by tara morley
Are you a planner? I’m a planner. I like calendars and dates and goals.
As planners do, I typically have an idea of what’s on the horizon for the next few weeks, months, season—and a general notion of what we’ll pursue over the next few years. For the most part we set dates, craft itineraries and work out plans, and those trips get taken, those races completed. It’s what planners do. As of late, however, I’m learning that while goals and dates and accomplishments are awesome, sometimes giving yourself a little grace to work towards a set intention, instead of a hard-fast goal, is just what the happiness doctor ordered.
For example, as long as we’ve been married, my husband and I have always said that if the opportunity to move abroad presented itself, we’d take it—pretty much no questions asked. For me, it couldn’t get much better than sitting at a sidewalk cafe, sipping a chilled Chardonnay and nibbling pastries and cheese. Whenever we played “Suppose we could move abroad…” my mind went to faraway fabulous places—sometimes Paris, sometimes Rome, occasionally Shanghai, and once in awhile Prague.
You can imagine my sheer delight, glee even, when that very phone call came our way in early January 2014. The words “honey, we’ve been offered a chance to go overseas!” were barely out of my husband’s mouth, and I was ready to pack a beret, bake baguettes and start listening to Rosetta Stone. It was going to be fabulous!
There was just one catch….
We weren’t being offered Paris, Rome, the Far East or Prague. Not even in that hemisphere. It was El Salvador. We were being offered an all-expense paid trip to one of the murder capitals of the world. Winner, winner, pollo dinner! After shock gave way to awe (and back to shock again following each Google search), we decided that while not quite what we were expecting, maybe we were right where we were supposed to be. We said we’d do it if given the chance, right? My gut was saying “do it” louder than my brain was pleading “but wait…” Maybe the magic of this whole experience was going to be in how we took these potentially sour grapes and made a sangria out of it, rather than a fine merlot. Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans, right?
By letting the realization of the goal (in my case, a life of European-infused grandeur), give way to realization of the greater intention (living abroad and experiencing a different culture), I was able to better set myself up for a series of happy surprises rather than disappointments. My personal growth was going to come as much from the experiences as it was from how I would choose to perceive the value of them. And so, French pastries be damned, we decided to leap into a life of Latin American adventure.
Three years later, I couldn’t be happier that we did.
Our two-year tour in El Salvador ended up being rich in memories, friendships, and holy-s#$t-did-that-just-happen moments. Did I ever in my wildest dreams envision that my fabulous life abroad would include one day falling 10 feet down an open sewer drain with my dog? Sitting through a 30-second earthquake? Unwittingly touring gang neighborhoods after errantly turning down the wrong road? Nope, I did not. (Sidebar, trust but verify when it comes to using Waze.) Nor did I think I would meet some of my best friends or watch my children blossom into fluent speakers of a second language—a language they often look to first because it boasts more nuance and emotion than they can find in their English. Many days, it’s been far from a walk in the park, but would I change any of it? Not a chance.
The girl, who in 2014 was a shoe-in for a role in the next Cedric the Entertainer Que Hora Es video, is now able to hold her own at doctor’s offices, school functions, and with military officials. (Haircuts remain a gamble, but nothing’s perfect, right?) As the fates would have it, we now find ourselves in Bogotá, Colombia figuring it out all over again.
That shift: my movement away from focusing solely on the set goal and instead towards enjoying the realization of the set intention has made all the difference in my happiness. While it’s not what I thought I’d get, it’s what it is, and right now is the chance to soak it all up. It’s been a lesson to learn on a personal level, a relationship level, and on a parenting level. Giving myself the grace to move away from “ugh, why can’t this be what I thought?” to “but wait, look at what it is!” has made all the difference. Now I still set goals, don’t get me wrong, but this shift has changed my goal setting approach. My perspective on what I want out of my relationships, my parenting, and my professional life is different these days. It’s given me the okay to say yes to some things, no to others, and to jump into the unknown when all I have is my gut saying, “do it!” I’ve put myself out there in ways I never thought possible–admittedly sometimes only in hopes of looking like a modicum of calm, cool and collected for my kids–and surprised myself almost every time. The joy can be found in the now instead of in the when-I-get-there.
So when life offers you that curve ball and shoves the Salvadoran pupusa in front of you instead of the French pâté, do it. If your gut is telling you that what you need is waiting on the other side, even if you don’t know what that “thing you need” is, do it. Leap first and relish the ride.