My niece Emily is currently in London, having an awesome adventure with a friend as they travel about the UK and Europe for the next couple of months. She’s such a courageous, fun, witty and intelligent girl. I’m immensely proud of her for stepping outside her comfort zone, where she has discovered, literally, the world is waiting for her, full of beauty and thrill, amazing wonderful sights and people.
I’m so happy for her for taking this trip, all the more so because I never did pack up my backpack and travel about when I was younger. I still could, I know, but there’s something to be said for hitting the road before you need to think about details like rent, or a mortgage. Or before accruing a hefty amount of student loan debt.
My best friend Jen (from Nova Scotia) called me up one day, many years ago, to say she was packed up and taking off for a summer abroad. I was surprised; I didn’t know she was planning to live/work/travel about the UK and Europe between semesters. I got off the phone and told my mom about Jen’s plans, wondering if mom had known about the pending adventure. She hadn’t.
“Call her back right now.” Mom looked at me squarely. “Tell her you’ll meet her there. Take your savings and just go.”
Oh god, but I wanted to. I’d been craving this adventure since middle school. I’d even deferred my university acceptance and scholarships for a full year to make it happen. My plans had been to work for a few months, then head out and see the world. Have some adventure. See things much bigger than myself.
Then, I met a boy (we all know how that goes) and I put aside my dreams while I was falling in love. I got accepted to attend a performing arts college (I’d auditioned on a whim), so I stayed put. I graduated from the performing arts college and slid effortlessly into my deferred scholarships and first-year university courses. I had part-time jobs to pay my tuition, because I wanted to avoid student loans.
A few years later, I met another boy and we fell in love. We graduated, bought our first home and got married. We both went back to school again, me for an MBA, he for a law degree (and, as you know, training to become an amazing and inspiring leadership coach, while still in law school, because law school is not enough to take on, right?).
I went on other trips and they were amazing: Hawaii, California, Bali and Hong Kong, Brazil and Florida. I beheld spectacular sights and experienced amazing people and cultures.
But my walkabout? I didn’t go. My backpack (which I’d bought) was used for school and then abandoned for a more practical school bag. It was made to hold adventure and dirty clothes, not my textbooks. I chickened out. I had tuition to save and I didn’t know the friend Jen was traveling with; I didn’t want to crash their plans and be a third wheel. Basically, I came up with a load of very reasonable reasons to explain why I simply couldn’t just drop everything and head out. That’s the thing about reasons: They’re very reasonable. That’s their thing. Here’s the dirty little secret your reasonable reasons are hiding: It’s just fear.
Some day I’ll go off and wander with a new backpack. It’ll be different, because that’s what happens. It won’t be worse or better. It’ll be as it is, and that is perfect.
Last year, our trip to France came about from a joking status conversation on Facebook—33 days later, we were in Paris, with our best friends. Seeing the Eiffel Tower had been a dream of mine for roughly ever. It was the most amazing trip of my life.
It was just the beginning. It just gets better, if you allow it. Each and every moment. Look backward with appreciation, not with longing. Regret only lives with you if you invite it in.
Pack it up. Don’t pack it in. Don’t let go of your dreams, but know that, over time, they will change. As will you. Be gentle with yourself and don’t compare what is to what might have been. What might have been is a myth.
The following is from an article in the New Yorker called The Impossible Decision. This excerpt really struck a chord with me; how about you?
You can guess what these things will be like; you can ask people; you can draw up lists of pros and cons; but, at the end of the day, “without having the experience itself” you “cannot even have an approximate idea as to what it is like to have that experience.” That’s because you won’t just be having the experience; the experience will be changing you. On the other side, you will be a different kind of person. Making such a decision, you will always be uninformed.
Do you have regrets? What’s something you wish you could change? And what will you do to make it happen now?