My husband and I were heading back to Denver from Rome where we had been searching for housing and a school for our two young children for a move we had dreamed about for years. Yet the jubilance I expected to feel was nowhere to be found and instead, in its place was a growing dread.
I was terrified. I no longer wanted to move to Rome and I sure in the hell didn’t want to break the news to my husband.
The dreaming and scheming had started years earlier when my then boyfriend (now husband) and I had lived in Rome for a semester and vowed to move back someday. But now that “someday” had arrived, I balked. I had tons of “good” reasons for balking (the dog was too old to move, the kids too young… my Italian too limited… the job too travel-heavy… the city too crowded… the school too unpredictable…) but all the reasons stemmed from the same place – fear of the unknown and unknowable.
So I said no to the dream, choosing the easier path of staying put in our comfortable, knowable lives in Denver.
Six years later, I sat on another airplane waiting for take off. This time, I was heading back to Denver from Fiji, on the last leg of a yearlong trip around the world in which I traveled through 31 countries with my husband and two children.
As this plane took off, I was filled with something lighter: an ambivalence that incorporated my appreciation for all that we had seen and done, my joy in heading home to see family and friends after a year away and my sadness in knowing that the door of our extended time together was closing.
The dreaming and scheming for this trip had started a couple of months after the flight home from Rome when my husband had made a simple request after I said no to moving to Rome. He asked that we come up with a new dream to replace the one we were abandoning. One I could say yes to.
Brene Brown says, “regret is a fair but tough teacher” and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I feel like a bit of an expert when it comes to regret given that the noise inside my head is often based on this particular emotion.
And I did regret saying no to Rome. Every. Single. Day. But months of beating myself up about it wasn’t resolving anything. I was both mad and sad I had caused our family to miss out on the opportunity to live in Rome. But I was also relieved. Which made the argument in my head all the more interesting… and circular.
It was time to stop the noise, grieve the dream and move on.
When I thought about what I regretted it was experiencing new things together as a family, learning about another culture and getting out of our comfort zone.
Committing to figuring out how to travel around the world together as a family for a year clicked all of those “regret” boxes, plus a few more. So that’s what we did. We committed to taking a year’s sabbatical and traveling around the world.
At the time we created the new dream, we didn’t know when, where, or how we would do it, but we did know why.
What I learned in saying no to Rome is that there is no easy way to risk-proof anything. I learned that running away from fear didn’t quiet the faultfinder who lives in my head – it just changed her tune.
I also learned there is a way to avoid the vortex of regret by finding a way to say yes to the things that excite and energize you even though they feel risky.
Risk doesn’t have to be as big as moving to Rome or a trip around the world. It can be as simple as encouraging your child to apply (and then, sigh… go) to a college far from home or quitting your job to start your own business. The simple truth is, no matter the risk, running towards something that feels good rather than away from fear is the only way I’ve found to make choices that aren’t necessarily easy, but are regret free.