I’ve been living back in the US for just over a year now. It has been an interesting transition. After living abroad for a few years some things look really different when you return. It’s like going back to your childhood home and finding the huge hill you used to ride your bike up is nothing more than a bump.
One of the biggest differences is the lack of free time. The pace of life is so different. When you run into a friend in Panama it’s easy to chat for as long as you like (sometimes too easy, when Rum is involved). Here I feel everyone is always in a rush. I sometimes find myself wanting people to get to the point, because I have other things to do. This bothers me. That is not how I want to interact with others.
So I try to cultivate a Panama pace when I can. I consciously remember that I am drenched in abundance. I have a car, a cell phone, electricity and running water in my house. It was not long ago these things would make me the wealthiest person on the planet. In fact just a few generations ago I would have been branded a witch for having such luxury.
The opportunities we have in the US are great. Great that is until they become a burden. And the problem is that most people don’t realize that they are a burden. It takes some perspective to see things clearly sometimes.
When we first came back to the US we immersed ourselves in the “opportunities” we had missed. Our kids were taking soccer, gymnastics, music lessons, cross-country running, science club, Spanish Club. Holy Crap! I went from a guy who sat in a hammock reading books (after surfing of course) to a rat sprinting on a wheel.
In Panama it helps the local economy when you hire locals to do your chores. It was an adjustment to get used to but as a “rich gringo” people can be offended if you decide to do your own lawn care or house work. So after a short time you find yourself with no chores and oodles of free time. I remember many times being frustrated when I was unable to find a piece of clothing I was looking for, until I finally found it – clean, folded, and put away. How novel, my stuff is actually where it belongs.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some serious advantages here too. I just read this post from a friend of mine living in Panama
“Gah! Nearly two weeks and still no working fridge. Gosh, I forgot how unreliable repairmen are. Another no-show today”
I don’t have to deal with the Mañana culture when it comes to repairmen and that’s nice.
But to adjust to the pace in the US we have cut back on the extra curricular activities and try to cultivate free time. It can be challenging with the level of maintenance required. Either I work at maintaining or I work to earn money to pay someone else to maintain for me. Neither are great.
The best thing to do is to constantly simplify, so there are less things in life demanding your attention. No car payments, a renter in the basement paying half the mortgage, less after school activities for the kids, pay off debt etc.
With a little focus it is possible to create some space in your life. And one of the best things you can do to get that focus is try living somewhere with a slower pace of life for a while. If you try it you may stay permanently like Coley, or you may come back with new perspective on life, well-rounded kids and a focus on creating a better lifestyle.
Either way it is a great experience.