No one said moving to a foreign country was easy. Today we are constantly inundated with things that will make our lives more convenient, easy, happy, pleasant, sanitized: social media, drive-through fast food, smart phones, GPS, microwaves, air travel, internet, 24 hour Walmart, shopping malls, cars. You begin to expect life to be easy and convient all the time. If it's not...there's something wrong. Very wrong.
Moving to Germany a year ago I learned that life is certainly not convenient all the time and being waaaaay out of my comfort zone, I discovered a lot of things for myself that I would like to share with you.
I didn't realize until I moved to Europe and took a German language course that I a huge part of my brain had been dormant for way too long. I fooled myself into thinking that because I was learning more about the children's book industry that I was using my brain to the fullest. No way!! I was focusing too much on the creative side and completely neglected the left side of my brain (language and logic). Dust off those dormant areas of your brain!
2. Do things that excite you
Having some extra time on my hands, I've had the chance to work on little projects to keep myself engaged and in a good mindset. It really doesn't matter what it is - it could be as simple as re-painting a small table to put in your bedroom, or making bread from scratch, or learning to fix your bike, or reading about the U.S. Constitution, playing racquetball, but whatever it is - enjoy it!! do it purely for the joy and incorporate these things into your life as much as possible.
3. It's ok to take a break
Last winter I took three months off from my art. I didn't know how long the break would be, and actually though maybe I was quitting art once and for all. But looking back I realize that the emotional and mental demands of moving to a new country made the break necessary. After the break, I came with a renewed enthusiasm that had been missing for a long time. Sometimes it can be a bit tricky to tell the difference between laziness and really needing to take a break. But chances are, if whatever you're doing (your job, or a volunteer gig, or sport, ect.) is chronically stressful and/or not meeting your needs...it's time to take a break! This is your brain telling you it needs to switch gears or it will burn out.
4. It's ok to be lonely sometimes
This was a really difficult and sometimes painful lesson to learn. Moving to Germany, I didn't have any friends or job here and I found it much more difficult to meet people than in San Diego. On top of that, with a six and nine hour time difference, and busy schedules it was difficult to contact friends or family back in the U.S. I was in this new world with no one to talk to. At first I though how horrible and wrong that was. But with time I realized that being alone is ok, it's the stories you tell yourself that are horrible (e.t. I'm a loser, no one wants to be my friend, the world is conspiring against me, I bet everyone else is having a great life, etc.). And I realized that we all need to be our own best friends. Having a healthy network of friends is important, but being able to depend on yourself for guidance and listen to your own instinct is one of the most important tools you can have.
5. Learning what you can't do is as important as learning what you can do
This was another difficult and unexpected lesson but might happen if you try new things. I took a risk and got a job teaching English at the Berlitz language school here in Heidelberg. I had never taught before, but it was really the only way to get a job and work visa for me. I worked there for three months and quickly learned the things I liked and was good at, and the things I hated and was no good at. At first I felt like a complete failure. No one wants to admit to failure or taking a risk and it not working out the way you expected. I felt like a huge loser and started to tell myself that I suck at everything. I decided to write down as honestly as I could, a list of things I'm not good at and things I am good at. I was surprised at how many things I wrote down that I'm good at and it helped me accept that we can't be great at everything - and that's ok! The key is to concentrate on what we are good at, enjoy it, and get better.
6. Know your limits
In terms of financially, emotionally, and mentally, living in Europe has pushed me to my limits more than any other experience. Many of us are pushed to our limits at difficult times in our life and this can be an unpleasant experience. But the beauty of this, if you're honest with yourself, is that you know what is acceptable to you and what is not. You learn when to say "no".
7. For the artists out there...let your art have it's own life
I've noticed I have the tendency to want to control my art and my characters - to fit into a certain look or feel. Maybe I feel like I don't want to disappoint others and create something that maybe be atypical of how I see myself as an artist. But I realized that in order to grow, you gotta let your art evolve as it wants - and it can be damn scary to have your art, and yourself evolving on display in front of others. I think spending a lot of time by myself, I began to rely more on my own instincts. Occasional feedback from a few trusted people is crucial to improving your work, but linking back to point #4, you also need to be your own guidance and know what you're doing is right for you.
8. Incorporate creme fraiche in your cooking
I don't think I had ever tried this super rich sour cream before, but now I use creme fraiche in everything from pasta, soups, sauces, omelettes, desserts, dips, and mac n'cheese. It's great baked on flour tortillas (with a little bit of smoked ham) for a nice appetizer. Too bad for the 40% fat content though...