On 31 December of each year, I do a review of the past year. I look at what I’ve learned, what went well, and what didn’t. I revisit what I know for sure. This year it’s a little later because of, well, stuff. And by stuff I mean life and all that that entails. It has been a jam-packed year, though. Moving to Vietnam does that to a girl. From nearly dying to reinventing myself as a writer to almost falling in love, there hasn’t been a dull moment. I’ve had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. But what it has done is cemented in my mind What I Know For Sure, and I will be sharing these things with you over the next month or so. Here’s the second one.
A wing and a prayer…
At the end of 2016, I landed in Hanoi, Vietnam on a wing and a prayer. I had quit my frustrating and stultifying (but secure) government job to try something else, anything else. I was desperate to reinvent my life, because I could see that my future — while secure — was a boring chasm of endless repetition. I was too comfortable. I had lost my edge.
At 53 years of age, I was painfully aware that I had never lived overseas. Granted, I had been raising a child single-handedly since my late twenties, so that kind of stymied things, but I’d never had the opportunity (or truth be told, the inclination) to try my luck (or seek my fortune) in another country. What was it like? Did I have what it took? Did I have the skills and the wherewithal (and courage and resilience and patience) to navigate a different culture or language? What would work look like? What kind of work could I do? Would I even find work? What about friends and a social life? Would I ultimately be successful?
I didn’t know, because I had never tried.
So I tried it. And — for the most part — I love it. I moved to Vietnam (initially for three months) and backed myself. I could have taken the easy option (although it’s more plentiful than easy) and gotten work as an English teacher but I wanted to reinvent myself as a writer, to essentially have more portable career. I’ve done that, and — maybe because I’m in Asia — it’s been remarkably simple to do. And the work has been surprisingly easy to come by. Once I started writing for Word Vietnam magazine (and built my networks, which is also surprisingly easy to do here), the work started trickling in. I was even in a position to knock back work (and I did… on several occasions). And the longer I’m here, the more people know about me and approach me to help them with their writing and editing tasks.
Embracing the unknown
But it’s that perpetual internal struggle with ourselves — the overcoming of fear and taking risks — that most of us battle every day.
What’s more — I like who I am here. I am (for the most part) patient and kind and understanding and tolerant. I am willing to embrace new experiences and ideas and meet new people and try new things (even if that means almost dying). I’m learning a new language – one of the most difficult in the world, but (after one year and private lessons once a week) I have a good basic level, and can communicate with the locals. I feel alive and vital and celebrated. My skills and experience and education are valued — and valuable. And the brilliant thing is — if I had to start again in another part of the world, I know I could do it. Easily.
The unknown, and all that it entails, is conquerable. And it soon transitions into the known.
I’ve found that the unknown is a fascinating place to be. While it’s not exactly deep space, and I am no astronaut, I still feel like I am embracing that adventurous, pioneering spirit that we all somehow crave — even if we deny it. To invite the unknown into your life is to boldly go. The greatest unknown is still, I think, ourselves. Of course, we are challenged by external events and situations. But it’s that perpetual internal struggle with ourselves — the overcoming of fear and taking risks — that most of us battle every day. Big questions, and the small ones, occupy our daily thoughts. Questions like, who am I? Do I like who I am — and what I am doing? Am I the best person I can be at this time? What else could — should — I be doing to live a richer, fuller, more meaningful life? How can I be of service? How can I be kinder and less materialistic? How can I make ends meet? Am I a decent person? Will I ever find love again? What will people say about me after I’m gone? What’s my legacy?
It’s interesting that when I told people I was coming to Vietnam, they responded either one of two ways. The first response was: you’re so brave (code for: I wish I could take that risk), and the second was: I wish I could do what you’re doing (code for: there is too much stopping me from taking that risk). There is nothing brave about what I’ve done. All I’ve done is try something different, I’m hardly saving lives. (Although I do acknowledge that the life I’ve saved is my own). If it didn’t work, I would have come back to Australia, or kept on travelling. I was lucky that I could do try this life on for size — my daughter was grown and I was in a good financial position (getting a redundancy pay-out from my secure but stultifying boring government job helped) so I could afford to take time out. There was nothing holding me back. In fact, I knew that there was a narrow window of opportunity — if I hadn’t have gone when I did, I would never have gone. And then it really would have been too late.
What I’ve also realised is that all we have is the here and now. This second, this moment, this time. If we don’t take action — or we put off taking action — it really will be too late to be whoever you want to be. Who wants to live a life that is defined by regret? Regret about the things we could have and should have done but didn’t. I don’t know about you, but that is one risk that I’m not prepared to take.
Then how about buying me a glass of wine — or even two! — for writing such an awesome essay?