For anyone dreaming of making big changes in their world (I’m talking BIG changes, not the “should I go dark or blonde” kind), one underlying tension that dances at the edge of every such vision is timing. Whether you’re contemplating a break-up, job change or full-on island escape (that may include all of those and more), when to do it is often what causes you the sleepless nights and that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach. Or was that just me?
After nearly eight years filled with occasional roller-coaster emotions that flowed from my decision to (a) quit my job, (b) end my long-term marriage and (c) move abroad alone, I’ve realized something. The truth is…there is no “right” time to make big life changes.
Sure there are milestone moments (like, in my case, my youngest child flying the nest) that suggest good timing for making a move. But when it comes to the perfect time to make the final decision that’s kept you up for countless sleepless nights? Well, there simply isn’t one. The truth is…when it comes to uprooting your world, there are consequences (some expected, some not so much so) no matter when you make the change.
Take me, for example.
While the timing of my move seemed logical (an empty nest combined with a very unhappy and unraveling marriage), the coalescing of the two didn’t save me from countless moments of second-guessing myself in the 7+ years since that fateful decision. Sure I’ve had my share of epic times in the Caribbean. I mean, who would believe me if I said otherwise? All those beach parties, the fab kitesurfing sessions, meeting a really nice guy who turned into my spouse (a thing I never thought I’d do again). Even the quiet moments alone savoring morning coffee surrounded by balmy breezes and exotic flora and fauna have been pretty damn sweet. Not gonna lie.
But to be completely honest with you, for every one of those wonderful moments I’ve also had my share of teary “what if” moments. You know, the ones where (with the benefit of hindsight) I wonder if I did the right thing. Whether taking a chance and changing my life was really the best thing to do.
The sucky part is that I never know when these moments will creep in, either. Could be a favorite song I haven’t heard in years. Or one of those Facebook memories I totally forgot about. Or the sight of the PNW mountains that I really loved. Then I start remembering the past with these weird rose-colored glasses – the ones that conveniently filter out all the negative vibes surrounding the past and only let in the good stuff. Those would have been handy in real-time, I suppose.
And it’s taken me several years to realize that there is a danger in reminiscing about the past, at least the filtered version. The truth is, whatever was leading you to contemplate such a drastic decision in the first place – a serial-cheating spouse, unsatisfying job, whatever – was a legitimate and negative presence in your life at the time. One big enough to get you dreaming in the first place. Forgetting about that negative driving force as time passes is fine (let that shit gooooooo!), with one caveat. Don’t start thinking the past was this fantastical place where all was good and right in the world. Because it wasn’t. Not even close. If it was, you’d still be there. Amiright?
Which gets to the heart of knowing when it is the right time to make a change. While there is no perfect time (there never is), there is one unfailing way to know. Listen to your gut. It will know when you just can’t take any more. It will tell you when self-preservation absolutely needs to wins out over conformity with societal expectations (be it from your family, friends or co-workers). Because the truth is, you are the only one who knows what’s best for you. Once you filter out the noise – and listen to what your instincts are telling you – the right time to make a move will be revealed.
In my case, I knew it was time when I no longer could muster up even a molecule of joy in my life. Despite being surrounded by every conceivable creature comfort that should have made me the happiest woman on earth, all I could see was grey (and for that to happen in the sunniest month of the all-to-short Seattle summer says a lot). When I woke up one morning and realized that for as long as I could remember, every day had blended into the next with an unyielding sameness, devoid of all emotion and that I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt anything, then I knew it was time to make a change. And at that moment, what anyone thought about what I was about to do stopped mattering to me. At all. I felt, with every ounce of my being, that buying a one-way plane ticket was the right thing for me to do. So I did it. And let the consequences play out as they would.
I know it sounds a little kooky (or even trite), but it’s true. Because behind all the excuses you can come up with – including “what I should do” and “what people think about me” – the truth about what’s best for you lies no place else but within you. It really is that simple. You just have to forget what other people think you should do. And definitely, give no thoughts to their judgments about you.
Of course, I personally know that it is hard sometimes to push all the extraneous noise aside. Really, really hard. After all, staying the course is the path of least resistance. And making dramatic decisions will cost you things – like friends and security. I experienced this first-hand.
But living a lie is also the straightest path to an unfulfilling life, one you won’t be proud of living. I’ve seen far too many bitter people, angry at how their lives turned out. At the decisions they made (or didn’t make). And seeing them like that makes me seriously sad. Because it was so, so unnecessary. Thanks, but I’ll take a few teary memories and uncertainty about the future if it means I live a fulfilling life.
To rely on an overused cliché – you only live once. So make the most of it. Seriously. Because at the end of it all, you don’t get a do-over. You just get one shot to find personal fulfillment and happiness. Whatever you do, don’t let outside voices decide your fate. Because bitter isn’t the new black, and nobody looks good wearing it either. Nobody.
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Also published on Medium.