Choosing the Life You Want to Live

I remember the moment clearly.

You know the one: It’s the moment we look back on when we’re trying to pinpoint where things started shifting for us, away from where we truly wanted to go.

For me, it was nearly four years ago when I was sitting up on the balcony of my 6th floor apartment in Madrid. For weeks, my heart had been begging me to make the decision to stay, but I just kept my head down, saying “No. It’s time to go back to ‘real life’” and left it at that. I sat out on that balcony that morning, watching the sunrise and reflecting back on the year, that marvelous year.

It sure felt like real life, just a better version of it. One that is flooded with new experiences, where people put an emphasis on connection and understanding. I worked, paid bills, did chores, and paid taxes. Those parts were very real, yet so were the long lunches in the middle of the day and the hours spent talking about hopes and dreams over a cup (or two) of coffee. Despite all of that, the logic in my brain kept telling me I needed to go back home to the States. And so I did.

I arrived back home, bought a car, took a teaching job in LA, and began my “real life” as everyone called it. That year went as well as anyone could have hoped for. I reconnected with old friends, made a ton of new ones at my job, learned a ton about teaching, and spent time exploring the outdoors. That summer, I returned to Spain and suddenly, I was in pain. I missed it so much it hurt. So much of what I left behind was still there. It was as if I had been gone for just a moment, only to step back into my old life the moment that plane landed.

When I returned home, a good friend of mine that was doing a Masters in Counseling asked me if I would like to come in and be counseled by one of her classmates. I said, “Sure! I LOVE therapy!” I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. I had also been considering doing a counseling program myself, so this was giving me some insight. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only did the girl do a fantastic job, but after the session, the professor asked if I would like to sit in as the class watched my video and gave feedback to the girl who counseled me. Ummm… sure? I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of watching myself on video, but I went for it anyway! It was the most profound therapy session I’ve ever had.

There, in a classroom full of people, we sat and watched the session.

I learned more about myself in that hour than I had in the last ten therapy sessions I had been to. I talked about the pain I felt upon returning to Spain, this longing like I had never felt before. This feeling of immense calm that washes over me when I’m there, like I can stop pretending and just be myself. I watched myself and nodded in agreement with many of the things I was saying and looked around the room to see others were nodding too. The discussion after watching the video was unexpected.

“What keeps you from going back permanently?” the professor asked.

“This feeling that I need to come back, put down roots, and settle down”, I explained.

“I’ve felt exactly what you feel”, he replied.

The professor went on to explain a very similar experience he had had when he was about my age. His situation was slightly different than mine, (as he was in a different stage of his life) but the decision on whether to stay or leave his host country was the same.

He chose to come back.

“There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about it. I guess the question here is whether or not that’s something you want to live with.”

No, it’s not.

Why do we deny ourselves what we truly desire?

Many of us feel that when we stray from the conventional path that we’re doing something wrong. Throughout my life, I’ve proven time and again to myself that this is not the case, yet as we get older, there’s a guilt that washes over us. A guilt that reminds us that we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do. Who is the one who decides what that is? Who guarantees that if you follow the conventional path that this will lead to joy and fulfillment?

How do we change this?

Taking the Steps Towards Choosing the Life You Want

Ask Yourself, “What do I want to do right now?”

Do you ever find yourself feeling bored or unsure of what to do, so you just scroll through your phone for a while? Or do you have a desire come up only to shoo it away with something else? Many of us have these moments where we get the feeling of what we want to do, whether that’s a “I want to take a nap” or “I want some frozen yogurt” and we ignore it to do something more ‘productive’.


Choose moments that bring more joy

Throughout the day, we all have these moments that come up. Try your best not to ignore those nudges from yourself. Often, that nap we’re so desiring is our body wanting to rest instead of getting sick. That frozen yogurt you’re craving might just be the highlight of your day. As a teacher, I loved seeing the little things that made kids light up. It didn’t come from accomplishments, like acing every test. Most of the time, the joy they felt came from a spontaneous game of Heads Up, Seven Up or a surprise snack to celebrate someone’s birthday.

Build Your Life Around What Matters

Many of us have been taught to strive to accomplish something, such as a getting a high paying job or buying a house. We wait until we reach those goals to feel a sense of happiness or joy. So many of us, myself included, have pulled out our list and diligently checked it off, box by box, waiting until we’ve finished it to look around and enjoy ourselves.

Here’s the thing: all we ever have is now.

I’ve taken a step back to ask myself what truly matters for me. My mental, physical, and spiritual health are number one now, because how can you help others if you can’t help yourself? The second priority in my life is my relationship with friends and family, my support system and community. The third priority is doing things to help the greater good. I know I was put on this planet to help others and that is my guiding force.

What matters for you? How are you making those things a priority?