I’m not sure the journey ahead we envisaged at the moment we decided to return to Ireland. But I’ve no doubt that what has happened since has been – paradoxically – a wandering path (variously sideways, backward, forward) and yet, at the same time, the fastest way to where we are now that we could have found.
The decision was over three years ago, as we basked in an extended Irish summer holiday from Sydney. I can still recall, at that moment of decision, the physical feeling of anticipation at embarking on such a massive life change. I’m pretty sure I had been carried away with the excitement of telling friends and family that we were coming ‘home’. I have since been defining, and redefining, what my understanding of home is. But one thing I have learned is it is not a geographical location, but something so much more nuanced That moment of decision was, for me at least, a rare time of heart dominating head. But there has been many more since and I like it. The head always has its place in the planning and the doing.
It’s hard to fathom just how much that gut call has impacted our lives since then. The ripple effect has been both outward and, most profoundly, inward.
I’ve got this theory now about challenges. I divide them into two categories – straight line problems and problems of discovery. Straight line problems are simple to solve. There is a specific destination or outcome that is easy to define before you even start out. Insurance, cost of living, bank accounts and all those questions every returning emigrant asks are straight-line challenges. Decide what you want. Plan. Do it. Finish. There is no special skill required here. Nothing to learn. Find the answers and act. No special courage, just common sense.
Then there are questions of discovery. You cannot define in advance what success, or finished, is. Perhaps you have a vague idea of what you need or want. Or maybe you’re 100% sure – that you’re just not happy with the current situation. But you’ve no clear definition of the alternates. You’re not even sure whether ‘the end’ is better than the beginning – even if you reach it. The grass is not always greener. What to do in that situation? It is not just a question, but a dilemma.
And it’s curious to me that the dominant questions from people who are thinking about returning are straight-line. It makes sense. Others can help you with quick answers to the big logistic challenges – jobs, housing, schools, insurance, bank accounts. The external stuff.
The answers to these questions must be answered but they won’t give you the answer to the dilemmas of discovery. You will find comfort and security and you will need them both. But you won’t find happiness.
Sorting out logistics is a given, particularly returning from an easy or cheap lifestyle to a perceived difficult and often expensive country. These factors will determine if you can even make the move. But they are not the determinants of happiness. Nobody needs to move anywhere to discover answers to those questions. Although the move will help you question everything you think you know about what’s important.
It was the same for us. Moving probably began as an external search for adventure, if not further happiness. Quickly, we got busy resolving and settling issues in the world outside of ourselves – as you must to provide security. But the unforeseen theme of our move has become the journey inside that it has prompted. The journey outside is done within a year or two.
There are challenges that must be overcome. Do it. But keep your mind on the vision you imagined when you decided to move. And keep your good eye out for the opportunities that you could not foresee. They are there, waiting for you to open yourself to them.
Do you find yourself asking “Will I be happy moving?” Maybe the question to ask is this. “Will a move make me happy or will my happiness make the move?” I know it has become the latter for me. We were fortunate and happy in Australia – it truly is a lucky country. To use the old Aussie expression, we had it ‘too easy’. The two and half years since we returned have challenged us and forced me to grow more than the entire 16 years in Sydney. That’s what I needed at this time. When I went to Sydney my needs were something else – to appreciate a different life, a new perspective and be exposed to a world of possibility outside Ireland. Each move has served us well and I love both countries for it. We are returned and again grateful to Ireland for nurturing the next phase of our lives. Everything that happens comes to us for a reason.
So, for any dilemma of discovery, I have learned there is never a straight line you can map from where you are to where you want to go. Each step on the path only appears as you place each foot forward. It’s a messy squiggly line with (I hope for you too) an overall upward trend of wellbeing and personal growth.
Moving ‘home’ is not easier than emigrating. It is arguably harder. When we emigrate the first time, our new country is a blank canvas on which we can paint. We have no story. Nothing to uphold or maintain. We can become our true selves uninhibited.
Our return involves a canvas with blurred lines. We have a Story. One we may try to continue to write but perhaps we should detach from. We risk trying to redraw a picture that can never be restored. Expectations – ours and others – burden us. They slow down the change process necessary to make this work.
Throw the canvas away and start a new page.
James is founder of ANewDawninIreland.com – a resource for returning emigrants or those coming to Ireland for the first time. A New Dawn in Ireland is the first blended online and offline training/coaching programme to inspire and help people create their ideal life in Ireland. He is also founder of The Wellbeing Gym and creator of the MAP model for personal wellbeing and peak performance.
All views expressed on this page are exclusively those of the contributor.