Not everyone would think it sane for two people in their thirties to pack up a decade of life, distribute the boxes and furniture to family and friends, and fly to a new country with their cat and a few suitcases. It’s easy to be brave when you dream up a life-change, but actually making it happen felt exhausting, scary, and, at times, insane.
For as long as I can remember, I always feared change. Not surprisingly, it was a shock to many of my closest friends and family that we were leaving Brooklyn, NY for Amsterdam. My husband and I were both at the point where we were focusing so much on the future versions of ourselves, that it was beginning to feel further away the older we became. While our life was something to be grateful for, why did we both feel like we were waiting for this period to pass? Why should we feel like it would pass on its own without any change or risk-taking on our part?
It was time to take a chance. The date was set, the pressure was on, and we had only one job to do… be brave. We quit our jobs, we packed the necessities — cat, sweaters, raincoats, and about as many of my art supplies as possible — arrived to our new home, climbed the absurdly steep staircase — welcome to Amsterdam — and set up shop. Al Stampa, my branding, illustration, and letterpress studio, was finally my full-time endeavor — and had to be our lone source of income for at least a year while my husband completed his Master’s degree here in Holland.
What we’ve found over a year later is without that move, we wouldn’t have learned some of our most valuable life lessons. We chose to pack up a life we loved, for a life we didn’t know existed. We came here to learn trust, strength, and ownership of our life, and a year later gained a new perspective on ourselves and the work that needs to go into finding your path.
Here are the top three things I’ve learned in this exploration.
1. Embracing change lets you see new opportunities
There will always be reasons to put off something you want for yourself. In wanting my dream to make my side hustle my full-time endeavor, something had to change significantly in how we were living and where we were building our life. We leapt from a stable life in New York to one of constant change and uncertainty, and I found I woke up smiling more. Sometimes it’s the little things that show me how far I’ve come. My work bag is full of tools that represent a craft I am proud of. I wake up for something I love, and thankfully am successful at. While I know every year will be a struggle in some regard, this year alone taught me that with determination and passion anything is possible. With so much change all at once, I was looking for opportunity and growth with more openness than I had before. Sometimes fear can have the opposite effect than we think it does… It opened my eyes and ears in order to shape the life we came here for.
2. Confidence is not built in a day
Working as a Creative Director for a couple of large companies, while intimidating at times, was a breeze in comparison to owning my own small business. I would sometimes wake up and think, “Am I good enough?” And then I would quickly tell myself, “Get to work, and you’ll find out!” I made it my mission to pump out work constantly and put myself out there. Someone I admire greatly told me to make the work you wish to be hired for, and that’s exactly what I did. Not only did I begin to create a broader range of styles, but I was also flexing my confidence muscle every single day. It is always a challenge to believe in yourself, but it is worth all the work that goes into it. By practicing my craft, I see progress and believe in what I am doing. Because of this, my work comes from a genuine place, which resonates with my clients. No matter what you choose to take the risk for, if it’s for the right reasons, you will know instantly. Waking up and building something unconventional, like a small business or a career change, is not easy. If you don’t have the passion for it, the stamina will not be there. But if you do, you will be blown away.
3. Big changes don’t erase the hard questions
After a year of being here, the same questions still pop into my head about our life… where should we put down roots? When should we start growing our family? Should we invest in property here? Where is “home”? What’s changed for us is that now that we’ve experienced such a huge risk/change in life, tackling these questions is not as scary because of the faith we have in each other and ourselves. My sister once said to me, “Life is about survival and seeing what your instincts are.” Beyond that, we now know what life should feel like for us, and will strive for that feeling no matter where we live. We are happy even through a year of struggle and simplifying our life together. We went from going to grab cocktails and dinner out in the newest spots of Brooklyn to cooking in every night and tackling our 100 greatest movies list in Amsterdam, and I’m not mad about it! I feel a bit more at ease tackling life’s harder questions and hiccups because my head is in a more productive and fulfilled place. I take more time for myself, my health, and my needs, which is something I was never able to do in our old life.
Ultimately, I’ve learned that what you put in is what you get out. That has as much to do with all of life as it does with our jobs or even our relationships. This type of journey is different for everyone. There will always be rough roads and uncertainty, but with the right state of mind, it is exciting and liberating. While some of life’s bigger questions will always pop up, I have the confidence and openness in place to work towards a successful and happy life. Most importantly, I will not fear change the way I once did, because in change and fear there is freedom.