Coming to you live from a train heading to Yangshuo in China. I was having nightmares about getting around China and I’d envisioned the absolute worst-case scenario; me literally pulling my bag around the city for hours on end. So, when I happened to get a taxi in under a minute and when I got my train ticket sorted in less than 60 seconds, I was on cloud 9 living the travel dream. Expect the worst and stop romanticizing your choices; it’s the key to a happy life. Admit that there will always be some negative aspect of the situation and make peace with it.
Why I don’t romanticize my choices or my life
I remember when I moved to London back in 2009 and I was 19 years old. I had zero expectations and thought very little about what my life was going to be like in England. Maybe it was because I was coming from somewhere where nothing happened and life (to me) was incredibly boring. Anything would’ve been better than my current state is what I’m getting at. I had no idea where I was going to work and although I’d organized two weeks worth of accommodation, nothing past that was known. Oh, and I also only had about 400 pounds to my name. Being only 19, I made some ridiculous choices and I got into debt rather quickly but I got out of it on my own. I actually struggled (or suffered depending on how you look at it) for nearly one year of the two years I was there – and it was amazing.
I didn’t have any expectations on what my life would be like; I only knew that I wanted an adventure and change. I wanted the opportunity to make a better life for myself and I did. If I had gone into the move with this idea that it would all be rainbows and me walking into the high street stores buying whatever I wanted, then I would’ve hated my time in London. There is a lot of strength in having low expectations and making the most of a decision. It usually ends up surpassing your expectations and you end up being happier than you thought possible.
Why romanticizing your choices is a curse – Example 1
Let’s give you an example in the form of a person and call her Susan. Susan wanted to go to the promise land of China and spend a year teaching English. She had looked on blogs and on Instagram and saw these photos of expats surrounded by expats going on adventures. They were dressed in the latest fashions and looked like they had a ton of energy. So, armed with superficial marketing photos, Susan leaves for the Promised Land expecting the best year of her life. Upon arrival, she walks out of the airport to be met with signs in a foreign language and people shouting at her. She tries to communicate but is met with blank stares and frustrated hand gestures. Susan ends up paying a ridiculous amount for a taxi because the driver smelled ignorance and charged her double. The school she is going to work at sent her the hotel’s address in English and the driver doesn’t know where to take her. Oh, and she hasn’t gotten a sim card at the airport so she can’t look it up on her phone.
This is all before poor Susan has even arrived at her new place of employment. You see, when we assume everything is going to be amazing, it’s usually going to suck more because it threatens your idea of perfection. If you’ve created a perfect picture in your mind, anything that threatens that level of perfection is going to seem much worse than just a normal hiccup. Susan should’ve researched the best way to get from the airport to her new location. She should’ve gotten the address in Chinese because why on earth would a taxi driver speak English? On top of that, she should’ve been prepared and realized she’s going into a different country that isn’t like her own. She romanticized the entire scenario in her head and now she hates China. Susan should’ve arrived with a realistic mindset on what a struggle this new adventure could potentially be.
Why romanticizing your choices is a curse – Example 2
Let’s call this person Paul. Paul works in a shitty job and wants to find a new job in an exciting city. He finds the city and luckily finds a job too. Because his previous state was so shit he completely romanticizes his upcoming venture and invests all his energy into telling himself how great it is going to be. Paul cooks up heaven in his mind and all but tells himself that the worst is behind him because the Promised Land is ahead.
His new city and job are both better than before, but because he has continuously sold himself on this amazing dream every setback causes him so much pain. The slightest inconvenience becomes a world-ending situation of massively dramatic emotional meltdowns. He left no room for suffering in this ideal dream world of his. Whenever he experiences something that is less than desirable, it ruins his day and threatens this new existence. There is no way that this new venture was going to be without suffering and because he continuously romanticizes it; every ounce of suffering becomes a bigger deal than it needs to be. No time, place or existence is perfect and if you keep fooling yourself into thinking it is; you’re only going to end up being disappointed.
Be practical about your choices
When I came to Korea the first time I had zero expectations and was coming simply to see my sister. The entire holiday was awesome because everything I experienced was amazing because I had set the bar so low. The experience was so great that I decided to move here and put my expectations through the roof. I was already living a great life but knew that I could live an even better one if I moved to South Korea. Guess what happened? It didn’t live up to expectations. Everything that happened in any kind of negative light threatened the perfect existence that I had cooked up in my head. I kept thinking, “why is this happening to me?” like the little victim I was pretending to be.
I changed my mindset about 6 months ago and decided to take everything as it comes and expect nothing. Expecting nothing can only mean seeing things in a positive light versus sitting up in the heavens and sinking lower into a depression. Everything changed for me because I started seeing everything as a ‘pleasant surprise’ versus noticing ‘another negative’. I stopped looking at it like a ‘why me’ situation and started experiencing ‘oh, how lovely’ moments instead. My entire time here in Korea was saved because of a simple mindset change; I came back down to earth and stopped blaming Korea for all of my problems. I was searching for utopia and it doesn’t exist. It’s like pretending your boyfriend is perfect when he isn’t – it’s not your boyfriend’s fault or Korea’s fault – it’s your own.
This world does suck and it sucks often, but you can prepare yourself for getting through those times that suck by looking at things practically. There is a heaven on earth and you can create it without expecting anything from this life and appreciating everything that happens instead.