Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On Fear, Frustration, and Freedom

It's been a month since I moved to Brasília. My apartment's set up (except for Internet) and I've already got a cleaning lady to spruce it up once a week. I've had my house-warming party, hung out at pool halls and nightclubs, done my first embassy event, developed a nascent group of friends, started Portuguese lessons. The job's going as jobs go—filled with meetings and paperwork and the counting of days until the next payday or holiday. And thirty days from the start, I look back on the journey thus far and ask myself if this is what I wanted.

After having lived in Latin America for four years already, I'm certainly not a novice to the concept of international relocation. But that doesn't make me immune to the fear and frustration that go hand-in-hand with sometimes unrealistic expectations. I mean, according to popular opinion, breathing the very air of Brazil is supposed to render all of life's woes trivial and moot, the closest thing to paradise on Earth, The Dream. But interminable bank lines don't factor into that paradisial opinion, or innumerable phone calls to get Internet hooked up at home, or having your name misspelled on important documents, or Subway charging twice as much for as sandwich as in the States and still running out of tuna. None of the frustrating aspects of establishing a life abroad factor into the romantic notion of moving abroad, of moving to Brazil. I'm even guilty of believing the hype a little bit, myself.

And along with that frustration comes the fear that I might not be making wise decisions, that I have less than a decade of “youth” left to make mistakes and figure things out, that pre-existing friendships and relationships with people in other places are in jeopardy due to my physical absence, that anything I've worked for up to this point in terms of building a life could disappear in an instant, or that everything I've worked for up to this point in terms of building a life doesn't amount to a real life at all. The fear of having nothing to give and everything to lose. The fear of insecurity and misunderstanding; that if I fuck this up—this grand, elusive, esoteric exercise—things are bound to consistently and irrevocably remain fucked up. There's nothing like the isolation of living in a foreign country by yourself, no matter how friendly the people or how open the society, to bring out neurotic introspection. It's an inextricable part of the process. Because moving to another country isn't just a corporal endeavor.

So for those random Tuesday nights when the weather sucks, friends are occupied, foolishness is on television, and frustration and fear begin to work on my mental and emotional well-being, I have this bit of literary inspiration that I copied down ages ago in Washington to pull it all back together:

When nothing in the world matters, when you've lost everything, there is perhaps a moment when the only thing that can count, the only thing you have left is choosing your own direction; looking your demons in the eye and proving to yourself that you are more than they. If only for a second, an hour, a day. That you are a man, that you have will, that there is something in you that they can not destroy, something that remains even if it is buried so deep you'll never see it again. That you can save something, even if it isn't yourself. And knowing, for the rest of your life, even as what you have is not a life, even as they reclaim you and send you back into their hell—knowing that, perhaps only for that one shining instant, you were free.

-Alan Howard

Fly Brother welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment and/or click.


raven said...

Long time reader and I love the blog. How timely it is! It resonates with me because I am presently in between two stages of life: finishing medical school and beginning residency in two months...scared out of my mind! :-)
I have been thinking about how I spent almost all of my twenties (Im 27) as a student----9 years of never-ending exams, learning clinical skills, coping with stress from school,family, relationships. Lots of fun but tons of un-fun too.

I think, since I now have more free time than I have had since starting med school and more than I will ever have again, that I could have traveled the world. Lived!!!! I think about whether or not this was the right path..whether I should have not been so scared to explore paths beyond medicine and the respectable career everyone expected/s of I would have loved to live a Katherine Dunham-life and study dance and anthropology and comb the earth incessantly!

Ive had my quick jaunts to Dar es Salaam and Belize and a few other places but I get so envious reading travel blogs..especially yours and Nikita's because I wonder if I simply did not have the courage to choose a life less safe...if my choice was really the right one

Not to sound to pessimistic bc I do love what I am going to be doing with my life and I will get to travel for work..the skill set I can take anywhere when I can truly be footloose and free....there is something to be said for stability although I have never been able to reconcile the image of myself as surburbanite with kids and hubby---so planted and rooted.

All that to say that from this side of the equation about to be a DOCTAH ( how my fam and friends say it) there is fear and longing for freedom (especially from my 6 figure debt) and the intense desire to pick a place on a map and dance away when I please...whether your life is conventional or unconventional..the fear, uncertainty is there...luckily we are not superglued to our stations in life...though I doubt the fear ever goes away.

too long i know..just wanted to share how the post made me feel

'Drea said...

Great post.

I'm not abroad but I ask similar questions often enough. I think introspection is natural if not maddening at times...

AmanZman said...

