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This post was originally published in Portuguese last year, on the week of my fifth anniversary of living in New Zealand. It’s one of my most popular posts and because the same topics kept coming up in different conversations ever since, I decided to translate it.

The first time I came to NZ, in 2003, I was only 16 and I lived in Hamilton for six months as an exchange student. Then I went back to Brazil and spent a few years researching and weighing my  options so I could move here with Ivan. I graduated in Journalism, but my relationship with that career had always been like unrequited love, so developing other skills and changing careers came to me quite naturally. My main objective was to come back and I didn’t really care about what kind of job I’d have, as long as it helped me to stay. So I did a few courses, saved what I could, packed my bag, said “see you later” to family and friends, and travelled to NZ. Our three month anniversary was celebrated already in Wellington.

The first few months were not easy. Our budget was very limited and our heads were filled with worry. I’m very anxious and living surrounded by uncertainty left me in shambles. When we managed to change visas and get jobs, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I was finally able to relax a bit. We’re in the process of having our residency sorted, it’s still stressful but things improved a lot.

But even with all of these accomplishments, one question still bothering me: when will I become the person I’ve always wanted to be? I live where I’ve always wanted to live, with a husband I love very much, but I didn’t feel fulfilled because I wasn’t living like I wanted. I didn’t feel inspired professionally, couldn’t dedicate myself to the things that give me pleasure and not even socialise properly with the people I met here. Totally disheartened!

Sure, part of what was bothering was caused by external factors, but the biggest weight was coming all from within myself. And I think that I’m finally close to an answer now. I’d like to share with you the six things I’ve learnt about fear, dreams, success and happiness after giving it much thought about it, all six of them connected and related to the questions and conclusions I reached in the past few years.

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1. Failure is subjective, and so is success 

I’ve spent so much time focusing only on what I hadn’t done, or on what went wrong, that I stopped valuing and appreciating all the things I’ve actually done. My definitions of failures were so broad and the ones of success so based on someone else’s victories that I constantly putting myself down. And the internet feels like a depository of achievements where everybody is doing great, except you. But everyone has, or at least should have, their own vision of an ideal life. Therefore, create your own definition of success, without projecting what comes from the outside. Dealing with failure becomes more bearable and you appreciate more what you put effort into accomplishing.

2. Re-evaluating expectations is key

Disappointment is something intimately linked to expectations. That’s why surprises are usually nice, if you don’t know what to expect from a situation, anything positive will be appreciate more intensely. Dosing my expectations is a continuous exercise to me. I like to be prepared to deal with all possible scenarios and I also get really pumped up by things. That’s pretty much like setting up the stage for disappointment. I’ve spent an entire week freaking out over a job interview, thinking I wasn’t prepared enough, and I’ve come back home deeply jaded after going to one of my favourite bands concert because it wasn’t the transcending experience I was hoping for. You can’t control everything! So just take a deep breath and face each moment as they come. Fantasising too much or suffering in anticipation will only get in the way.

3. Dreams will always be more perfect than reality…

There’s an episode of How I Met Your Mother in which Ted is fired and he keeps stalling to kickstart his own architecture firm until he’s confronted by Robin. And he explains that he’s putting it off because while this remains a dream, it will stay perfect and it’ll never go wrong. He had already given up even before starting. And that resonated in me. The list of things I didn’t even go after because I thought it wasn’t even worth trying is huge. The idea of failing paralised me and I even tried to comfort me by thinking that was less painful than defeat, even though it was all my fault! Sometimes you won’t get what you want because of something you did, but if you’re not doing anything at all then there’s no one else to blame. And an imperfect reality guided by a dream is a lot more fulfilling than a beautiful and immaculate dream tucked away behind locked doors inside your heart.

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4. … but that doesn’t mean that happinness is just a fantasy 

Happiness isn’t about living every single day of your life in pure bliss as if every second felt like an amazing Christmas day morning straight out of a fizzy drink ad on TV. It’s something possible, for sure, but more fluid, seen not just in the final results but also in the journeys. It’s knowing how to cherish the right things and focus on what helps us move forward, grow and  learn. And, because it’s real, it alternates moments of difficulties, boredom, loneliness and sadness. It’s not denying the existence of the bad stuff, but accepting it’s all part of something larger that goes beyond chance because it is a conquest.

5. So take risks and make your own opportunities

Perfectionism is simply a pretty name for self-sabotage. The kind of perfection we demand of ourselves is so high that not even we are capable of attaining it and sometimes we end not finishing things or not even starting them because of the anxiety this thought causes us. The fear of failing is horrible! And then it’s so easy to convince yourself that your fear is justifiable and larger than everything else because fear turns you into a hostage, and then Stockholm syndrome hits. It’s something that breaks us but then with time it becomes a crutch and we hold on to it and take care of it as if it were a pet. So instead of waiting for the perfect conditions, create favourable opportunities and take risks! You’ll only surprise yourself, be it due to the outcomes or to the things you’ll learn about yourself in the process.

 6. And give yourself a break to celebrate and be thankful

One thing that really helped me organise my priorities was asking myself “a year from now, will it make any difference?”. Over 365 days so many things can happen, so much changes, everything goes by fast… Since we only find out we were living a good time after it’s done, try to enjoy the small day-to-day stuff to the fullest and show gratitude. And registering those moments on photos, journals or lists is a great way of building a “bank” of good memories that you can turn to later on if you ever need a source of strength to move on.

If you read all the way to the end, thank you very much! I’d love to know what you though of my post and what you think about this topic. What was the last fear you faced? And what did you learn from it? 🙂