How you do know if it’s right to make a change?

I recently received an email that made me smile. It was from Kairi, a Dutch girl living in Amsterdam who is dreaming of making a change in her life. She has a good job which she is grateful for and affords her a good lifestyle, but after visiting Mexico several times, she would love to move here. She wrote to me to ask how I made the decision to change my life, and if I have any regrets.

I responded to Kairi personally, but with her permission I wanted to share a response here. Although the details of Kairi’s dream is unique, this is a story about someone wanting to make a change, but who is unsure how to make the leap. I’ve not only experienced that scenario myself but feel many of you have too.

The first part of her email that struck me was this:

I’m working for a big clothing store doing management and merchandising. I love what I’m doing (or at least that’s what I’ve been saying to myself  Laughing) and I cannot be more grateful for it because of the opportunities it has given me.’

I can relate to this. I really loved my job as a flight attendant, until I didn’t anymore. Yet I found it difficult to ‘own up’ to that without feeling like I was being ungrateful for having a cruisy job (excuse the pun!) that paid well and gave me excellent perks. I got to travel and had plenty of time off, but the work itself was just not fun for me anymore. While I was once excited to board a flight, in the final few years I began to dread going to work.

We don’t have to wait to loathe what we do before making a change. We don’t need an excuse to change, and we are not ungrateful for wanting something different. I probably put in 2 more years at my old job than I wanted to, but it took me that long to get honest with myself and realise it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life anymore.

Basically, it’s okay to want something different, in fact, it’s healthy to want a life filled with different experiences and adventures.

the only constant in life is change

Kairi went on to write about where her dream began:

‘It all started when we went on a holiday to Mexico and I completely fell in love with the place… It’s the happiest I’ve ever been.’

Tyrhone and I felt similarly about traveling, not about any particular destination, but about the feeling of discovering a new place and absorbing the sights and smells of somewhere we’d never been. To this day, it keeps us fulfilled and motivated. Sure I’ve had energy slumps, sicknesses and “I hate travel” days, but I still wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything, for without those challenges, I wouldn’t have learned and grown.

I’m not sure why we feel that happiness is some sort of unrealistic, fantasy state of being that can’t possibly last, when actually, happiness is how we are supposed to feel. I’m not saying we’re meant to walk around with a silly grin on our face all day, every day and not experience the full gamete of our emotions, such as sadness or anger. I’m just saying that it took me a long time to give myself permission to live a life that makes me happy, and now that I have, I wonder what the hell I was worried about.

Being too happy? IT JUST SOUNDS CRAZY, because it is.

‘But why can’t I bring myself to make that decision, to cut that rope? Why is it so difficult to leave your comfort zone and dive into unknown?’

Honestly Kairi, I really don’t know why it’s so hard to make the leap, but I know for sure that it is. As most of you know, I had a huge amount of fear going into this ‘indefinite travel adventure’ and I have to say that ALL of it was unfounded. I guess we are creatures of habit; we stick with what we are familiar with, and that is just part of being human. Our survival instincts lead us to search for safety and comfort so we don’t starve to death, but in the developed world our instincts have gone into overdrive.

We don’t have to worry about feeding ourselves but we do seem to worry about having the latest cars, owning more than we need, preparing for retirement, and looking the best we can. We want to be financially secure, but we spend the money we earn on things that bring us no security and no long term happiness. We lose ourselves in this cycle of earning and buying, and often forget the things that truly bring us contentment.

It’s easy for that to happen, because it happened to me. I’m just glad I found a way out of that cycle (though the economy of Australia mightn’t be) of earning, then spending; borrowing then repaying; earning, then spending etc etc…

Earning a lot of money doesn’t equal freedom, financially or otherwise, and it certainly doesn’t equal happiness, at least it didn’t for me. I earn less money today than I ever have, and yet, I am financially free, due to the absence of debt and large expenses. By living simply, I can direct my time and money towards things that really bring me joy.

Living a life that seems to make other people happy won’t necessarily make you happy. You have to live your own story, and honor the person you are with your unique interests, talents and gifts, whatever they may be.

live the life you've imagined

I’ll finish up with a final response to this part of Kairi’s email:

How did you make that decision and do you have any regrets?’

As you’ll read in my blog’s archives, which detail my journey from the beginning, it wasn’t an easy decision for me to make. I experienced a lot of fear and confusion, and connecting with other bloggers who were either doing the same thing or were planning to, helped a LOT. I cannot overstate the positive influence blogs like Almost Fearless, So Many Places and Wandering Earl had on my decision making process.

