Why You'll Only Regret The Things You Don't Do And Never The Things You've Done

by Mary

After college, when the majority of my friends and classmates were entering the “real” world with “real” jobs lined up, I packed my bags (well, over-packed them) and moved to Toulouse, France to teach English for the year.

Although I was going alone and didn’t know a single person in the city where I'd be living, I was determined to attend Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany before starting my adventure in France.

So, my copious amounts of luggage and I ended up couchsurfing (staying on the couch of a total stranger) with a German guy. I spent Oktoberfest with him, other couchsurfers and random people we met along the way. Even though I spent the weekend with complete strangers, those few days will go down some of the best of my life.

After those wild, insanely fun Oktoberfest shenanigans came to an end, I headed to France, where I had to find an apartment, set up a bank account and get a cell phone contract all on my own with no tools beyond my rusty, high school French. (Believe me, France does not make this stuff easy for foreigners!)

Not knowing a soul, this process seemed scary and intimidating (and I learned that the Internet can be your best friend when it comes to making friends in a foreign country). However, I ended up having such an incredible time that I decided to go back for a second year.

More recently, after completing my master’s degree in Paris, I once again packed my bags and, relying on some money I had saved up, moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to try to find a job. Living in Brazil had been my dream for a while and I was dead-set on somehow making it happen.

Many people thought I was crazy for doing it, but I never once doubted my decision. “Are you moving for a boyfriend?” Nope. “Do you know anyone there?” Nope.

While some people are more practical, I have always been entirely heart-driven; if I have an urge to do something, I simply make it happen.

I knew that moving to Brazil without a work visa or a job was maybe not the most practical choice, but I also knew that if I didn’t give it a shot, I would have regretted the choice forever and would have wondered for the rest of my life what could have been.

I like to live by the famous Mark Twain quote, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

While in the time I’ve been abroad, my friends back home have advanced in their careers, gotten married and settled down, at 27 years old, I am just now trying to start my career. Even though I am behind the majority of people my age, I am so happy that I made the choices I did. I gained irreplaceable life experiences (while also having the time of my life).

I know that I can move to a foreign country, without knowing a soul – and I will be okay. I have become even more independent than I used to be; while I prefer to share experiences with friends, I also feel totally comfortable doing things on my own.

I see the US (and the world) differently than I used to. I understand the good and the bad of my home country and now see the weird and unique aspects I never used to notice or once took for granted.

I have friends all around the world. I now speak nearly fluent French and Portuguese, which would probably not have been the case had I stayed in the US and taken the same path as most people my age.

Over the years, so many people have told me that they envy me for my abroad experiences. Here's the thing: If I can do it, anyone can do it. You just have to be willing to take a leap of faith.

It's not just in life that we should "sail away from the safe harbor," but in our careers, as well. So many people stay put in careers that do not fulfill them, challenge them or make them happy. They choose the professions that their parents wanted for them instead of what they really desire.

Sure, choosing the less secure occupation or leaving your career and starting something new is a scary and risky choice. However, if you never take that plunge, you will probably always wonder “what if…?” and remain stuck in a job that does not truly satisfy you.

If you are passionate about what you do, you will be more motivated to do a better job. It's a win-win situation.

Whether in regards to your life, your career or your relationship, it is so important to follow your intuition and take risks. Your intuition is there to guide you.

I’ve found that oftentimes, the things that scare us end up being the most worthwhile. Think of it this way: When you’re 90 years old, what do you think you will regret more: traveling the world or being cooped up in an office job that you despise?

Step outside of your comfort zone, whether it’s one small step or one gigantic leap. Take that belly-dancing class you were always too nervous to try. What’s the worst that could happen?

Scared of heights? Go skydiving. Book a trip around the world and travel for six months... or a year. If you hate your job, quit; find one that fulfills you. If you want to move abroad, do it.

Don’t make excuses. Sure, it’s easier said than done. But, life is just too short to not do the things you want to do – and there is no better time to start than during your 20s.

Hey, if nothing else, you will probably get some killer stories out of it… I know I did.

Photo credit: Pink Bike