Depending who you ask, my life so far has either been an unorthodox adventure of surprises and risk, or the predictable path of a millennial. After graduating in 2010—an abysmal time for the job search for anyone, much less an English major—I set out to prove I could be a careerist like any other.
I temporarily put aside my long-time dream of living abroad, because I wanted to show my parents, my brother, my roommates, and anyone who thought an English degree was worthless that I could land a coveted salaried position, 9.4 per cent unemployment rate be damned. As it turns out, I did, as a copywriter at a Boston-based marketing agency.
It’s okay to quit your job
One year at the agency became two. Promotions were enticing. Paycheques were exciting. Two years became three, and from time to time I caught myself saying things like, “I should check my 401(k),” or, “yeah, I think we should definitely put her on track for management.” And like that, three years became four, and I was shopping for Brooks Brothers suits.
I don’t say this to scoff at responsibility or earning money, and certainly not to belittle success that results from hard work. But my dream was never to climb a corporate ladder or own nice suits. And sometime during those four years, I remembered what I told myself years before: Only for now.
My dream was never to climb a corporate ladder or own nice suits.
After working in an office for more than four years, I gave in to the yearning to do what I’d always wanted. Alongside my girlfriend, whom I met at the company and—serendipitously, gloriously—also wanted to live abroad, I moved to Spain to teach English through the country’s Auxiliares de Conversacion program.
This plunge into uncertainty, this 80 per cent pay cut, this absurd idea to buy a one-way plane ticket to a country where I barely spoke the language, probably seemed irresponsible to some. To me, this was success. The single act of taking such a chance and pursuing my dream was a success, and the sense of accomplishment I felt by merely buying that plane ticket dwarfed any sense of achievement I felt after a positive KPI review at the office. I’d finally kept the promise I made to myself when I accepted the job four years earlier. Only for now.
It’s not always pretty, but it’s worth it
Since leaving America, I’ve realized a few things. Namely, that chasing the dream of living abroad isn’t always going to be a dream.
Contrary to what many of my friends back in the states think, it’s not perfectly crafted Instagram photos of cotton candy-blue water, or endless summer nights of drinking Pernod on some terrace with your beautiful partner. There are bills, and fights, and days that are just as ugly as the nastiest day in your home country.
So how has it been? Here’s a quick glance at how things have shaken out. In the past 18 months, I have:
• Moved three times
• Lived in a one-room hostel and two apartments
• Taught English at four public schools and one private English academy
• Been to the hospital once
• Embarrassed myself innumerable times, in innumerable ways
• Led English sing-alongs to five year olds to earn rent money
• Laboriously transcribed television closed captions to earn rent money
• Paid for groceries in collected small change to save the rent money I earned
This, laid out as such, doesn’t sound very sexy. I understand that, and I know I’m really not selling this well. But here’s the kicker. No matter what kind of day I’ve had, I’ve never regretted my decision, and I’ve yet to find anyone who has done something similar but said something different.
No regrets here
I need to be fair. I may have listed grievances above, but here’s the other side. I’ve seen some of the world’s most famous fiestas, festivals, nature parks and cities. I’ve inspired rural Spanish children to travel, and been inspired by those same children to live simply. I’ve learned about Spain’s admirable plans to balance nature tourism with sustainability, and understood why it’s so important to learn a new language. I’ve felt what it’s like to be an outsider, and realized how important teachers are for the future of this planet.
Through all of these experiences, I’ve matured in ways that never would have been possible had I stayed in Boston. Sure, success could have come in other forms, but not what I deem it to be. Now, as I head into my last six months in Spain, I’ll need to balance enjoying my life here with preparing for what’s next. But I’m not worried. I know that whatever comes, I’ll write my own terms for success, and pursue it passionately.Add this article to your reading list