Introducing our newest writer, Allyn Potts. She’s a lover of Dauschunds, books, and her life as an Idiot Abroad.
After waking up in my beautiful (albeit noisy) apartment in Milan one of my first thoughts is always: Okay Allyn, today, don’t be an asshole.
By noon, I’ve almost always failed. Okay Allyn, you’re an asshole. Why are you being an asshole?
My response is always something along the lines of: Because I can’t help it. Just leave me alone.
I’ve always done precisely what I wanted to do. From high school on I was lucky enough to be self-confident (most of the time), with nice friends and a loving family and a pretty enough face and decent soccer skills and a good report card.
I was handed everything in life that mattered (thank you Mom and Dad), in particular the expectation to work my ass off to get to where I wanted to go, and the notion that that end goal could be anything, anywhere I could become precisely the person I wanted to be. I was encouraged, and had the balls, to develop a sense of self and a set of dreams. A blatant I-don’t-give-a-fuck in the face of pressure from my peers, and perhaps a twisted egotistical desire to be different, sealed the deal.
And so, the facts:
I played competitive soccer for ten years before deciding virtually overnight that I wanted to quit (throwing what seemed like a lifetime, and probably a lifetime’s worth of my parents’ savings, down the drain).
I graduated early from high school to volunteer (and also party) in Medellin. I studied Global Development in college while everyone else was doing business (because why not?) and then said fuck it and got a job at an investment bank in NYC.
I quit said job 12 months later (after 11 months of planning my swift exit from the real world) and up and moved to Barcelona to go back to school (and also party), taking on a shitload of debt to do so (because again, why not?).
I left a wonderful man after four years together along with any and all plans I might have had for the future (I wanted to move there? And do that? What was I thinking?!).
And after falling in love with life in Europe and the people I met along the way, I against all odds landed a job in Italy at a random company in a new industry without a European passport, Italian fluency (okay, not even proficiency), or any idea what the fuck I was doing.
Why? Because I wanted to.
The good: I believe that I can do almost anything I set my mind to.
The bad: I believe that I can do almost anything I set my mind to.
The ugly: After all this time, I’m not quite sure if this is a gift or a curse.
Because I’ve always done precisely what I wanted to do. And most times it feels like I’m living a dream, but other times it feels like it is still never enough, will never be enough.
And seeing it this way is what makes me an asshole.
Let’s take my normal day here.
I wake up relatively late, in my spot on Matt’s shoulder if I’m lucky. I look at a magnificent old church out the window of my kitchen while I make coffee using my Moka (and feeling very Italian while doing so). I walk leisurely down the street to an old pasticceria where I get a cappuccino (because why not?) and a brioche (or two) while reading Harry Potter in Italian, just for the joy of it. I then ride my bike along the Darsena and the Naviglio to work, feeling hip and cool in my sneakers along the way, where I don’t do much and if I do do something it’s interesting and I’m good at it and I wonder how I got so lucky to get this job and my visa, together my tickets to a new life; I pat myself on the back because I get the satisfaction of knowing I quit my last job for good reason. I take an hour break for lunch, perhaps walking around and enjoying and feeling at home in my new city, or sitting with the new friends I made at work eating delicious Italian food, or reading my book again because I feel like it, or venturing a bit to see the love of my life who works around the corner.
Before I know it it’s time to leave the office, and I leave work there, and enjoy the sunset on my way to meet Matt for aperitivo in a beautiful setting you can’t find anywhere else but in Italy. We plan our next weekend trip to Lake Como and I think for the millionth time — how lucky am I, that I am his, that he is mine, that I love him so much, that we are here, together? — before I head to my best friends’ apartment for dinner. Before I go to bed I read a bit more and call my parents in the States, and they can hear in my voice how happy I am to be there, how content I am with my choice, how I’m far but don’t feel at all alone.
On a normal day here, I can’t imagine being anywhere else, living any way else, alongside anyone else. I remember the fight I fought, Matt fought, my family fought, my friends fought, to get me here. I remember the crippling fear I felt thinking my plan would fall through, which was proof of my absolute certainty that I was making the right decision in moving abroad. I never doubted for a second my choice to get here, because it was what I wanted, and I’m me, I fight to get what I want.
Let’s take my off day here.
I wake up at 5am after having a nightmare, alone in an apartment that is not yet home; my suitcases, which carried all of my worldly belongings here just a few months ago, are still in the corner of the room. I look at my ceiling as I wait for a reasonable hour to come (and feel very stupid while doing so). I walk to the Carrefour Express to grab something to eat for lunch later that day, because I know I will eat alone while reading Harry Potter in Italian, just for the distraction of it. I then ride my bike along the Darsena and the Naviglio to work, bumping into people and getting yelled at in Italian along the way, where I don’t do much and if I do do something it’s stressful and I suck at it and I wonder what the hell I was thinking when I moved here and took this job and I kick myself because I get a sick feeling of doubt at the pit of my stomach that I quit my last job and took this one for the wrong reasons. I take an hour break for lunch, usually wandering around aimlessly and feeling like a total stranger in my new city, or sitting alone because I can’t make friends at work, eating food from the snack machine across the street where I’m pretty sure homeless people take shelter, or pretending to read my book when really I’m just trying my best not to cry and let my mind go down its dark stupid spiral, wanting badly to see the love of my life who is busy working around the corner (and otherwise enjoying being oblivious or at least at a safe distance from my problems).
