In the last months of 2012, Carrie English did what so many people dream about doing. She quit her job, sold her condo and went traveling in Asia for eight months. Was she scared? You bet, but a lot of times she wasn’t and she shared with me how she got through it all.
V: I’m really interested in fear around what you’ve done by quitting your job and traveling. Could explain a little bit about that?
C: So certainly quitting my job, and selling my condo, and pulling up roots was very scary. It took me a long time to finally make that decision. Because it’s scary to change knowing you have a very enviable life in so many ways. And of course, everybody around you wants you to stay. Because your parents love you and want you to be there and your friends as well. So there are all these forces conspiring to keep you in place, you know, in a benevolent way. So, it was really tough and scary, but once I made the decision, it was pretty easy after that. In fact, it’s so easy that when people tell me that they could never do it now, I say “Of course you can do it!” It doesn’t seem that difficult, especially since I’ve met so many other people who were doing the same thing while I was traveling. It doesn’t seem that impressive anymore.
V: So what prompted you to do this?
C: I just didn’t feel happy. And it seemed so strange, you know, on paper I should be very happy. If you described my life to me, I would be jealous. I was working in public television, being paid to write on the side. I owned my own condo. I just had this very glamorous life. We had this survey in Somerville (Massachusetts) a few years ago. The city sent a survey and asked how happy we were on a scale of one to ten and I gave myself a 4. So I thought, “Ok, that’s bad.” You know, there were just long chunks of time where I just felt “Is this all that life’s about?” I just didn’t feel excited. And in thinking about what made me excited in life, one thing that was sure to make me excited was traveling. And also I was reading all these motivational books and lots of them ask, “What do you want your obituary to say?” or “What do you want to have accomplished by the time you’re lying on your death bed?” And I’m still not sure what the complete answer to that question is, but I at least knew that I wanted to have traveled a lot. So I thought, “Ok, I need to make that happen.” Plus, I always found myself counseling my interns and urging them to, before they got real jobs or before they went to grad school and incurred more debt to travel and to teach English abroad. And I would get so excited talking to them and trying to convince them to do it. And I totally thought that my opportunity to do that was over. But then I said “What a minute, you’re not dead yet. Of course you can still do it.” It’s a lot harder if you have a condo and furniture and all that stuff, but you can still do it. I had bought my condo at the time when the government was giving the first time homebuyer tax credit where they give you a chunk of money, but you have to stay there for at least three years. So I said, “As soon as it’s been three years, I will sell it.” And that’s what I did. And I started talking to people almost a year in advance. And telling people that I wanted to teach English in China. Because I’d done research and found that that was the place where you could make the most money doing it. And I’d never been to Asia. So it seemed like a good fit for those reasons. And just by talking to people at parties I found out that my friend’s, boyfriend’s, roommate had a business in China and he was looking to hire someone to teach there for four months. So I got his contact info, met with him and I had the job and a free plane ticket to Asia.
V: Wow. It’s really the power of connecting to people. It really helps.
C: Yeah, it really does! Since I’ve gotten back I keep telling people “I’d like another exciting job somewhere exotic! You have a couple months to find it for me.” Who knows?
V: Did you ever have any moments before you went where you asked yourself “Can I really do this?”
C: Sure. And just before I left I started getting new opportunities. But at this point I had already sold my condo and committed to the job in China. So that certainly was a “Uh, why couldn’t this have happened sooner?” There’s always gonna be regrets. I think I definitely would have regretted more not doing this. I think I would have been angry at myself if I cancelled it all. I’m sure there were probably moments of being scared. But I knew what would happen if I didn’t do it so it seemed better to do it. Given how I had been feeling for such a long time, I’d say mildly depressed. I was never seriously depressed, but it was more like “I really shouldn’t be looking this much forward to the weekend or to my vacation.” It wasn’t just my job it was the whole, I guess, life didn’t seem as exciting as I needed it to be.
V: So comparing the situations, or just saying, that if you don’t make any change or do something this is what will happen in the future?
C: Right, exactly. Quoting from Lord of the Rings, throughout the movies, Liv Tyler’s character, who’s immortal, Arwen, is trying to decide if she should pursue her love for this mortal man. And her father keeps trying to talk her out of it: “You know, he’s gonna die. Think about how miserable you’re gonna be if you do this. You don’t know what could happen.” And finally she says to him, “Some things are certain. If I don’t do it, I will regret it forever.” And that’s how I felt. I don’t know what’s going to happen if I do it, but I do know what’s going to happen if I don’t.
V: That’s a good way of looking at it. Cause sometimes some people let the uncertainty stop them when the certain part is something you don’t want.
C: It’s so true. You’re your biggest critic and I know that I would be flagellating myself if I didn’t do it. I still feel that way, but now I have to decide what to do next. And part of me says “Oh, it would be exciting if you move to London” and then the fear part of is like “No, I don’t want to do that!” and the other part is like “You’re such a wimp!”
V: So you mentioned, I guess you could call them techniques, you know looking at what would happen if you didn’t do it and seeing how you were feeling now. But did you find there were any other things that you were doing to push through your fear, either before you went or even when you were traveling?
C: Well I didn’t face that much fear when I was traveling. I had a couple of friends that came with me for the first two weeks of my trip and the moment when they left me, that was scary. Being left alone in Cambodia and we had just arrived the night before and that was probably the most dangerous place I was the whole trip and that’s where I was being left alone. So, that was kind of scary, just cause “Ok. Now it’s really happening. You are alone. You have to navigate the city and this country and this continent by yourself.” I will say, I did not cry. I got through it and I had a great time. But I think, it just became so clear in terms of making decisions, it just became so clear I needed to do something, I needed the big change. And I probably should have made it many years before. So, I think it was the point where I don’t have a choice, I have to do it. And that’s usually how I get myself to do things when I feel like I don’t have a choice because I don’t like change. At least half of me really does not like change and then the other half really wants it.
V: What advice would you give to someone who has a dream or something they want to accomplish but they think that they can’t do it because they’re afraid?
C: Well, I would go back to that line, you know what will happen if you don’t do it. It will be one of the biggest regrets of your life. So, it’s better to try it and fail at it, and to be able to tell yourself “Well, I did it. You can’t be angry at me for not trying.” Than to not do it and always regret it, cause you will always regret it. Unless you’re one of those people who are really good at compartmentalizing. I, at least, always remember. And I think most people dwell on those things, the things that they lash themselves about. “Oh, if only I had told him I liked him.” Or “If only I had said ‘Oh, I’ll do that job.’” You know, things like that. It’s much better to take the risk than not cause you know what will happen if you don’t. Regret is the worst.
Well, there you have it. Regret is the worst. Sometimes knowing that you will regret something is great fuel to do something you’re afraid to do. What do you think of Carrie’s story? Has regret, or regret avoidance been motivation for you? Anything else stick out to you? Please share in the comments below.
If you want to learn more about Carrie’s trip which she documented so fabulously, visit her blog Without a Chaperone. As of this writing, she’s in Guatemala brushing up on her Spanish. And if you haven’t already, please sign up for email updates under the pretty blue box on the right.
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