When you find your tribe, it makes taking the leap so much easier.

From having the idea, to saying it out loud (a big step), to taking concrete action and having a little faith, making a big change in your life is a process. Whilst the length of that process will be different for everyone, I think the basic steps are the same.

Once you take that first step towards a dream, you’ll be surprised by what is truly possible for you.

I am completely blown away by the direction my life has taken, and (dare I say it) I am the happiest I have ever been. It’s not an overt, chipper cheerfulness (ask Tyrhone!), but a deep sense of fulfillment, a feeling that I’m on the right path and that my external life matches who I am inside. That’s all I ever really dreamed of.

I don’t think this is something many people get to experience in their lifetime, and God knows there are many people in the world just struggling to feed themselves. That alone is enough to send my brain into a tailspin, but it is an unfortunate fact about the world. I might not be able to save the whole world, but I can save my own, because I do have that power.

I have saved and spent frugally, I have made sacrifices and choices. I have taken the risk to follow my dreams, even though conventional programming told me not to.

I walked the path of fear of failure, fear of regret and of ‘worst case scenarios’. Yet I’ve experienced none of the things I was so afraid of. I have, however, experienced joy, exhilaration, love, adventure and fulfillment on a deeper level than I ever thought possible for me.

I’ve lived more in the last year or so than I have in all my previous years put together, so no, I definitely have no regrets.

So, in answer to the title of this post, ‘How do you know if it’s right to make a change?’ my answer is, you won’t know until after you’ve made it. Until then, we can never be sure if it’s the right thing to do, but chances are, if the thought of that change makes your heart sing, and you’re willing to take the first step towards making it happen, then it is right. It’s normal to be afraid because change is uncertain, but that’s what makes it so exciting. And there’s never been a better time to take a step toward that change than right now.

a thousand miles

*Thank you so much Kairi for allowing me to share your email, I hope it will inspire others to make a change and follow their own dreams!*

Are you on the precipice of making a change, large or small, or have you made one that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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How you do know if it’s right to make a change? — 30 Comments

  1. Great read Sarah. I think it’s so hard for us to make the break because we’ve grown up with parents who did what their parents did growing up: Work, buy a house, have kids and so forth. The hardest for me was to get my parents support because breaking away from the mould and to an extent possibly working remotely and being location independent is a foreign concept especially when both my parents don’t use the internet.

    Some of my friends have asked me the same thing on when is the right time and I just tell them that there will never be a right time. You just have to do it. As the great Wayne Gretzky said “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take”
    Jimmy recently posted..Guatemala – You will get robbed, kidnapped and probably dieMy Profile

  2. I think the thing that scares me the most and keeps me in the “travel for vacation” cycle is saving for retirement. I’m not a big spender right now (except buying plane tickets for a few weeks overseas for vacation), but I’m still nervous about not saving enough. I don’t want to have to work when I’m in my 70s, I want to be able to buy organic food in my 80s and live in a house or apartment that is not scary, and I want to be able to afford a home health care nurse or something in my 90s. I guess that would be my biggest concern, being prepared for 30 or so years without any income. Not sure if it’s too personal a question, but if not, what advice do you have on being prepared for life 40-50 years down the road?
    Carina recently posted..FMM: The InternetMy Profile

    • Hey Carina, it is a good question, and yes, I also don’t want to be in the poor house when I’m old. We do have savings that we don’t touch, and it’s important for us to keep it that way. It’s a good incentive to try and build an income while we’re on the road, which is working okay so far. On the other hand, honestly, I dont think about retirement too much, because I hope to be able to write forever. That is a pro of making money doing what you love because it doesn’t feel like work. Thanks for your imput I really appreciate it!!

      • True point about writing being something you can do when you’re very old. I’m an attorney and I love, love, love my job, so I guess that’s part of the reason not to leave too. I hated far too many minutes at my last job and almost left the profession entirely, but instead I gave it one more shot at my current company and it was a perfect fit. The thought of arguing about the value of a claimed injury when I’m 75 is probably less appealing to me than the idea of writing a book at age 75 is to you! While I think we love our jobs now equally, yours has much more longevity.
        Carina recently posted..FMM: The InternetMy Profile

