When I was getting ready for my move to South America , many friends, coworkers, and family members did not hesitate to weigh in on my big decision.
In fact, they offered their worth-their-weight-in gold thoughts with me on a daily basis.
Most of them sounded like this:
“Oh honey, do those things while you still can –– before you’re saddled with a husband and kids!”
“That sounds amazing. I wish I could do that, but I have bills and responsibilities.”
“Enjoy your adventure! You’ll eventually have to come back to the real world.”
Real world. Real world. Real world.
But what is the real world, really?
Growing up, you hear about this mythical place. It’s filled with adult responsibilities, like credit card payments, car payments, student loan payments, etc.
Lots of bills, really. Not to mention the car-house-spouse-career requirements.
Apparently, acquiring material wealth, a so-called stable, ladder-climbing career, and a traditional partnership bound by the government is the dream.
It is the so-called real world.
Now, I was preparing to go abroad, not for a booze-soaked 3-month study abroad or a backpacking adventure. I was off to work, for a B Corporation in Santiago, Chile.
And when I got there, I discovered something profound.
There, I had a job, an apartment, a phone payment, taxes, and you guessed it — BILLS!
And I’d be the one paying them.
Not to mention that for most people, these real world responsibilities are completed in their comfortable, native language, in a system they know and understand.
Whereas I, a stranger in Latin America, had to navigate such bureaucratic and logistical nightmares as opening a bank account, signing a lease, legalizing documents, and buying furniture in another language. One in which I felt fairly confident about speaking, but not exactly in figuring out the things I had to do.
In case you have never had the pleasure of doing paperwork in a Latin American system, it is a real treat, by which I mean a paper-heavy nightmare. At least in Chile, it’s a game of “Which line should I be in (none of them have signs)?” “Why does this one paper need eight stamps?” “I took a number but everyone is cutting in front of me”, etc.
Did you forget the kicker?
You’re thousands of miles from most everyone you know who could help you.
You are alone.
I’m not saying it’s the hardest thing that you could ever do, but it’s damn hard.
The first few months here, I drank more wine than I’m willing to publicly admit.
And that’s not just because the vino here is cheap and amazing.
Despite all of these daily challenges, from the logistical to social to financial to emotional, I handled it myself, and kept going.
Isn't that what being an adult is? Isn't that what the real world is?
Yet, nearly every time I spoke on the phone with my parents,
or chatted with some friends,
or read Facebook comments on my photos,
or reflected alone about societal pressures,
I got a message, be it audibly or silently:
“You’re not living in the real world.”
Sometimes it was accidental or off-handed or unintentional. But it was there.
Then, after about 10 months of living here, the (not so) subtle questions started.
“So, what’s next for you?”
“Got a job lined up?”
“When are you coming back?”
“Is your vacation over yet?”
Most people –– I hope –– just meant well. Most were just trying to help.
But they were just doing was actually attempting to delegitimize my lifestyle choice –– to make me feel that somehow, this way of living that I had selected was not only ultimately wrong, but that it wasn’t real.
As if all this time I had been hustling across a foreign city on two wheels, teaching, working, meeting people, growing as a person and professional, traveling and embarking on new experiences…
… all of it was somehow fake.
I had to learn very quickly not to let these comments, questions and assertions get to me. To take a step back and understand that those who haven’t lived this experience can sometimes have a hard time wrapping their head around a choice that frankly, just didn’t seem possible or desirable to them.
Now, the power of the internet is changing the entire game, as the waves of digital nomads are now scattering themselves around the earth, redefining the work world and demonstrating that these days, your world can be much more vast than your current address would suggest.
It may not be the right lifestyle for everyone, as mentioned above, behind the beautiful Instagram pictures, a fair slew of challenges do come with the territory.
But in the end, wherever you live –– that, is the real world.
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.