This is a blog post about first world problems, you’ve been warned.
As I approach my 30s, I sometimes feel that my foundations are being shaken to their core. Some people might call it growing up, but for me it is a deeper reconsideration of the kind of life I want to live. Perhaps it is just a late quarter-life crisis.
If I remember my ambitions when I approached my 20s, I realise that I have exactly what I wished for: I live in an ‘exotic’ and interesting country, for my age I have a fairly successful career in the international development field, I am married to a diplomat, and I even have an adorable dog. It once felt unattainable, but here I am. Building this life hasn’t been easy: I have broken gender and social barriers; invested a lot of time, energy and money; and tolerated horrible bosses, harassment and idiocy. I am proud and satisfied, but… of course there is a but.
The things that once made me thrive, have now become the usual. Coming from a monolingual family from the same region in Mexico, I used to be jealous of third culture kids. Now, most of my friends are married to citizens of another country, and are raising their children with two, three, even four languages. The once appealing expat life now feels a bit shallow, and I am no longer motivated to invest in relationships that will end up in goodbye.
The satisfaction is having achieved what I wanted. The disappointment is discovering that I need more than that.
Discovering new places was for a while good enough to compensate for failed relationships, professional setbacks, and family drama. It gave me an opportunity to run away when things got bad, and start all over again. Referring to Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, living as a modern nomad kept me in complete lightness. My actions were inconsequential, and I could always move on and forget.
But I have changed, and my priorities have shifted. Nowadays, I would like to buy things without worrying if they’ll fit in a suitcase, or just surround myself with people who already know me and where I come from. This might sound like a cliché, but I want to build a life that I don’t need to escape from. I am craving for roots.
This doesn’t mean I don’t want to travel. Nevertheless I want to feel joy every time I take a plane. On average, I visit at least ten countries per year, sometimes over 15, and that should be special. And while I once had a kick of adrenaline when I booked a plane ticket, these days I just think of knee pain and messy airports. It is unethical to be so used to privilege that I sometimes complain about it.
I think that I am ready for what I call a ‘post-globetrotter life’. Instead of accumulating as many experiences as I can, I want to focus on meaningful ones.
It sounds easy, but it isn’t.
First problem: the more I move around, the more difficult it gets to choose a more permanent home. London is too expensive. Brussels is too cloudy. Mexico City is too unequal. Singapore is too restrictive. Yaoundé is too far away from my family. And the list goes on. It’s hard for me to accept that there will be trade-offs.
Second problem: I get bored very easily. I am so used to this lifestyle, that I cannot longer understand how it is to live the same things year after year. I want a more settled life, yet I want adventure.
Third problem: After a decade of roaming around, globetrotting has become central to my persona. If I am no longer the ‘girl that has been to so many countries’, who am I? What makes me special?
Pretentiously, being part of the global elite that can decide where to live has its downsides. The world is big, and there are hundreds of possibilities from China to the Patagonia. But with freedom comes weight – the burden of knowing that one has everything and can do anything.
“You white people have such complicated lives. Go close to your family, get a well-paid job, have children, and stop worrying.” That’s what my usual taxi driver always tells me. I am not white, but in everything else he might be just right.
Photo credit: Richie Pope/New York Times