  3. I love this post, Sarah, because we ALL have felt it at some point. When we first went traveling we didn’t know how we’d feel and if we’d come back, keep traveling, etc but found it is the life we want. Now while saving (AGAIN) to depart some of those same old fears raise their ugly head and I question how we’ll make it work. I think we all just need to have a little more faith in the universe and throw our desires out there. As you said, you can’t change the world, but you can change yourself and I think what is forgotten is that it doesn’t have to be forever. If you decided tomorrow that you wanted to go back to something similar to your old life you could. It’s just important to take the leap so that you don’t ever look back and wonder…. what if?
    Rhonda recently posted..Missing MexicoMy Profile

    • Hey Rhonda another excellent point! I actually saw a therapist while I was making these big decisions, and when I told her I was scared to leave my job, she asked me, “So, you could get another job with an airline, if you wanted to?” and I was like, “well yes, but I don’t want to,” and she said, “but the point is you COULD”, and I was like “aaah”. I got it. Like you said, I could go back to my ‘old life’ if I had to. It was a big turning point for me I forgot to mention in the post, so I’m glad you pointed it out. Thanks!
      Sarahsomewhere recently posted..How you do know if it’s right to make a change?My Profile

  4. This article is exactly what I needed when I needed it. Thank you.

    I think one thing I am focusing on in making our life changes is to make all my decisions from a place of love, rather than from a place of fear. I think if I do that then I am more certain that my decisions are something motivated by what I truly want/ need and not just fear as an emotion.
    RitaMarie recently posted..May Freedom Forever Fly!My Profile

    • Hi Ritamarie, that is a fantastic point. If love is truth and fear is false (mostly) then making decisions from love can only lead to a more authentic a free life right? Great advice, thank you!!

  5. Change is always scary, whether its giving it all up to travel or something day to day. I remember a few years ago moving to the other end of the UK and buying our current house. This needed us to take on a massive mortgage. The day before we moved, I just started freaking out about what if. What if I missed my friends, what if we couldn’t afford it, what if, what if. At this moment my very calm husband just turned to me and said “well we’ll just sell it and move back there then, nothing is irreversible”. It was the most rational response but the hardest to see. Five years on and we’re still here, it was the right move to make and we’ve never regretted it. As always nothing ventured, nothing gained.
    Lesley recently posted..It’s a funny thing about kidsMy Profile

    • Hey Lesley, I can relate to that. We are starting to make some travel plans for next year, and even though its really exciting, I find myself going into the ‘what ifs’ again! And that’s after everything we’ve been through already, so obviously it is just in my nature to go to the negative and be prepared for the worst!! Not exactly a great trait to have, but I guess as long as I’m aware of it, right? Sometimes we just need that ‘voice of reason’ to tell us that even if it doesn’t work out, its not the end of the world, and yes, like your hubby, Tyrhone is usually that voice :)

  6. I can relate to this…I think anyone trying to make the ‘big decision’ can! It’s scary to get out of our comfort zones, but sometimes you have to say to yourself, “okay, I’m scared and this might not work but at least I’m going to TRY. I’m just going to see what happens and if it works, great, if it doesn’t I can always go home.” That’s what I did and I’m coming up on a year of being an expat with no end in sight :)
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Lady Luck is a Mermaid.My Profile

    • Hey Rika, so true, we CAN always go home, get another job, save more money, but sometimes it’s difficult to remember this, weird! So glad you are enjoying your new life, might see you down there next year if you’re still there!

  7. It’s funny that once you’ve made one huge change in your life so many other options become real possibilities. I remember being terrified about leaving my job, our home, our friends.

    After long term travel I realise that there will always be jobs and you don’t have continue working a job you dislike, you can keep in touch with friends and although I love my home town I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up and move to even another country if it felt right.

    Great advice, I hope Kairi takes the plunge!
    Maddie recently posted..Vietnam round-upMy Profile

    • Hey Maddie, you must be reflecting a lot on this now that you are back for a while, that nothing really changes at home, and it will always be there when and if you’re ready to return. I know Kim is experiencing this now too, and it’s a good reminder. Hope you’re over the jet-lag and enjoying those fish’n chips!

  8. Hi Sarah, I really enjoyed this post. I am currently in the process of making a change. I have drawn a hard line in the sand but just a little scared to give it a go. This email gives me comfort that change and the unknown isn’t always so scary. After all, I did move from Australia to London and arrived without a job.

    Though it didn’t take too long to find one, I didn’t know what the future held at the time but I still did it.

    By the way, just out of interest – do you really think the Australian economy is in a rut? Just interested that’s all! I haven’t been back in so long!

