, stress and negative thoughts melted away. I started going home on time more often, I went to the gym regularly and started meeting up with friends after work. When I first moved to Colorado I used Meet Ups, a website where groups of people with similar interests arrange activities to do together. It's a great way to find new hobbies or people with common interests. I would recommend it for anyone who has moved to a new place, wants to explore new friendships or try new activities. I went on a few meet-ups when I first moved to Colorado and made a couple of friends through climbing, but after getting so caught up in work I lost touch. I decided I had nothing to lose and started hanging out with them again, and got introduced to lots of other climbing friends. I regularly went out for lunch with coworkers that I had befriended and went to a trivia night every week with coworkers who had actually intimidated me when I first started working there. It helped to have an outlet to vent about my boss every once in a while and I regained my confidence and found balance in life again. By the time I did get offered a position back in England, just over a year after starting there, I actually felt sad to leave.

So I guess the one-year rule still holds true, even though I had decided to leave long before the year was up. Looking back, I felt like I could probably have stayed in Colorado and felt fairly happy. I think my compass would still be pulling me in a different direction, but there was enough going for me that if my boyfriend had suddenly found a job there and wanted to stay in Colorado I would have been happy with it. Oddly enough I felt that the more boundaries I established in my work/life balance, the more respect my boss had for me. The less I feared, the better I seemed to perform. As difficult as the experience may have been for me, I wouldn't have changed it. It serves as a constant reminder for me to trust my gut. 

If you read this and you think 'I've felt that way too!' or maybe you had a completely different experience, I would love to talk with you about it. What challenges did you face and what did you learn when overcoming them? What did you learn about yourself?