Letting go and moving on

Sunset in Lahaina with a view of Lanai island in January 2013

Sunset in Lahaina with a view of Lanai island in January 2013

One of my friends recently made the final move to uproot. He writes, “Now that the deed is done I feel a bit weird. I know I made the right decision but I can’t help feeling a sense of loss for everything I have left behind. Did you experience the same when you flew to Maui and spent the first night there in your apartment? If so, how did you deal with it?

The international lifestyle of moving from country to country sounds exciting at first but I realize there is a price to pay: a cycle of letting go and leaving things behind and getting accustomed to the new. I don’t think many people are able to deal with this, no matter how appealing the lifestyle might seem or how much of an improvement the new country might be. Letting go of anything, no matter how good or bad, is hard.

As a more seasoned world traveller do you have any words of wisdom for me? What is your standard recipe to build a new life after moving to a new place? What do you do in the first 12 weeks after moving?

Nine years ago, just after moving to the Netherlands, I published a collection of invited articles on uprooting, linked from here.

The short answer is “Letting go is hard, but you get used to it.”

The long answer is this:

There are three levels of letting go. The first is to end your study or job. The other two don’t have to end: relationships can continue though not face to face; material attachments can remain.

When I leave and move to another part of the world, I never expect that I will never return. I usually leave behind something that requires some kind of responsibility. It’s a way of not completely letting go. When I left Okinawa, I kept my bedroom intact until my family moved house and the room had to be emptied. When I left Singapore, I kept my rented apartment, fully furnished, as a sublet to someone else, until it got sold and I had to dispose or ship my belongings, i.e. ultimately let it go. When I left London, I kept my home. When I left Utrecht, I tried to keep everything but failed. My Steinway is still on consignment, safe but not played or sold.  Whatever is left of my books and sheet music is in storage.

I have no standard recipe to advise, except to keep looking forward. Try to get settled as fast as you can. Learn the language. Get involved in the local communities that you feel comfortable and familiar with, e.g. Rotary Club, ballroom dancing, orchestra, choir, church, physical fitness clubs, etc. Take classes. Volunteer. Participate. Do not allow yourself to look back and wallow in regret.

It’s important to manage your expectations. My family warned me about Maui long before I decided to move here. They told me not to expect the same level of culture vulture indulgence I was used to (multitude of concerts and festivals; variety of cuisines and restaurants; short hops to other countries at a whim). “It’s hard to get a job that pays you enough to live on,” they said. “You will probably need two or three to make ends meet.”

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, Skype, Facetime, LinkedIn, and other online devices, I can follow my friends and contacts and share my activities and developments. The world has become a smaller place for me. I need not let go of relationships.

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