Why You Should Take That Leap Now

April 18, 2011

~ A follow-up to How to Find the Guts to Take a Leap

When I was 23 and interning at The New Zealand Herald in Auckland, I heard the Associated Press, a news service, was hiring a correspondent for their South Pacific bureau. I’d already fallen in love with New Zealand, knew I wanted to work abroad and was intrigued by the idea of discovering islands like Somoa and Papua New Guinea. So I got in touch with the hiring manager, explained with zest why I wanted the job, and offered my clips.

He turned me down. I didn’t have enough experience.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, when I noticed an opening for a nearly identical position. I saw it on my smartphone while riding the bus, and sat there, staring at the screen. This was my dream job! Should I apply?

But there was the key word: WAS. This was my dream job, seven years ago. It still is, in some ways; I’d love to live overseas at some point, ideally once I have a family. (Yes, I want to bring kids abroad. Please send like-minded men my way.) But at this very moment, the timing’s not right. I like where I am now — living in D.C., enjoying my social life, being close to family, chugging along in my day job while working on my own projects on the side.

But this got me to thinking about how dreams change. Seven years ago, I wouldn’t have thought anything could come between me and that job. And it never occurred to me that I might feel differently down the road, that I might have different dreams. I can’t decide whether it’s great or sad — or a little bit of both — that our dreams change as we age.

I first understood this during a conversation with my close friend, AJ, who I met in journalism school. Both of us thought we’d be journalists for the rest of our lives. But the industry changed, our desires changed, and now AJ’s a stock analyst. I think for a long time she felt guilty about that, guilty about giving up her dream. Until we talked about how dreams are allowed to morph and turn on their heads and even disappear, and how that’s okay, so long as they’re not forced into those contorted positions or shoved beneath the surface. Dreams change naturally as we age, and when they do, it’s okay to let go.

But here’s the thing: Even if we no longer desire certain experiences in life, we’ll never forget that we once did. Which is where regret comes in. Nobody wants to live with regret. It’s like what another 30-something journo friend said to me recently over brunch, when we were discussing whether she should pursue a career as a foreign correspondent. (This is a common dream among journalists.) “I feel like I owe it to my 23-year-old self,” she said.

But the dream isn’t the same as when we were 23. It seems incredibly unfair, really. When we had that overwhelming urge to report from remote corners of the world, we didn’t have the work and life experience necessary to get hired in one of those positions. Now, finally, we do. Except now we have another dream, a conflicting one: to have families. And you don’t exactly want to be pregnant in a war zone or while covering a humanitarian crisis. You also don’t want to be that woman who waited too long to have children because she was pursuing her career — and then, oops, it’s too late. So the dream, while still lingering, becomes less appealing.

Know what I told her? That this is exactly why I decided to travel when I did — because I knew that my dream to backpack solo, through Africa no less, would fade. Lots of factors contributed to my decision to leave my job, but what finally pushed me to go was the realization that riding in bush taxis wouldn’t appeal to me forever. I knew that if I waited a few years, I might no longer have the desire to go. And quite frankly, I was terrified of that happening.

You all know I’m an advocate of preparing before you leap. But this possible fading of the dream is the reason why sometimes you have to just GO. Because if you wait too long, that dream might one day be gone. Maybe you won’t regret it, because it’s no longer your dream, and you have new dreams to chase. But maybe you’ll wish you’d acted on it when you had the urge, and you’ll crave that dream like a mother craves her child. Maybe you’ll even mourn it.

I’d rather say I tried. Wouldn’t you?

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    21 Replies to “Why You Should Take That Leap Now”

    • Hi Alexis,

      I have to say, I’m so glad and impressed that you can be this honest with yourself and your readers because I know it’s not easy. I’ve never thought of it this way. I have so many dreams, and I’ve always thought I’d be like that football-player dad who’ll push his son to go pro because he never did.

      Thanks for making it okay for your dreams to change. I’m 25, and I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve all of my travel, writing, or career dreams. But I think I’m at that point where there’s a conflict between them. And I wonder everyday where I’ll be in 2 years, which is 5 years from when I started wondering where I’ll be in 5 years.

      Thanks,
      Kelli

      ps. You inspired me to start my blog. So far, it’s reviews of books and the movies they’ve become.

