Initially, I had no choice about studying Spanish in middle school. During our seventh grade year, we went on six, six-week rotations of all the related arts subjects (art, home economics, metal shop, music, Spanish, and wood shop). In eighth grade, we got to pick one of those subjects to study all year. I chose Spanish – and my love affair with the language began. I added four more years of high school Spanish to what I had begun in eighth grade.
I knew we couldn’t afford for me to be an exchange student when I was in high school, so I resolved to study abroad during college. I made an appointment with the study abroad counselors shortly after arriving at Princeton, so I could begin the process. I continued taking classes beyond the minimum foreign language requirement to improve my conversational and written skills. But I never followed through, and I graduated four years later without seeing all those wonderful cities I first learned about as a 13-year old.
Not taking advantage of the opportunity to study abroad was my big regret throughout my twenties. Why didn’t I go? I think money was the biggest issue. Studying abroad would cost more than my regular tuition. I knew things were already tough financially; I couldn’t see adding to the burden. I also had a really tough fall semester during sophomore year. I hated being there, and spent most of my mental and emotional energy just trying to survive. I had no room to plan such a complex endeavor. But it all boiled down to one thing: a lack of faith in myself. Studying abroad seemed like this special experience for “those people,” and I figured I just would never have the opportunity. With that belief, I decided it would be best to forget about the whole thing and focused on other pursuits.
Once I started working full-time, I had to keep working, keep making money, keep paying bills and keep getting health insurance. When I heard people who had studied abroad talk about their experiences, I regretted not going. My Spanish was okay, but I knew it could have been better. I knew I could have become fluent like my other native-English speaking friends if I had traveled to Spain for six months. But I didn’t. I considered applying for a Fulbright scholarship after graduation, but I never took it very seriously. So many times, I wished I could go back in time and redo things in college. That's a sure sign of regret--focusing on what is past instead of ahead to the future. Eventually, the study abroad fantasy died completely. I figured I would never again have the opportunity to take off from the “real world” for 3-6 months, even if it was to live in the country of my dreams.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Back in the 90s, I used to have one of those Franklin Covey day planners. In addition to providing a place to plan out your day, they offered some additional exercises designed to help you identify what matters most in life and create your personal mission statement. Around this time, I also read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 3, “Put First Things First,” left a lasting impression. When you start off your day or week with the most important things, the minutiae of everyday living don’t keep you from accomplishing your goals. (Read more about Habit 3 “Put First Things First.”)
One New Year’s Day, I decided to pull out my Franklin Covey planner and complete the mission statement exercises. That began an annual tradition. Each January 1 (or 2 or 3, but no later than the 5th), I spend several hours alone with some reflection questions, my favorite leather journal, and a fountain pen. That’s when I work on my five-year plan and set my goals for the year ahead.
A few years ago, I decided to add traveling to Spain to my five-year plan. I haven’t made it there yet, but I know that I will. In fact, I have decided that I am going during my 40th year of living (which means sometime before December 6, 2015). I’ve already asked a good friend, who I know likes to travel and who has been to Spain before, if she will come with me. Now I need to save the money, ask my aunt the travel agent to help us book the trip, and pack my bags for a fantastic two-week vacation.
Last week when I was reading a book about praying over one’s biggest dreams and greatest mistakes, I had an epiphany. It’s not too late for me to take an extended trip abroad. I know don’t what I will do with my house for four months. I don’t know where I will get the money for a four-month adventure. I don’t know where I would stay in Spain for such a long time (I’m a bit old for youth hostels and dormitory rooms). I don’t know anything other than I am going to fulfill my dream. I may be 60 years old with a head full of grey hair, but I am going to spend an extended period of time in Spain--this beautiful country that I have loved from afar for three decades.
It may sound cliché, but it really is never too late to start living the life you want. Pursuing your dreams also is the best antidote to regret. I don't have to look backward. I don't need a time machine to redo my mistakes. In fact, the challenges and struggles are the lessons that life sends our way. Each morning we wake up with our health, mental faculties, and breath, we have a chance to apply those lessons, to start over and begin building the life we desire. I may be a little delayed, but I am going to study abroad in Spain some day.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.