Moving To Europe X – Dealing With Post-Transition Angst, Regret & Adaptation
OK folks this is going to be the very last post of my “Moving to Europe” series. We’re living here now, so I’m going to start focusing on that. However this is a critical, final topic which I feel is rarely ever talked about and that I wanted to cover before closing out the series.
Whenever everyone talks about a big life-change they almost always talk about how hard the change is before the process. All the emotions of getting ready, the practical hassle of change & moving, the fear and inertia. After it’s all done and complete everyone just kinda assumes it’s all good. I mean you got what you wanted, so you must super happy now, right?
But what if you don’t feel super, blissfully, zen-like happy? What if you’re having second doubts or not really feeling comfortable? What if you’re struggling with basic day-to-day stuff, or experiencing pangs of angst or regret? Does that mean you’ve failed? Does it mean the folks that warned you that you were about to make a big mistake (yeah those folks) were actually right? Should you give up now and go back to your old life, before it’s too late?
The immediate answer that I’d give you to all these question is “NO”!
I’m not saying that mistakes never happen (goodness knows I’ve made a few in my own life), but I’m here to tell you that doubt is a NORMAL part of any post-transition process, and it’s super important to understand that before you make any rash decisions. It’s a topic that’s rarely talked about, and involves feeling that are often internalized or suppressed, but it’s something everyone goes through, to some extent or another, before they get to the good stuff…actually enjoying their new life!
So that’s what I want to blog about today.
Hopefully it will help those of you who are about to, or have recently gone through a big life change of your own. Perhaps you’re feeling worried, or anxious or suddenly think you might have made a massive mistake. Well if that’s the case, you’re not alone. And perhaps even more importantly, there is real hope ahead. Read on….
There Will Always Be A Moment
I’ve been through a lot of life changes in my time. I’ve moved countries (multiple times), changed jobs & careers (several times) and dropped everything to go RVing (for 8 years). These were all pretty massive changes, and there’s one thing that I’ve experienced in common with every single of them.
No matter how much I’ve looked forward to a change, or known in my heart of hearts that it was “the right thing to do” there was always a moment of “WHAT HAVE I DONE???”.
The magnitude of that moment and how long it has lasted has varied a ton. There have been changes when my doubt has lasted only a few fleeting days, and others where it’s been months before I’ve felt OK. If I’ve made the change with a partner they’ve experienced it too, but in their own way and at their own pace.
Either way, the important thing to note is, it always happens.
Personal Example: When we moved into the RV back in 2010, Paul and I both experienced that “WHAT HAVE WE DONE?” moment, but in very different ways. For Paul it was a real moment of panic that very nearly caused us to stop our RVing plans altogether. It happened about a month into RVing. The reality of everything suddenly came crashing down on him…the fact that he’d left his job in San Diego, the fact that he didn’t really know what he was going to do going forward, and the fact that he wasn’t enjoying the “new life” nearly as much as he imagined. He was suddenly convinced we’d made the wrong decision. “We’ve made a terrible mistake. Lets turn back!”. For me, I also had some doubts, but they were fairly short-lived. I had a few days of adaptation and then I felt right pretty much at home. So we both experienced THE DOUBT, just in our own individual way.
But here’s the other thing…
Time Makes ALL The Difference
My firm rule of thumb from all the years I’ve traveled the world is that whatever you do, you’ve got to give it 6 months and preferably a full year before you make any NEW decisions. Giving yourself time to adapt is KEY and a critical part of any transition process.
No matter how hard you plan, your first months in your “new life” will likely feel very uncomfortable, especially if you’ve make a BIG life change. You’ll miss your old home and friends, you’ll feel nostalgic about all the places you left behind (e.g. that coffee shop you went into everyday, that grocery store that you loved etc.), and you’ll have trouble getting into a routine (e.g. when you get up, where you exercise, how you sleep etc.). Basically things just won’t feel right. Those first few months are invariably the most difficult part of any big transition, and the time you’re most likely to think about giving up.
The important thing to understand is that these feelings are NORMAL! If you decide to throw in the towel now, you’ll be selling yourself short and potentially robbing yourself of some of the best moments of your life, yet to come.
You see TIME makes aaaaaaaall the difference.
In my experience it takes around 6 months to settle into a “new life”, and by a year you’ll feel right at home. So if you simply take a step back and give it time, you may well find that you feel ENTIRELY, 100% differently just a few months after you questioned whether you’d made the worst decision of your life. Those 6 months can completely change your perspective and turn your life around. Trust me on this.
