A few years ago, if you had asked me if I would ever live in New York City, my answer would have been a confident, “Yes!”
I could easily imagine myself walking the streets of New York City, bundled up in my trendy pea coat, toting an equally trendy coffee, and rushing in and out of the subway in a frenzy of busy sophistication. I would be young, successful, and living the dream.
I have since visited New York City – twice. If you asked me the same question now, I could give you a semi-confident, “No.”
I love being able to drive my car at my leisure through familiar streets and back roads. I love being able to see the sky in all directions. I love places that are not bursting with people, but instead have a crowded yet cozy charm. I love living in a roomy house with a backyard.
New York City does not offer any of these things. Its stressful atmosphere of never-ending people and tourists, expensive studio apartments, and the crushing realization that no, I will never have the wardrobe or the legs of Serena van der Woodsen, doesn’t entice me the way it once did. I wish I were the girl who found this lifestyle appealing. I really do. I wish I could channel my inner Bohemian, itching to burst out and take up smoking and wear ripped pantyhose and go live out my days in the East Village drinking cheap wine and writing eloquent metaphors about the Brooklyn Bridge.
I wish I was that cool. But I’m not.*
I had a similar experience last January. Three friends and I decided to travel around Europe for two weeks. In one week we visited London, Paris, and Belfast. I then stayed in Belfast for a week before traveling 36 hours by myself to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I was promptly driven to the jungle to live in a hut for the next seven days.**
Prior to this traveling experience, I had always pictured myself as the travelling type.
Of course I was carefree and wild enough to backpack around Italy by myself for a month. Obviously I could move to New Zealand and work on a sheep farm for six months, if I wanted to. Naturally I could be in any non-English speaking country and feel perfectly at ease because I was just that awesome.
But you know what happens when you travel to other countries? You actually have to get there. Meaning you may have to be on three different planes for nine or more hours at a time. You’re going to have to think about changing currency in every new country, and finding directions from signs in a language you can’t read. You may have to walk everywhere because you can’t afford a cab, and you probably will be lugging an 80-pound backpack while you do that. If you’re going from place to place very quickly, you will more than likely be consumed with the worry of getting to the airport or the train station or the next hostel on time.
Travelling is thrilling, and it is a beautiful challenge. And in my case I was stressed almost the entire time. I missed my bed. I missed my boyfriend. I missed wearing clean clothes. I missed not feeling so out of place everywhere I went. I missed not feeling stupid every time I opened my mouth to order something.
Kids, it builds character to feel out of place and miss things. Really. Everyone should travel for the sole purpose of feeling uncomfortable and knowing how to be strong and thrive anyway. Plus, I mean, you get to experience amazing places. But this trip made me realize something about myself: I’m not sure the ultra-cool world travelling type. And that sort of bums me out.
Just like my New York alter ego, I really want to be this girl. I want to be the girl who can live out of one giant backpack for six months and travel alone to all seven continents, meeting hundreds of new people and existing perfectly fine without seeing her family or friends or her nail polish collection. I want to be this girl. But I’m not.
I’m giving up on these dreams of who I thought I was or wanted to be. And here’s why. Those dreams won’t actually make me happy! I know this because I’ve tasted what they could be and found myself wishing for something different every time.
I can dream about living in New York City and soaking in the Manhattan lifestyle, and I can dream about living in the jungles of Sumatra for six months observing the life of orangutans. But while those dreams sound exciting, I don’t believe anymore they actually fit who I am. The person I am is adventurous, spontaneous, and bold. I’m great at meeting new people and challenging myself and doing brand new things that scare me. I am also an introvert, an avid lover of my bed, a homebody, and someone who thrives off of stability and the presence of familiar, well-known people.
I’m giving up on my dreams because I’m learning which ones I will actually love, based on who I am and what truly gives me life. The dreams I plan to pursue are ones that will push me out of my comfort zone, but ultimately nourish the very things that make me me, rather than an ideal of someone I’m not.
Through trying out the dreams I thought I wanted I’ve discovered what will more likely make me happy. I suppose that’s both the tension and the beauty of discovering who we are and what we want to do with our lives. We must be willing to face the unknown and the possibility of learning more about ourselves, in order to find out what we will do next.
I wouldn’t trade these experiences — or many others that have helped me discover what I actually want to do — for anything. Trying out my dreams was half the fun. Now it’s time to go try out some new ones.
*Smoking is not cool, kids. Neither are ripped pantyhose. If you’re wearing ripped pantyhose, cut it out. But for the purposes of my New York City alter ego, they’re fitting.
**My time spent in Thailand was one of the most remarkable and impactful weeks of my life.
Photo by (Flickr CC): Mario Mancuso