Last week, I got offered a work exchange in Ollantaytambo, Peru. I’d been contacted by a retreat center, and it wasn’t out of the blue, but I’d sort of forgotten that I’d reached out to them on a particularly cold, get-me-out-of-this-hemisphere week. Prior to that, I’d been mulling over whether I should return to Thailand to teach English (I’m a certified ESL teacher and teaching in SE Asia is a pretty stellar way to save money for future adventures), but also been toying with the idea of Peru because during the summer I’d had a vision of being in the sacred Incan valley during a life purpose meditation. Both were equally tempting, Thailand for the future travels it opened up, as well as the opportunity to teach English, and Peru because I’d spent an entire year letting my controlling ex-partner talk me out of it, who I’d broken up with in 2014. Both options seemed like great ways for me to solidify that I was done letting someone else run my life.
…but there was a decision to be made. And very little time…
It suddenly hit me as I mulled over the options- the work exchange was in March, the Thai school year started in the spring. I’d need to leave in early March for either one, and it was nearly February. Not only did I have to decide, I needed to decide NOW, or risk losing the Peru opportunity, missing my window to start looking for teaching jobs Thailand, or at least costing myself an arm and a leg on last minute airfare. There’s nothing like trying to decide how the next several months of ones life should go in a few days time to make your mind start racing.
Aaaaah, panic, how to choose? What If I decide the wrong one? What if….
I need an off switch for my brain. Because no matter how hard I thought on it, I couldn’t decide on a continent. Both options sounded amazing. There also wasn’t a possibility of doing both, which I considered- one way tickets between Peru and Thailand were upwards of $2000, slightly out of my price range if I wanted to have any sort of travel funds left, and March was the month I’d need to be in both.
Seriously, how does one decide something like that in less than a week?
Let me tell you about how not to decide. Don’t decide by making three pages of pros and cons, pages in a notebook with the heading Peru vs. Thailand. Trust me, I tried. Peru won in the language department- I can speak enough words of Spanish to get by, and had been working on my Spanish to land a few ESL jobs. Thai language makes my head spin, even after having spent four months working there (link) my mouth still cannot form half the sounds in the language, nor did I master the weird tonal nature that makes the word “ma” mean four different things depending on whether you say it with a falling or rising accent and how long you hold the syllable.
But, Thailand won in the practicality department- I already had all the skills and knowledge I needed to navigate SE Asia, and if I stayed long enough I could sack away enough money to put a down payment on a new car. Peru on the other hand won in the “places I can’t get out of my head” department. I’d already done SE Asia. Thailand won in the food department, because while I had no intentions of ever trying the Peruvian tourist delicacy of roasted Guinea pig, I’d spent the last year daydreaming about quail eggs and my favorite Thai fruits from the last trip.
So how did I end up deciding?
Accidentally, at the counter of a store-and-lock, where I was setting up a rental unit to put my things in while I was away. “Can I set up autopay?” I asked the clerk, “I’m going to be out of the country.” I continued filling out the absurd amount of personal information that is required to put a carload of boxes in a glorified closet, and she casually asked where I was going. And there, standing at the counter, my mind too busy copying my driver’s license number onto the form to overthink, without even the slightest hesitation I answered.
“Peru. I’m going to Peru.”
When it came out of my mouth, I felt the kind of calm confidence I’d felt about the best decisions in my life. I knew in that moment I wasn’t going back to Thailand to teach (even though in my bizarre life a trip to Thailand somehow has become the ‘financially responsible’ choice), I was going to accept the unpaid position at the retreat center in Ollantaytambo, which really offered me no practical gain. Because I wanted to. Yes, there was no longer a question- as soon as I said it out loud, I knew it was right. My brain had been so occupied with paperwork that I stopped thinking and my intuition spoke instead.
This is the dilemma of head vs. heart I often find myself in. My head really likes quantifiable reasons, words, checklists, knowing. But life can’t be broken down into lists, or even rationality. Sure, those things are a useful foundation. But when it comes down to it, the best decisions are when we don’t choose based on practicality, but when we choose the things we can’t stop thinking about, the passions that light us up, the risks our rational brain talks us out of. No part of my brain ever would have told me to go to Thailand just because I wanted to see fireflies, or spent a month off the grid in Northern California, or quitting my corporate job to spend a year working with youth as an Americorp volunteer, but I chose those things with my heart, and they were exactly what my soul needed. Our head likes knowing, but sometimes the unknowable is where the best stuff is waiting. And sometimes we just have to leap.
Soooo, since I have so many delightfully wise readers I learn a lot from I’d like to pose a question. There’s a saying- if it doesn’t scare you a little bit, you aren’t dreaming big enough. What part of your life would you like to tune into your intuition a little bit more and take some heart centered risks? How do you find your intuition under all the brain chatter?