Another great post man. Going through similar things here in Moz. Surprisingly to the pick up and move abroad dream, I have had lately a huge feeling of guilt which i would have never expected. Mostly guilt for leaving my family (mom,dad sis and bros) and why I have chosen to miss out on our shared lives and hardships to selfishly live on my own in a random ass place. Maybe its the immigrant mentality..but yeah there is I doing the right thing, my friends just graduated from Laws/biz/med school...I am gonna be mad old soon...etc.

ohh yeah bank lines suck!

brian said...

Whether it is long term travel or straight up relocation, I think we've all had the same feelings. Is this the right thing to do? Is this a huge mistake?

You'll never know. Which is why most people don't attempt these types of things in the first place.

But I think it is more important to try and not have any regrets. You can always get a on plane and go someplace else. That's about the worst thing that can happen.

Just more material for the book..

Anonymous said...

Brother Ernest,

No matter where you go, there you are. That's the gospel truth!

...and who is "they"? I understand what Howard is aiming for but he's off target. It can be scary and empowering at times to know that only YOU are responsible for your happiness, your life as you know it. We are where we are because of the choices we've made in life up until this very moment. I know exactly what you're feeling, but baby, don't focus on the negatives, the doubts. Focus on what you can change and don't worry about anything that you can't.

There is no right decision nor a wrong decision. There is only decision, there is only choice. Pay close attention to your feelings, your intention and move forward from there. The sh^t will start clearing up REALLY SOON. Put one foot in front of the other and walk YOUR walk, never someone else's, certainly not "theirs".

Peace and Love

The Felicia (that's right, I said it)

Kevin said...

Hell yeah! The right recourse and the right conclusion. And your age, location, vocation or level of momentary satisfaction have little to do with the fundamental truth you've hit upon. I think you thought you'd come to Brazil to drink Kool Aid, but in fact, you must choose among the various wines and spirits, and sip them carefully and with patience, to find the nectar you know is here...

khw said...

Hey babes, just thought I'd let you know that the introspection will continue for a few years yet, at least if I'm a good example. I still wonder what I should be doing, particularly seeing as it's not all that easy to get a job that I'd really want to have. Still, I try to keep plodding on with my optimism intact. It's all I can do.


thierry said...


You just brought my fears to light again, after moving back to Canada and establishing a network of friends in Toronto, establishing a life for the past 4 years, i'm just about to give up all that, and move to Spain for an MBA. I'm excited about the move, but scared of the unkown, i guess that's the price we pay for global citizenry.

Fly Brother said...

Wow, folks...I'm humbled by the responses, and grateful to know that it's not just me having an existential crisis, LOL.

Raven: I once had a doctor friend who, during his last year of rotations, said he wished he had gotten an MBA instead. If only us creative types were born independently wealthy, le sigh. Something tells me you will find the equilibrium between work and play, hopefully sooner rather than later. Thank you much for reading and sharing!

Drea: It's hella maddening! I wonder if cavemen did all this wondering about life, or were they just content to make it to the next day.

AZ: The only way I kinda escape the guilt about being away from the family is that everybody else in my family is still in Florida, so I know my moms is in good hands. In fact, it's like pulling teeth to get them to come visit. What was your motivation for hitting Moz in the first place?

Brian: You hit the nail on the head. "No regrets" is how I'm trying to live life, and as appealing as were the other options that presented themselves Stateside, I'd never forgive myself if I didn't try to give living in Brazil a go.

The Felicia: It is true; there is none other, LOL. I think the "they" Howard was talking about are the demons, both internal and external, that seek to keep you from your greatness. You are, as always, an inspiration. Thank you.

Kevin: I think yours is the best blog comment I've ever read. Ever. In fact, I had to read it a few times to savor the metaphor. I think we're bombarded with "Kool-Aid ads" from every direction, so we buy into the belief that it's sustaining, when it's really only sugar water. Got to cleanse the palate of that nastiness first, then I'm calling the sommelier. ;-)

KHW: And you know I love you for that boundless optimism, Katydid. I'm ready for a long, long convo over some tortilla soup at La Hamburgueseria.

T: Tis the price indeed, my friend. We need to catch up so you can fill me in on the Spain plans, dude.

Frenchie said...

I was at this very same place a few weeks ago when I reflected on the sacrifices of living abroad. In theory, we sound really cool- We change continents to change the weather, no need for umbrellas. however, it can wear on you on difficult days. I love your quote but I've also learned to live for the moment and not look back. Stop staying up late to Skype with people in different timezones and,instead, harvest the relationships in your new found home, for example. Hugs to you and I hope you live, laugh, love