It was one year ago today that I moved to Portugal and it has been an incredible first year in this new continent, country and culture.
When I first arrived one year ago, I felt nervous. I decided to move to Portugal spontaneously on 3 days' notice, and arrived not knowing a single person here. My first few weeks were rough, as I had no friends, no connection to the local culture and discovered many hard truths about this new place I decided to call home.
When I reflect on my life today, one year later, I feel grateful. Every few days, I notice myself in tears as I realize how much I appreciate the life I have today. The richness of friends and community I have here is unbelievable. What was once foreign has now become familiar to me, as I move through my days with ease and without much friction. I continue to feel inspired on a daily basis by the activities, people, places and so much more.
In my journal this morning, I began to reflect about what worked for me. I moved to a foreign place spontaneously and love my life here. What did I learn?
It would be easy for me to reflect on the beauty of Portugal, and what about the country makes it a desirable destination for me, however in my heart, I feel that any place can be a desirable destination. For each highlight there is a lowlight, in every place. I do believe that anywhere can be magical and inspiring for me, if I choose to make it so.
During one of my first few days here, I did a walking tour of Lisbon. The guide spoke about how the cobblestone streets are dangerous if you walk too fast, which I interpreted as a metaphor for the ethos of Portugal. The streets are a literal reminder to slow down. Most things in Portugal move slowly, by design. It is not a defect, it is intentional.
The way Portugal and Europe operate is different from what I am used to from having lived in North America my entire life. Having the benefit of seeing many expats also move to Portugal, I can see clearly the difference between those who, like me, have a bright smile on their faces and those that have frowns. What makes this difference is the ability to adapt to a new environment, versus the expectation for the environment to adapt to me.
Over the summer, I find myself going swimming in the ocean almost every day. And I have learned first-hand how it is much easier to swim with the current versus against it.
The same goes with bigger choices in life. Picking a country, career, industry, neighborhood, sport or even book that is aligned with the macro momentum and forces is just easier. The infrastructure, support, encouragement, community and resources are abundant when many are going in that direction.
I can now go to a restaurant, a gas station or grocery store and communicate fluently enough in Portuguese without having to rely on any English, and it is thanks to other people helping me practice along the way.
When I know that I am a beginner, my expectations are in check. I do not expect to be really good at something I do not know how to do yet. There is a gentleness that I show myself, and in turn, others show me compassion because they see that I am a beginner. Be it learning a language, a new skill, starting a new job or school year, there is an extra helping hand that shows up when one fully embraces the identity of a beginner.
When I first arrived, I met many digital nomads and upon seeing how uncommitted they were, I told myself ‘I hope I never sound like that’. Within weeks of arriving, I had a local phone number, rented an apartment, bought a car, set up bank accounts and credit cards, registered for insurance and more.
It was clear I had arrived and was living here, not just visiting. The reason I have built such a strong community of friends here is partly because people could see early that I am committed to Portugal, and as a result, I am worth committing to. Once one emotionally commits to something, then everything flows more effortlessly without friction and doubt that often gets in the way.
I maintain two phone numbers and two Whatsapp accounts. My Portuguese Whatsapp is on the first screen of my phone, and my North American Whatsapp is on the last screen of my phone. This example is representative of my willingness to make trade-offs.
Time and attention is limited. There are constraints to how I spend my time. A conscious trade-off I made when moving to Portugal was to prioritize my integration into a new environment over growing my North American connections. This is seen by the fact that I check my North American Whatsapp less frequently, and am far more responsive on my Portuguese Whatsapp. I have severely limited my travel outside of Portugal over the past year and as a result, am around and more available to my new connections, which is needed at the start to build a foundation.
I share these reflections from the perspective of moving to a new country, however they apply just as well to moving into a new industry or professional career, moving into a new neighborhood or friends group, or moving into a new phase of life or relationship.
These moments of big change on the outside are invitations for big change on the inside.
The qualities of being open to adapt, swimming with the current, identifying as a beginner, emotionally committing and a willingness to make trade-offs are the keys to success in building a life that is constantly changing and inspiring for me.
I could spend all of my energy trying to rearrange the outside world to my liking, and get frustrated as it will be ineffective. Or I could focus on rearranging my inside world, and find that I am in flow with the outside world and it is now to my liking.
If you told me one year ago that my morning today would involve celery juice, practicing Portuguese and going for a swim in the ocean, I would have laughed at you. I cannot even try to imagine what my morning one year from today might look like…