We’re a few weeks into spring up here in the Northern Hemisphere and it’s that time of year when many people who are living abroad find themselves dealing with a particularly difficult dilemma:
Do I want to stay here?
Or would I rather move home?
Or would I be happier in an entirely different country altogether?
In her TED Talk entitled “How to Make Hard Choices,” philosopher Ruth Chang explains that with easy choices, there’s always one alternative that’s better than the other, whereas with hard choices neither option is better than the other.
Choosing whether to stay in the country you currently call home, or create your home elsewhere, is very often a hard choice.
When potential clients come to me for support in making this hard decision about whether or not they want to move home, they’re often convinced that one option must be better than the other. They feel incredibly frustrated with themselves that they haven’t been able to figure out what that winning option is.
When we have our initial consultation, one of the first things I confess to them is that I don’t have a crystal ball. After some shared laughter I go on to explain that there are usually no right or wrong decisions. However, by working together, I hope to help them come to a place where they can say “this is what’s right for me.”
After helping numerous clients decide whether to stay or go, I found myself faced with this same dilemma a couple of months ago. Part of me had always hoped I’d move home at some point, I just didn’t anticipate that the opportunity would present itself this year. However, life doesn’t tend to work according to plan and earlier this year my husband was offered a job in the city I grew up in– Seattle (USA) and I found myself rolling this question around in my head–
Should I stay or should I go now…?
I quickly found myself falling into the same trap as my clients usually do in hopes of arriving at an answer. Together with my husband, I put together a pros vs. cons list in order to see which option was the better one.
However, after making this list we actually discovered that there were many more reasons to NOT move to Seattle than to move there. Which is why it might surprise you to know that we ultimately made the decision to move after all!
You’re probably wondering how in the world we arrived at that choice when the “cons” outnumbered the “pros,” right?
Well, it’s because pros vs. cons lists can only be one part of the process when it comes to making hard decisions like whether or not to move home. In order to choose between two good choices, we couldn’t imagine it as standing at a fork in the road marked Seattle vs. Amsterdam.
Instead, we had to imagine a different sort of fork in the road. It’s one I introduce my clients to when they’re faced with difficult dilemmas and it’s called “The Choice Point.” The video below explains this concept. Watch it yourself or you can continue reading and I’ll explain it below.
The basic idea is that each and every day we’re faced with decisions, big and small. One choice will pull us in the direction of the life we want to lead and the other will pull us towards a short term sense of safety. The life we want to lead is one that’s aligned with our values, or what is deeply important to us in our hearts—what do we want to do with our limited time here on earth? Whereas, the other direction is guided by worries, uncertainty, pressure from others, fear of regret, a desire to minimize sadness, etc. In order to move towards our values, we need to learn strategies to “unhook” from the latter.
When we looked at our pros and cons list again, with the choice point in mind, the answer became clear. The option that was more aligned with our values at this point in our life would be moving to Seattle. We want to invest in relationships with our family right now. And that family is primarily on the other side of the globe, with my own family living in Seattle. Seattle is also a city where I’m hopeful I can find spaces and communities that are aligned with other values that are important to me, such as social justice, innovation, diversity, authenticity, and open-mindedness.
After calling Europe home for the past decade, it’s been a bittersweet decision to say goodbye and start a new chapter back in the U.S. But I feel a sense of security knowing that my decision to move home is guided by what’s deeply important to me in my heart.
And those fears and worries on the cons list? The ones that were trying to pull me down the other path, to make a choice that felt safer and more familiar, but which was not as aligned with my values? They’re still there. But I have plenty of ways to “unhook” from them.
I’ve practiced riding the wave of feelings that seem to come out of nowhere, and observing my own internal worry monster who wants to alert me to all of the ways that things could go wrong. I’ve reminded myself that these same worries were there when I made the choice to move to Europe back in 2009, but I didn’t let them hold me back because moving abroad was the choice that was most connected to my values.
And I unhook by zooming out to see the big picture and put things in perspective. Not everyone is so lucky to have the choice to move back to the place they previously called home. Not everyone will have the option to live near their family again. Even if it is a hard choice, I am so grateful it’s a choice I have the chance to make.
If you’re struggling with your own hard decision, here are some helpful resources to check out:
- Watch this video of a talk I did for Lisbon Digital Nomads about letting your choices be guided by your values instead of fears or external pressure.
- Sometimes connecting with what a kind, wise friend might say can be helpful. Try Dr. Chris Germer’s compassionate friend meditation to connect with inner wisdom about your own hard choice.
- “The Happiness Trap,” is a great self-help book written by Dr. Russ Harris, who developed “The Choice Point” concept that I mentioned above.
- If your difficult decision is related to living abroad, my might find my blog posts to be helpful:
Interested in learning more about my coaching services for global nomads? I offer a free 30 minute consultation for potential clients so that you can see if my coaching services are a good fit for you:
A version of this blog post was originally published in my March 2019 newsletter. You can sign up for future newsletters HERE