Around a year ago this time, I started mentally preparing myself for “repatriating” back to the United States – that is, coming back home for good after being abroad for two years. I Googled and read articles talking about the dark side of repatriation (I’m not sure how I read this article anymore seeing as how I’ve never subscribed to WSJ) and I worried about how difficult it would be for me and my nostalgic self to ever stop missing my life in Asia.
Turns out it was a lot easier than expected – at first. I bounced around on couches and Airbnbs for two months in New York while I figured out whether or not to quit my job. I moved home to Chicago to hang out with my grandparents. I networked and job-searched, blogged and soul-searched. Found a job (not sure about the soul, though), and moved down to Chicago. And so here we are.
Through that period, feelings of nostalgia ebbed and flowed – but things were changing frequently enough that I was constantly distracted. Now that I’m settled in downtown, it’s suddenly hit me that maybe, missing Asia isn’t what I should have feared (although honestly, that still does hurt quite deeply some days).
I wish I’d been prepared for what it would be like to feel restless amidst stability.
For all those times in Asia that I’d wished I had a home I could decorate, friends I wouldn’t leave, a club I might join for good – for all those times I’d wished for stability and longevity and business as usual-ty, I find myself now constantly wondering these two dangerous words: “What’s next?”
Dangerous because they take away from gratitude for the present, from appreciation for my current state. And it’s not about about my new job, which is fun, or about Chicago, which I adore. It’s not even about being back in America – and it’s definitely not the travel bug (if you know me well, you’d know that I actually hate the word ‘wanderlust’ with a passion).
No, it’s because, for the first time in my life, there is no clear “next” – I could be in Chicago for two years or twenty, and I have literally no idea right now what that means. It’s not the not knowing itself that terrifies me; that in itself is, I think, liberating. But this restless feeling IS worrisome: I’ve been in Chicago all of four months and already worrying about my “What’s Next.” What if I can never actually feel 100% settled because I’ll always be wondering what comes after? What if I’m one of those people who complain that they can’t find The One (city, not soulmates) because I’m too busy looking for something…different?
I’ve written before that I – humans, really – have a tendency to always want more. I always thought it would be in relation to what I wanted, not to where I lived. This is the dark side of repatriation that I never considered: I got so used to having an expiration date for my location that I don’t quite know what to do without it. I feel lost and somewhat anxious; I’m disappointed at myself that I’m so easily entranced by all the “What if’s” rather than that “What is’s.”
Here’s to accepting that it’s okay to not know, that it’s okay to stay somewhere a while – or not. Here’s to facing the “dark side” of repatriation with the “bright side” of being thankful to even know what that word means. Here’s to not living in the past, not even living in the future – but living as hard as I can for the present.