Personal Example: As an example I’ll go back to Paul’s panic moment that I detailed above. What did we do that day? Well to be honest I wasn’t anywhere close to wanting to give up RVing just a month into it, but I understood what he was going through and I realized that if he truly wasn’t happy there was no way this was going to work over the long term. So we made it pact. He agreed to give it a few more months and I agreed that if he still felt this strongly about it after that, we’d turn around go back. Sure enough, a few months later the tides turned. Paul found his new groove, and he started really enjoying the lifestyle. It simply took time….
Change Is Hard, But That Does Not Mean You’ve Failed
The other thing to understand about change is that it’s naturally a hard thing. As human beings we love our routine and once we feel comfortable in a situation we find it hard to leave. When you go through a big life change all that is thrown up into the air. Everything you knew (and maybe loved) changes and that can be really, really tough.
If you move to a new country you might feel like a teenager who just moved out of the house. Where do I buy groceries? How do I take the bus or get on a train? How do I do the laundry? How do I even communicate what I want?
If you’re starting fulltime RVing, you’ve got lots of changes to deal with. Not only do you suddenly have to adapt to living in a teeny space (and if you have a partner you’re suddenly together 24/7) but you’ve got to think about driving routes, and gas stations, and campgrounds, and shopping, and vets, and doctors….and all that stuff is different EVERY single place you go!!!
So yeah change is HARD! But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed!
The only mistake you might make is thinking everything is going to be roses and unicorns when you start a new life, and then chastising yourself when you don’t feel that way from the get-go. You may immediately love certain aspects of your new life (the adventure, the exploration, the nature etc.) but you may have a really hard time with unexpected obstacles or some of the basic day-to-day stuff. That’s normal and totally OK and does NOT mean you’ve failed. Approach the challenges as they come, allow yourself the space to gripe a little about the hardships, and then just give it time.
Nostalgia Can Be Deceiving
The other thing to understand about change is that nostalgia can be a deceiving little devil. It’s a common thing for the human mind to think back and remember the past as “the good times”. We tend to look at it through rose-colored glasses and minimize or even completely forget the bad stuff. It’s just human nature!
So, for example when you think back to the big garden you once owned (say, if you had a house) you might immediately think of all the beautiful flowers and trees you had, while at the same time somehow managing to forget how much you hated weeding and mowing.
It happens with people too! When parents think back to their kids as babies they’ll more than likely remember how cute they were and yearn for that baby-time, when in reality they might have been so wiped out from not sleeping that they were just barely managing to survive. But the cuteness is the memory that lasts, not the diapers and the pain, and the sleeplessness and so forth.
So yeah, we often remember things a little rosier than they really were.
When you’re making a big life change this is very likely to happen to you too. You’ll think back to your former life and you will have nostalgia for some part of it. It might be a small pang of nostalgia or it may be a tidal wave of deep, regretful yearning, and if you let that emotion overtake you, you can easily get lost in the past and NEVER manage to enjoy your present life (because as I mentioned above, change is HARD). It could literally ruin any chance you ever have of enjoying your new life.
So what do you do?
Well if you just made a big life change you very likely had a good reason (or many reasons) for making it and it’s worth taking time to re-explore those reasons. Think about WHY you decided to change (what was it that prompted it?), WHAT are you looking forward to, and HOW can you meet those goals (find something about your new life that makes you feel good, and then go do it right NOW!). You might even benefit from remembering a few negative things about your former life. I’m not the type to dwell on such matters, but sometimes your brain needs a little kick to remember why you made the change in the first place.
So, take some long walks, talk to your partner (or your dog, or yourself), reminisce if you must, but above all remember that nostalgia can be really deceiving.
Join & Become Active In Your New Community
Another key to getting comfortable with a new life is to actively immerse yourself into your new community.
Old friends are great and will be your friends forever, but not all of them will be able to understand or support what you’re doing right now. They’re simply not living the same life as you, so it can be tough for them to relate. On the other hand, connecting with folks who are doing the same thing you’re doing, or living the same kind of life you’re living, can make the difference between feeling like “outsider” to feeling accepted and part of a community. I think it’s an important part of any transition process, and it’s something you’ve actively got to work at.
For example if you’re going fulltime RVing, one of the first things I recommend is joining up with RVing groups either online and/or in person. There are SO many options for this. For example in the USA, not only are tons of really active Facebook groups (Fulltime RVers, Xscapers, RVToFreedom, NuRvers, etc.) and online forums (e.g. iRV2, rvnetwork), but there are also big RVing groups (e.g. Escapees/Xscapers, FMCA etc.) and specialist groups dedicated to specific types of RVers (e.g. Fulltime Families, clubs for Solo RVers etc.). These groups are not only active online, but often hold meetups and convergences where you can meet folks doing exactly what you’re doing. So not only can you connect through the internet (where you can ask questions, troubleshoot technical issues, share worries etc.), but you can also physically connect and even caravan with others who are living like you do.
