The Mochilera Diaries
Aspirations, Musings

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone: Planning for the Future

If you’ve read my About Me page, or any of my blog posts, for that matter, you probably know that I’m drawn to situations that are a little bit uncomfortable.  The situations that push my boundaries and force me to grow and learn new things are the ones I most commonly seek out. What can I say?  Being comfortable bores me.

But there’s a very particular type of uncomfortable situation that I’ve always shied away from. Whenever possible, and for as long as I can remember, in fact, I have avoided making plans for the future.

Obviously I do so when necessary; there was a teensy bit of foresight and planning that went into getting accepted to my dream college or moving abroad to teach English in Thailand, for example.

But in the last couple of years, I’ve had considerable trouble looking past the next year, the next month, hell, sometimes I barely know what I’ll be doing tomorrow.  And for the most part, I’ve liked it that way.  The uncertainty is exhilarating, and it leaves me free to make decisions as I go.  With no commitments, I can easily accept whatever enticing options come along; I don’t miss out on the things I want to do, and I never have the guilt of breaking promises.

I find myself wondering, though, what it is that changed between the me who was confident enough to make those plans like studying Nutrition at Berkeley or making the major life change of moving to a foreign country and the me who now would rather take life as it comes, waiting with baited breath to see if it all just…works out?

Something I’ve come to understand about myself recently as a result of a number of life coaching sessions* is that, historically, I’ve always valued the here-and-now over the long-term.  I’ve made the decisions that lead to immediate satisfaction with little regard to their repercussions down the road.  Perhaps thinking about the future detracted too much from my enjoyment of right now, robbed me of the pleasure of the present moment?

I know for certain that I’ve applied this mode of thinking to my love life–I have a bad habit of getting involved with people knowing full well I have intentions of leaving in a few months, even a few weeks.

My other theory?  That I lost confidence in myself and my ability to plan for the future when, after a four-year degree, a year-long internship, and thousands upon thousands of tuition dollars my dream of becoming a Registered Dietitian suddenly wasn’t my dream anymore.

Or when moving abroad to teach English didn’t resolve the fact that I still had no f*$!% clue what I wanted to do with my life.  It solved the immediate problem of wanting to live abroad and needing a source of income to do so, but I certainly didn’t want to teach English as a career.

Or perhaps the final, lethal blow to my confidence in making plans too far into the future occurred when the life I had mapped out for myself as an English teacher in Buenos Aires fell apart right in front of my eyes.  I had only made the decision 8 months prior and the self-destruct button had already been pressed.

It all left me thinking, “What’s the point?”

My plans never held together or worked out the way I envisioned them, so instead of setting myself up for failure and disappointment, maybe instead I would let things happen the way the Universe seemed to want them to happen.  Maybe the decisions I made (or thought I was making) never mattered anyway.  Maybe I was just fooling myself.

Maybe back then, as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed college student, I knew what I wanted out of life and I went for it purely on blind faith.  Maybe that’s an admirable quality.  I haven’t made up my mind on that just yet.

But now, here we are.  Ten years down the road with little faith left in planning for the future, yet arriving at a point where it’s suddenly demanding my attention.

In case you missed the announcement, I made a hasty decision two months ago to attend a conference this coming April in Costa Brava, Spain.  I don’t regret that decision, yet the anxiety that always accompanies thinking so many months ahead is flaring up inside of me; I’m wondering if this plan will lead to good things or more disappointment.  My track record doesn’t bode well, but I guess only time will tell.

Traveling to Europe is not something I take lightly; living in Spain has been a dream of mine since the ripe young age of 17 when I vowed I would study abroad there during college.  I never could realize that dream back then–my Nutrition major got in the way.

I realized just the other day that this is the reason I was able to make the decision to attend this conference so quickly, the reason I was suddenly able to plan for something several months in advance when I didn’t even know what I was eating for dinner that night; I knew I wanted it. A dream, resurfaced, that was suddenly within my reach.

My other “dreams” may not have played out the way I expected, but in a roundabout (and cruel at times) way, they’ve given me exactly what I needed.  And the last thing I want is to lose faith in my dreams; one of them is bound to lead me in the right direction when the time is right.

With this decision to head to Europe indefinitely comes the responsibility, however uncomfortable, to plan a few things ahead of time.  What happens after the conference?  Where do I go from there?

Luckily, I’ve come to a few conclusions about what I want out of the next six months, even the next few years of my life, that will help me throughout my planning process these next few months.  I’m starting to picture how it will all fit together, and suddenly planning doesn’t feel quite so scary.

A few things I’m sure of…

One thing I know for sure is that I’m tired of moving around so much.  I know this blog was originally started to chronicle my experiences as a backpacker (mochilera), but I’m afraid the term isn’t really the best one to describe me anymore.  When choosing between the life of a backpacker and the life of an expat, life of an expat wins every time.  I want to have a home base, and I want to be there for a considerable amount of time.  I want to get to know a city well.  I want the opportunity to form lasting relationships.  I want to feel like I belong somewhere.

Another thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to give up on learning Spanish just yet; this means staying in Spain is the option that makes the most sense, for now.

A third thing I’m absolutely sure of?  (I can’t remember the last time I was sure of so much!)  I don’t want to stop traveling, and I’m beyond excited to start discovering Europe.  My hope is that being based in Spain will allow me to travel within Europe fairly inexpensively while still having a place to call home.

Cheers to the future…

For the first time in what feels like an eternity, I’m feeling confident in my decisions and at peace with my plans for the future, regardless of the outcome.

I’ll be heading home to Washington at the end of March for a few weeks before embarking on this new and exciting chapter–I already have the flights and everything–which means I need to make the most out of my remaining days here in Colombia.  I want to take advantage of every opportunity, spend time with the people I care about, and leave with no regrets.

So cheers to the future…I like the way it looks from here.


*Frank Macri is a life and travel coach helping people who want to build off the beaten path lifestyles.  Our sessions have helped me gain a clearer understanding of what’s keeping me from achieving my goals and have been invaluable to me as I try harder to get organized and plan for my future.  If this sounds like something that might benefit you, I encourage you to schedule a Discovery Session (free!) to see how Frank might be able to help you reach your full potential.
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