When James Parnell and his family decided to return to Ireland from Australia three years ago they ticked off the checklist of any returning emigrant – jobs, housing, schools, bank accounts.
But, says James, it was the unexpected emotional journey accompanying the move that blindsided him.
I’m not sure how we envisaged the journey when we decided to return to Ireland. But I’ve no doubt that what has happened since has been a wandering path (variously sideways, backward, forward) and yet, at the same time, the fastest way to where we are now that we could have found.
That decision was made over three years ago, as we basked in an extended Irish summer holiday from Sydney.
I can still recall, at that moment of decision, the physical feeling of anticipation at embarking on such a massive life change. I’m pretty sure we had been carried away with the excitement of telling friends and family that we were coming ‘home’.
One thing I have learned is that home is not a geographical location, but something so much more nuanced.
I have since been defining, and redefining, what my understanding of home is. But one thing I have learned is it is not a geographical location, but something so much more nuanced. That moment of decision was, for me at least, a rare time of heart dominating head.
It’s hard to fathom just how much that gut call has impacted our lives since then. The ripple effect has been both outward and, most profoundly, inward.
I’ve got this theory now about challenges. I divide them into two categories – straight line problems and problems of discovery. Straight line problems are simple to solve. There is a specific destination or outcome that is easy to define before you even start out. Insurance, cost of living, bank accounts and all those questions every returning emigrant asks are straight-line challenges.
Decide what you want. Plan. Do it. Finish. There is no special skill required here. Nothing to learn. Find the answers and act. No special courage, just common sense.
The dominant questions from people who are thinking about returning are straight-line – jobs, housing etc. But they are not the determinants of happiness.
Then there are questions of discovery. You cannot define in advance what success, or finished, is. Perhaps you have a vague idea of what you need or want. Or maybe you’re 100% sure – maybe it is that you’re just not happy with the current situation.
But you’ve no clear definition of the alternates. You’re not even sure whether ‘the end’ is better than the beginning – even if you reach it. The grass is not always greener. What to do in that situation? It is not just a question, but a dilemma.
The dominant questions from people who are thinking about returning are straight-line. It makes sense. Others can help you with quick answers to the big logistic challenges – jobs, housing, schools, insurance, bank accounts. The external stuff.
Sorting out logistics is a given, particularly returning from an easy/cheap lifestyle to a perceived difficult/expensive country. These factors will determine if you can even make the move. But they are not the determinants of happiness. Nobody needs to move anywhere to discover answers to those questions.
Maybe the question to ask is this. “Will a move make me happy or will my happiness make the move?”
It was the same for us. Moving probably began as an external search for adventure, if not further happiness. Quickly, we got busy resolving and settling issues in the world outside of ourselves. But the unforeseen theme of our move has become the journey inside it has prompted. Be ready for the longer term challenges that must be overcome.
Do you find yourself asking “Will I be happy moving?”
Maybe the question to ask is this. “Will a move make me happy or will my happiness make the move?” I know it has become the latter for me. We were fortunate and happy in Australia – it truly is a lucky country.
To use the old Aussie expression, we had it ‘too easy’. The two and half years since we returned have challenged us and forced me to grow more than the entire 16 years in Sydney.
When I went to Sydney my needs were something else – to appreciate a different life, a new perspective and be exposed to a world of possibility outside Ireland. Each move has served us well and I love both countries for it. We are returned and again grateful to Ireland for nurturing the next phase of our lives. Everything that happens comes to us for a reason.
When we emigrate the first time, our new country is a blank canvas on which we can paint. Our return involves a canvas with blurred lines.
So, for any dilemma of discovery, I have learned there is never a straight line you can map from where you are to where you want to go. Each step on the path only appears as you place each foot forward. It’s a messy squiggly line with (I hope for you too) an overall upward trend of wellbeing and personal growth.
Moving ‘home’ is not easier than emigrating. It is arguably harder. When we emigrate the first time, our new country is a blank canvas on which we can paint. We have no story. Nothing to uphold or maintain. We can become our true selves uninhibited.
Our return involves a canvas with blurred lines. We have a Story. One we may try to continue to write but perhaps we should detach from. We risk trying to redraw a picture that can never be restored. Expectations – ours and others – burden us. They slow down the change process necessary to make this work.
Throw the canvas away and start a new page.
Other great articles from James:
About the Author
James Parnell is founder of ANewDawninIreland.com – a resource for returning emigrants or those coming to Ireland for the first time. A New Dawn in Ireland is the first blended online and offline training/coaching programme to inspire and help people create their ideal life in Ireland.
James is also founder of The Wellbeing Gym and creator of the MAP model for personal wellbeing and peak performance. The Wellbeing Gym provides online, offline and blended life design, self-leadership, performance and productivity training programmes to individuals and businesses.