Once you join these communities you’ll quickly find that the silly stuff you worry about is stuff other folks worry about too, and that things you might feel stupid not knowing (what kind of toilet paper DO I use in an RV???) are really not stupid questions at all. Everyone has learning & adaptation issues, and once you understand this, it’s such a relief!
This same thing is true when moving cities or moving to a foreign country too. Getting immersed into your new community is a really important part of fitting in and getting comfortable with your new life. So, going to the local markets, joining online forums, going to local exercise or language classes, getting to know your neighbors etc. All these things will help you feel that you are part of your new life, rather than feeling nostalgic about your old one.
Personal Example: When we were living in Hong Kong, I had a period where I quit the job I’d been doing for 12 years and didn’t really have any plan for what I was going to do next. Suddenly I felt deeply lonely (and rather useless honestly). Paul was off working each day, so I was just sitting at home fiddling my fingers and questioning WHAT HAD I DONE?!. After about a month of feeling very sorry for myself, I decided to pull myself together and take action. So, I joined the local Expat Forum online, started up a photography club (which eventually grew to 300 members!), started volunteering at my local Dog Rescue, co-started a local Theater Group (which eventually put on 5 sold-out plays!) got part-time work doing food photography and pet sitting, joined the local Yoga Club etc. After a few months of doing that I felt much more comfortable and definitely like I “belonged”. I was no longer pining for my “old life”, but rather enjoying my “new one”. I’d finally made the transition!
Find Things You Love To Do (And Then Do Them!)
Transitioning to a “new life” is kind of like re-creating yourself and that can be an exhausting process. There are SO many little details you need to figure out after you make a big life change that It’s easy to get lost in that process. You can spend so much time trying to make things work, the way you think they should, that you may not end up having any fun at all, leading to the question of WHY DID I DO THIS? yet again!
When you start to feel like that, it’s super important to take a step back and make some time for yourself, even if you don’t feel like you have all the details of your current fully life under control yet. Remind yourself (yet again) of why you chose this new lifestyle. Was there stuff you really wanted to do? Experiences you wanted to have? Food you wanted to try? A language or hobby that you wanted to learn? Well, then step away from whatever little detail you’re working on, create time for those things and go out and do them!
For example, when folks first get into fulltime RVing they often get overly worried about everything working perfectly in the RV the way they think it should. In truth, RV’s are superbly complex machines and there’s always something that needs fixing (it’s the 80/100/100 rule). So you can literally spend every minute of every day trying to fix everything and never get it “perfect”. That’s not only super stressful, but can take the fun out of RVing altogether. So, take a step back and give yourself a break. So what if the RV step is broken? Leave it for a day, go have some fun sightseeing and it’ll still be there for you to fix when you come back. Even better, you’ll have a clear mind and be in a much better space to work on it.,
In the same vein, it’s important to develop new habits and new routines that incorporate things that you love to do everyday. Whether that be a morning coffee outside everyday, or a walk with the dog, or some yoga, or some time photographing the sunset every evening. These new habits are part of what will make your new life feel comfortable. You may not be able to do them exactly the way you did in your “old life” (no Starbucks down the road, maybe?), but you can certainly re-create a routine which you will likely enjoy just as much within the confines of your “new life” (home-brewed coffee every morning on your RV stove, perhaps?).
It’s the little things that make life enjoyable.
And Hopefully That OTHER Moment Will Come
So what’s happens next? What if you’ve accepted the angst and the doubt, you’ve given it time, you’ve worked to become part of a community, and you’ve set aside time to do the things you enjoy. What happens then?
Well, that’s the cool part.
At some point in your “new life” things will suddenly fall into place, like a camera shutter clicking to take the perfect picture. It might take a few days, or it might take multiple months but suddenly a day will come when things don’t feel difficult anymore. Those initial feelings of angst, regret or discomfort will have faded away, the day-to-day stuff will have become easy, and you’ll realize you’re no longer really pining for your old life. You’ve transitioned, you’re comfortable, and you’re actually TOTALLY ENJOYING your new life!
When that day comes, it’s one of the best feelings in the world, and will make whatever hardship you might have had to go through getting to this point all worthwhile. That day, that feeling is the payoff for all the hard work you put into your big change, and it marks the true beginning of your new life adventure.
So, if you’re having post-transition anxiety or going through a WHAT HAVE I DONE?? phase, know that this is NORMAL and it will pass. Give it time (remember 6 months minimum), work at connecting with your community, create new habits, find time to do the things you love to do, and then see how you feel a few months down the line. Hopefully that day will come when your “new life” falls into place and it suddenly feels like you’re doing exactly what you were meant to do.
Oh and in the rare case you STILL don’t feel that way, even after you’ve done everything I told you to? Well, then simply change it up again. You’ve had the experience of one big life change so trust me on this…..the next one will be much, much easier to do.