It feels like it will never be time to leave the office, and I take all the stress and frustration and worry of work home with me, and barely notice the sunset on my way to eat a sad dinner of vegetables at home alone. Matt calls and we talk about our stressful days at work and I think for the millionth time — how scary is this, that I am his, that he is mine, that I love him so much, that I came here partly because of him, and he came here partly because of me, because what if I don’t make him as happy as he thought I would? — before I retire to my room. Before I go to bed I read a bit more and call my parents in the States, but they don’t answer because they’re busy at work, and I’m secretly glad they don’t, because they would be able to hear in my voice how terrified I am to be there, how confused I am with my choice, how I’m far and feel all alone.
I tell myself, it’s science, isn’t it? That I remember more vividly and give more weight to my few shitty (but normal) off days rather than the many pinch-me-this-can’t-be-real-
When I don’t want to feel like an asshole, I tell myself yes, it’s just because you’re human.
When I feel strong enough to admit the truth, however, I recognize that this is a flaw of mine.
Since I can do whatever I want, I always have to try to define what exactly it is that I want; and since I can do anything I set my mind to, I can’t admit that where I am is where I want to be. Because doing that would mean I stop the engine that has kept me going until now, the one that got me here, the one that made, and makes, me who I am.
But if the engine never stops, what then? I remain perpetually discontent and dissatisfied with myself and my accomplishments, always focusing on what I’ve yet to achieve and discounting all the things I’ve already done? Is the end goal that I end up in a new job and a new city with a new group of friends every year for the next ten years, just to say that I wanted to, and I could, and I did?
In New York, my heart wasn’t where it wanted to be. Perfect city, perfect boyfriend, perfect job. Just not perfect for me. Trying to help my heart out, my mind analyzed all that was lacking in my current situation and fast forwarded to a “perfect” next step that would in fill the gaps and then mobilized my resources to get my ass there. (Barcelona, you did not disappoint.)
One year later, though, here in Milan, things are different. My heart is finally, at least for now, where it wants to be. City, boyfriend, job, friends. All of them right for me.
But then an off day (or afternoon, hour, minute) comes and my mind kicks into overdrive and, out of habit, rushes to analyze all that is lacking in my current situation and fast forwards to a next step that would in fill the gaps.
The good: my mind encounters my happy heart and doesn’t find much lacking after all, at least not with the stuff that matters.
The bad: it doesn’t give up and acquiesce. It creates the problems it can’t readily find and magnifies the ones that I’ve already labeled transient or petty and brushed aside. It pushes the good moments to the background and brings the off ones to loom in the front. It breeds doubt and frustration and an itch to act (and who am I to blame it, because these are the very thought processes that helped me make a change and get to where I am today).
The ugly: Eventually my mind tricks my heart and I start to believe that yes, something is missing; yes, I need a change.
I downward spiral. Small things become the end of the world. “Oh shit, I said ‘buona sera’ instead of ‘buona serata’” becomes OMG I am an outsider and so far from home and will never make friends and will never learn Italian and will never, ever feel comfortable here, what was I thinking?. Getting constructive feedback at work becomes OMG they hate me and I am worthless and they will fire me within the month and this will all have been for nothing and what in the world will I do when I am deported?. Matt being stressed at work becomes OMG he must hate me and I don’t make him happy anymore and I will lose him and why would anyone ever love me, anyways, shouldn’t I just do him a favor and tell him to leave me now?
Today I am of the opinion that this weakness makes me a complete and total asshole.
I’m lucky. Because what we can’t change is whether our hearts are in the right place. But we can recognize and adapt to and outgrow and slowly change our nasty habits of mind, so that our thoughts help us out instead of sabotage; clear the noise instead of create it; let us see the good instead of the bad and the ugly; help us see what’s important and what’s not, what we can control and what we cannot, what we can change and what we can and should not. So that our thoughts can better listen to our instincts and our hearts and pinpoint when we are content to be on the paths that we’re on, and when we really would be better off, on a fundamental level, changing direction.
No matter how happy I am, part of me will always wonder if I should be doing something different, if I do or should be wanting something else or something more, if I do or should be wanting to be something else or live somewhere else. This facet of my identity has its benefits — it makes me ambitious, gives me dreams, makes me reflect on what the hell I’m doing and why, and in this way helps me grow.
But I’m just now starting to learn that there is a difference between settling (giving up on your hopes and dreams for a different or better life or future) and accepting that where you are right now in this very moment is where you should be in this very moment — while still hoping and dreaming.
This is a recent revelation. Until now, because I’ve never settled and because I am so happy now, my brain put two and two together and in an effort to connect the dots concluded, based on my experience, that refusing to be content leads to happiness and satisfaction while being content leads to unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
Now I believe that this logic is oversimplified at best and flawed at worst. If you feel like you’re on the wrong path, don’t settle. Make a change. I did this one year ago and never looked back.
But if you do feel as though you’re on the right path, revel in it. Take the off days not as a sign that you’re living the wrong life but for what they are (after all, if they’re “off,” it means you usually consider your days are usually “on”). Don’t let go of your ambitions or goals or hopes for the future, because without them life would be boring as hell and the future bleak. Know that none of us is perfectly happy to be who we are, right now, today; we should always strive to grow and improve and cross things off our lists.
Of course I wonder what else is out there, what could be next. But I am young. And heading in the right direction is good enough. I can be content in the moment while still knowing that in the grander scheme of things, I am not settling. Because settling isn’t in my nature.
And until now, until this very piece that is part confession and part promise to myself, trusting that I’m on the right track — which allows me to relax a bit in the here and now, and take the off days for what they are — wasn’t in my nature either.
It’s nearly noon.
Today I refuse to fail.
Allyn, you’re not being an asshole. Why aren’t you being an asshole?
Today my response is: Because I can help it. And don’t leave me alone until I learn how.
I’ve always done precisely what I wanted to do. And sometimes it feels like it is still never enough, will never be enough.
But most times it feels like I’m living a dream.
And choosing to see it this way is what makes me a little bit less of an asshole.