Some of us speak about the stages in life, about where we ought to be at particular times or ages in our lives. We speak of rights-of-passage when we are young. We set particular expectations for ourselves and each other for what we should acquire and accomplish at particular stages in life, whether it be a university degree, marriage or starting families. Oftentimes these expectations are limiting and stifling, though to be fair often they are satisfying enough. Sometimes these stages are based in our culture or our religion. Sometimes they are put upon us by societal norms established by who knows who.
And then some of us refer to life and living as the journey. We talk about where we have been on this journey and where this journey will take us. We speak about being open to the journey and reflect upon the twists and turns of the journey. We speak of crossroads in the journey and roads traveled and not taken. All this talk of journeys causes me to picture a road trip of the most enjoyable kind.
My mother who is approaching 85 describes herself as having had many lives. This always made me giggle, and yet as I age, I understand more and more what she’s been talking about. That life of being school age and being a daughter and a sibling. That life at university and the crazy limitless fun and self-discovery we allowed ourselves to partake in. Or perhaps it is the life during military service where we followed strict rules of behavior while serving something bigger than ourselves. Then there’s the life of falling in love, of being married and raising a family which inevitably brings us to the life of the empty nester.
The more I visualize life in this way my mother has viewed her 85 years, I feel a great sense of freedom for self-discovery and self-expression. I visualize great freedom for recreating self with each new life, and acquiring incredible transferable skills in each livable life. One could also perhaps and comically see this in a dissociative way. Actually, visualizing life in this way makes for endless possibilities and beginnings.
About six years ago my daughters were leaving the nest beginning to create lives of their own, beautifully full lives of university studies and world travel; doing the incredible things that I’d always dreamed they would do. And there I was at a precipice of choice, and there they were telling me to live my dreams. These beautiful women I’d raised were parroting the advice I’d given them: do what you want to do, live where you want to live, be what you want to be. It takes courage to step off that path of living the staid life, of doing the expected no matter if it is in our 20’s or 30’s or 40’s or 50’s and so on. It means, as my mother would say, living a new life or the next life!
I decided to do it, to divert from the expected. I’d always wanted to live and create community in disparate countries; to live and work and to really know another culture and place. I’d traveled a good deal as a child and as a married woman, but mostly as a tourist and I had a hankering for a deeper experience, quite different and more engaging than anything I’d experienced before. I had to begin by adjusting my way of being and thinking, to become more open minded, open to possibility in all ways and things. Fortunately for me I met the right people at the right time. I believe this happened because I allowed my thinking to expand and to welcome new ideas, to visualize myself doing and being different and more than I was at that moment in time. It was with this open mindedness that I began to have meaningful interactions with people that would encourage me and even introduce me to other people and then I was introduced to teaching English abroad.
This didn’t fit my industry ideal or with my work experience, but it did fit my altruistic ideal of living and working in disparate countries. All I had to do was say yes to a new way of living and being, yes to a new life… and I did. I began teaching English as a foreign language in China! With all these lives we live, we gather innumerable and incredible transferable skills. All of these skills helped me in choosing the company to begin this new life with, and all of those skills have enabled me to set up house and life, to build relationships, to find my way in this new country; mostly to create a life of living my dream. I’m not any different than anyone else really, besides my quirky ways.
Sincerely, we all have this ability to be flexible and open minded and open hearted, and open to learning something new. We just have to make that choice.
Going on five years into this new life of mine, I am a changed person. I have experienced so many incredible people and things. I’ve grown in unexpected ways! I’ve acquired new ways of being and doing, and really truly I am a new and different woman – an even better version of myself. This is not taking into account the lives I’ve touched and people I’ve impacted, the lives I may have changed. And interestingly, I am beginning to imagine what’s next for me! That’s the beauty of these many lives we live, we decide, we choose to live life as we imagine it.
Go on, look at the lives you have already lived and be proud of all that you’ve accomplished. Then take a moment and allow yourself to think about the possibilities of what you could do, of what you’d like to do, of where you would like to be. Heed your own good advice at living and creating the life you imagine… whatever that is, wherever it might be, take a step in that direction. You can live the life you imagine.
Susan Bradley is an American living and working as an English Teacher in Taizhou, Zhejiang, China.