Living Columns & Blogs

Carolyn Hax: A life in the world, to a point

DEAR CAROLYN: Since high school, I’ve had a life plan: to live all over the world.

In college I studied abroad in Europe and Asia and traveled through over 15 countries. When I graduated, I landed a teaching job in Japan and thought of that as the first step to living in many different countries. Unfortunately, handling all the complications of adulthood for the first time in a foreign country proved overwhelming. I was depressed, anxious and even suicidal for a long time.

However, about a year and a half after moving here, I found an awesome community (with both local and international friends) and changed my job to one better suited to my personality (still teaching, just in a different environment). I started seriously studying Japanese and now have become quite comfortable communicating in it.

I’m coming up on three years here, and all I can say is that I’m incredibly happy in a way I never imagined possible.My job is difficult and challenging at times, but overall rewarding and meaningful. The relationships I have built with my friends are mutually loving and supportive. I’m starting to imagine a long-term future here. Of course I have my bad days, but they are fairly rare. I feel like every day parts of my soul are being healed.

So what’s the problem? I don’t want to leave. I’m only 25, and I feel like I should be working on that life plan I had to live all over the world.

I keep thinking about my future self. Almost all older people I talk to say they wish they had seen more of the world. Will I regret not living in more places? Or, will I regret uprooting myself when I’m perfectly happy?

I Need a Crystal Ball for Future Regrets

DEAR CRYSTAL BALL: At least until your past and future selves finish duking this out, I suggest you live your life. Right there, where you are, where you wake up smiling.

Complacency is always a risk, but self-doubt can be crippling too, and I think we can agree on which you’re more susceptible to by nature.

Everyone makes a youthful promise not to get old and regretful, but every choice we make, by definition, rules out something else, so there’s always something to what-if about.

To avoid becoming a wistful what-iffer, it helps to anticipate your regrets. However, that exercise is way too speculative to be the sole basis for life choices – especially when you have cold, hard information from two other sources: your feelings and your experiences.

Please give your past, present and future selves influence in proportion to what each has earned. Which one of you is working with the most reliable information – about you and nobody else? That’s the one I’d trust.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax.

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