    Thanks for your amazing posts. I love reading them on the tube on my way home from work :)
    Christine recently posted..California Dreams: why visit Venice Beach CaliforniaMy Profile

    • Hi Christine! So lovely to hear from you, and yes, although change is a bit scarey it also keeps life interesting, right? As far as I know, the Aussie economy is doing well, I just meant that I’m no longer contributing to the ongoing cycle of earning and spending that keeps it going (but I’m sure they are doing just fine without me ;)) I’m honoured to be part of your tube reading, and I wish you all the best for your upcoming plans xxx
      Sarahsomewhere recently posted..How you do know if it’s right to make a change?My Profile

  9. I could’t agree with you any more Sarah. For me there was a little seed planted when I had my first holiday/adventure alone in Vietnem. I cycled through the Mekong Delta meeting people whom have never seen an Australian before. I was equally as curious as them. My seed was slowly developing with the creation of my vision boards, but I didnt truly understand what I was creating until I had left Perth. Travelling has been the best experience for me, and I have no regrets, not even wishing I had left sooner. It was all perfect.
    Good Luck Kairi, may your dreams come true too x
    Jill Miller recently posted..Finding Me againMy Profile

  10. Hi Kairi,

    I’m from Holland as well and I’ve made the big leap 13 years ago. Actually I’ve described the exact process and the subsequent adventures during those 13 years in 3 books called The Queen’s Trilogy. The 1st book in the series The Queen’s Escape, starts when I land at the Cancun airport. I think you will enjoy it very much, as it also gives you a lot of information about this beautiful country. I wish you succes with your choices and your journey. Here is a link.

  11. Being scared is absolutely normal, but to be honest I haven’t met a single person yet who has regretted leaving the cubicle life behind to travel long-term. When you said “By living simply, I can direct my time and money towards things that really bring me joy.”you hit the nail on the head. I own a lovely little house in the UK (which I am renting out now), and now I am living in a tiny studio flat in Phnom Penh. I couldn’t be happier though, despite having fewer possessions.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Stormy celebrations in SihanoukvilleMy Profile

  12. Beautiful Sarah.
    Change is scary because it’s the unknown. We’re bombareded constantly about societal norms, expectations, shoulds every where we turn from family, schooling, friends, media and culture.

    It’s BIG to recognize what isn’t working and then ask yourself what you really want. Believing it’s possible. Fear of failure is natural even if it seems unfounded.

    Good luck Kairi!
    Lauren @Roamingtheworld recently posted..Thank youMy Profile

  13. I think it helps to hear about the experiences of others who’ve done the same thing. I was in a very similar position. My life in London was comfortable and I liked my job too. But I would never change the past year either. I’ve had incredible experiences travelling through South America and this has led to more great times in New Zealand and plans to move to Sydney. I’m sure if I ever wanted to go back to the London office life I had before it would be possible, so I can’t possibly have any regrets.
    Arianwen recently posted..Visit the Shire with Hobbiton Movie Set ToursMy Profile

  14. I really enjoyed reading your post as all the thoughts are things I experience a lot. My boyfriend and I are making the move to Playa del Carmen next year from London. It is our favourite place in the world and we are determined to escape the rat race of London and find some peace in paradise. It will be very hard to make some a drastic lifestyle change and be so far away from home but i cant wait for the adventure. i hope you are still there so we can meet up.

  15. Sarah, I’ve read this post a few times and I love it so much it brought me out of my usual comment silence (which I apologize for!)

    I love the sentiments you share here about chipper happiness vs. contentment. You are so wise.

    • Ha! I am so not, I just think a lot, he he :) But yes, this journey has taught me so much and I’m so happy to be on it. Love following yours too – you are an inspiration and if I had half the wisdom at 22 that you have, I would have done it much sooner :)

  16. I cannot even put to words how I LOVE this article.

    I’ve been dreaming of backpacking for quite awhile now but my mind never seems to shut up with all these fears and doubts. I guess my main concerns are if I’m strong enough to go at it alone and how to earn while on the road. This is the kind of article that somewhat puts me to ease though; reading about how others went through the same thing and yet came out better, stronger and happier in the end. I’m currently working for a PR agency, but I’m giving myself a deadline of another year or two to save up and then chase after my backpacking dreams.

    Definitely bookmarking your blog now, looking forward to reading more of your travels! :)
    Meryl recently tuesdays: batanesMy Profile

    • Hi Meryl, thank you so much! I cannot tell you how nice it is to read that!!! Sometimes we just need a ‘push’ to do the things we really want, even though we are scared. It’s normal to be doubtful when you want to do something outside the box, it’s all part of the journey – overcoming our ideas of security and living the life we dream of. I wish you all the best in yours!! :)