It’s been just over 2 years since I moved back to Spain. These last 2 years have been full of new memories, new places, new people, and total utter appreciation for where I am in my life.
The 2 year mark has come and gone - you’d think the disbelief of achieving this big dream of mine would have worn off by now. While the adrenaline has subsided, I still wake up every morning with a giant grin on my face because I still can’t believe this is real life. I still have pinch me moments often.
My two years abroad have taught me countless lessons, but most importantly, has taught me to be grateful. Especially this year (2020). The COVID19 global pandemic was something no one expected (except my Nurse Mom who has been calling for a global pandemic for years, ha), and I can’t help but count my blessings of employment, a strong network of International friends, my beautiful support system and new family here in Spain, as well as the health of my mom, myself and my loved ones.
Even before the COVID19 pandemic, I found that living abroad my biggest worry is dealing with uncertainty. This preoccupation has just been amplified for everyone around the world. What will the future hold? No one knows, but one thing is for certain that you must make the most of your “now” and appreciate everything you’ve achieved up until now.
If you are not a person to reflect on what you’ve accomplished in a year, I highly recommend you do, and do it often. We as humans, especially in this day and age, can get so overwhelmed by life or become doubtful of what we can achieve. We then lose track of what we’ve accomplished at the end of the day.
Take time to look back and realize all of the amazing things you have done. You’ll probably surprise yourself. Here are my key learnings from the past two years living in Spain.
Key Learnings after 2 Years in Spain
Lean into your fear
Above all, what I’ve really learned over these 2 past years moving back to Spain and achieving an 8 year long dream, is to be brave. To step into my fear and take the leap. Because if you’re not going to do it now, when will you? While it’s important to do your research and be prepared prior to making any drastic life change, it’s also just as important to not dwell on the details and actually go for it. Sounds silly right? But if you 'hum and haw' going back and forth whether you’re going to do something or not, I can tell you right now, you probably won’t. You’ll wait for that perfect moment, or hesitate and your moment will be gone. There will come a time when you just have to take a deep breath, and go for it. I think back to my childhood and jumping off of high rock faces into a lake. The longer you stood at the top, waited and tried to talk yourself into jumping the worse the fear got. But if you didn’t think too hard about it, assessed the risk appropriate, and then took a deep breath and jumped, you ended doing it, and having the best time feeling that rush of adrenaline as you leaped.
Achieving Your Dream Is Just Step One
Achieving a big goal is a huge deal It should be celebrated appropriately. But what’s really interesting and something I’ve come to realize is that the world doesn’t stop once you reach your goal. In fact you have to work just as hard to protect it. For example let’s say you buy a house. Once you buy it, you don’t just leave it alone. You have to work hard to keep a stable job in order to afford your mortgage. You have to take care of for your home, and even probably have to invest more into it for its upkeep and renovation. Once I had moved to Spain, it wasn’t as if magically there was nothing else to worry about. It was just the beginning. I had to ensure I could legally live and work here, and continue to do so given unstable political climates (ie. Brexit). Or given that I am now a contract worker and I actually face less security than what I had in Canada, I have to work extremely hard to protect my job and to continue to be in my extremely privileged situation. I also have to ensure that I have enough money saved to support myself for an emergency, or worse case scenario. Just because you achieve your dream doesn’t mean the work is over. It’s just getting started!