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Hi Kelli — Thanks for chiming in! And don’t let yourself be that football-player dad 🙂 Great to hear you’ve started your own blog! I’m going to check it out now.

    • Andrea says:

      This is a beautiful post. And it’s so true – our dreams and desires change. Which is why waiting for “someday” doesn’t always make sense.

      Thank you for including me.

    • Katie says:

      This is why I went to graduate school in England – though I had to leave my fiance behind for a year to do it. But I knew I needed to take the leap, because it would be tougher to do as a married person – and I might not always want to. And I’m so glad I did.

      Beautiful post, Alexis. Thanks for these wise words.

    • Kim Kircher says:

      A lovely post! I wonder if we can ever rationalize our way out of those regrets for not going when we wanted to. Life is full of opportunities–both missed and taken. However, having kids doesn’t mean we have to put those dreams aside. Once the kiddies are big enough to bring along, they can join us in our new (albeit quite different) dreams. I just took my 9 year-old step daughter on a surf safari in Costa Rica. She loved it. She watched all the hippies camping on the beach and selling beaded necklaces on the streets and decided she wanted to be one of them someday. She wanted to travel around and sell her wares. It isn’t my dream (can’t say it ever was), but I loved to watch her forming her own.

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Thanks for this reminder! Whenever I see couples traveling with young children — whether in New Zealand or Madagascar — I always smile. And ask them how they do it! Because you’re right, it’s still possible to take leaps when you have kids. Just perhaps a bit more difficult.

    • Julia says:

      It’s so true that it’s important to just GO for it! No question! I also think that some mourning and regret may be inevitable, even if you do. Oddly perhaps, in my life (further along than yours), I’ve sometimes discovered that even when I followed my dreams, that sometimes also led to regrets! This undoubtedly sounds trite, but for me, I really try to enjoy whatever path life’s journey takes–even if it’s not where I ever thought I’d want or expected to be.

    • Lisa McKay says:

      Great post Alexis!!! Really well written and thought provoking. I’ve definitely found it true that dreams change, and likes and preferences for lifestyles and careers as well. Seven years ago I was thrilled to land my job as a stress management trainer for aid workers. I loved it – the mission and the adventure and the travel and getting paid to fly all over the world. But that flying all over the world got… exhausting. And now I’d be quite happy to not have to get on a plane for several years (not that that’s an option for me at the moment given we’re living here in Laos). So glad you’re loving life in DC at the moment.

    • Prime says:

      I think that our dreams change because we as human beings change, and our circumstances change. And sometimes we just recycle our dreams (hat tip to Ali Luke) – aiming for something more realistic and pragmatic than sticking with something delusional.

    • Sarah says:

      Really, really loved this post. I’m living in Spain right now with my husband because we knew that if we didn’t we would kick ourselves later – we know that we won’t always want to do this (present tense), but we’ll always be glad we did (past tense)!

    • Elizabeth Hurst says:

      Reading this post at an appropriate time, when I’m reflecting on dreams lived, dreams lost and dreams shifting. Thanks.

    • Jill Dobbe says:

      Hi Alexis, I am currently living my dream of traveling with kids and husband in tow and have been for the past 20+ years. Actually, it is just my husband and me now as our kids have grown up and are attending college. We happen to be living our lives as overseas educators and are now living in our 7th country. While reflecting on our travel mishaps and other adventures, I have been feeling that it is time for me to write my travel memoir and through my research, hit upon your post. I hope to use your FB page and website for inspiration as I embark on this next dream. Thanks for being here!

    • Angie says:

      I have a question: what about school loans? I have insatiable wanderlust and have spent hours researching how to get paid to travel and well, it seems I wouldn’t be able to make enough to cover my student loans that are now in repayment. Has anyone figured out how to do that (besides teaching abroad)?

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Hey Angie — This is a great question. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to take our leaps totally untethered. A few folks I’ve talked to who have to pay back students loans said they saved aggressively while working day jobs, before taking their leap, so they had enough saved to cover their loans for a certain period of time. In addition to saving and cutting back on spending, ask yourself how you can bring in MORE money to pay back those loans faster. What skills do you have that others lack, ones that might bring in some extra cash?

    • Angie says:

      Alexis, thank you for replying! 🙂 I will have to think about all that. I want to just travel so bad, I feel like i just want to do it NOW. Then I think about waiting for a year or two and it just deflates me. If that makes sense.

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