Enjoy all Moments and Practice of Gratitude
Practicing gratitude is exactly that, a practice. It takes work. Much like yoga or meditation it’s very conscious work that takes focus, and repetition. But the practice of gratitude has been said to increase happiness, improve your relationships, and potentially even counteract depression and improve sleep. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of always thinking ahead, or working towards a goal. But it’s just as important to look back and realize what you have achieved. This is exactly what I keep having to remind myself. Do I worry about the future? Yes. Do I worry about what’s next in my career, and how to grow as a remote? Of course. Do I remind myself that “holy shit, I’m in Spain, and I achieved my dream”? Not often enough. And I need to remind myself this more often. I freaking did it. Just sit in that. I worked for something over a period of 8 years, I’ve landed, set up my life here, I am happy, and I have the lifestyle I want. Few people reach that level. And my classic type A personality is always asking, ok… but what’s next? Well sometimes, and in the true European way, you just need to actually enjoy the present and appreciate who and what is around you. 😃
Let Go the “What If” and be Present
After watching the Brené Brown special on Netflix, she talks about how so many people are fearful of experiencing joy and they worry about what might happen if they are truly happy, and it all goes away. This was a wake up moment for me. During my first year in Spain, one of my biggest stresses was the possibility of Brexit. At that time, that’s all it was, a “possibility”. A date in which the United Kingdom was suppose to leave Europe. At the time it was suppose to happen on March 31, 2019. Well, surprise, surprise, it didn’t actually happen until February 1, 2020. Political instability can be a real threat to your living situation and unfortunately there’s not much you can do about it. I had to really learn to take a step back and realize that I can only control what I am able to control. It wasn’t until early in 2019 that I actually started to not worry about Brexit so much and instead focus on my joy, because deep down I knew I was covered. Even if the worst case were to happen, I had options. There would be grandfathered rules for Brits already abroad in a given country, and I even had a backup plan with boyfriend if absolutely needed. While I think being prepared and thinking through various situations can be the responsible thing to do, it can over take your life and cause you unnecessary stress. That was Brexit for me. I was too consumed by the “what if” that I almost stopped myself from enjoying my present. So one day I decided that I wasn’t going to let it bring me down any longer. That even if I had to leave the country whenever Brexit might happen, I was at least going to make it the best year of my life, continue to enjoy myself and live my life. Luckily, leaving Spain was not necessary in the end and at the time of writing this article, we still have no new news of how the rules for us expats in Spain will change once the UK is no longer in the EU after the transition period. Sigh. So remember, practice being present and don’t be afraid to experience the joy you deserve.
Focus on the Little Wins!
When you live in a different country, especially where they speak a language different from your own native one, communicating with the locals and navigating can be challenging but it’s also half the fun of living abroad. As you improve you language skills it’s really important to focus on the little wins. Did you struggle the first time you asked for directions? Or ask where you can find a specific food item in a grocery store? For me, I was always so fearful about speaking on the phone to someone in Spanish because you never knew what kind of accent they would have, or how clearly they would speak. When you can’t see their face to measure facial expressions it’s more difficult to gain clues about what someone might be speaking about in the event you don't hear something clearly. I remember my heart racing every time I had to call to book an apartment viewing or confirm appointments, note down important information like street names, or coordinate with the Amazon delivery man when you’ll be home or whom to leave your package with. I look back now, and can appreciate how effortless it is now to have conversations on the phone. Each time something difficult gets just a tiny bit easier, celebrate that win! Give yourself kudos! We don’t do it enough for ourselves. We should be celebrating our little wins daily.
Everything is Figureoutable
Think about it - has there every been a time when you didn’t figure out something in your life? Whether it was a big challenge or an unexpected situation? When you think the worst would happen and you wouldn't survive, did you? Well, you’re reading this blog post, so the answer is definitely, yes. I highly recommend the book “Everything Is Figureoutable” by Marie Forleo. It’s an honest and pragmatic book that helps you to realize you are more than capable to face any situation where it helps to rewire your brain in how you approach or think about different situations. This book spoke to me, especially as an expat living abroad. Living in a foreign country will always present you curve balls that you have to constantly be navigating and work through tricky situations on the daily. Building my resiliency has been one of the skills I’ve learned to develop the most over the last 2 years.
A Life Packed with Experiences vs. Predictability
Living abroad has its quirks but it will literally change you. From random things like getting use to a 24h clock, using “vosotros” again, being more flexible with spontaneous plans, to the more deep life lessons listed above - living abroad and living out of my comfort zone is (in my opinion) the best way to live a full life. A life packed with experiences, exploring while sprinkling in a bit of uncertainty versus staying at home, doing the same old and having a predictable life? What would you prefer?
What I think I am most proud of myself is actually going for it and moving abroad again. No matter what was going to happen. In the face of an uncertainty. In the face of Brexit. With less job security. I did it anyways. You can't live in a world of what if's because you'll never actually live.
You might be asking, yea ok, but what if it doesn’t work out? That’s fine. At least you were brave enough to try. The past two years have definitely had its up and downs but it has hands down been the best 2 years of my life. From the adventures I've had, to the people I've met, the dream life I worked so hard to have, is now my reality.
Please, please remember to never settle for less, don't ever think it's too late, and never, ever, compromise a dream.