The Mental Challenges Faced By One Canadian On His Journey To a Life beyond His Wildest dreams In The Philippines
There is a famous saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. To me, this really hits home and when I sat down to write this article it immediately came to mind. When reflecting upon my grand journey that led me to a life beyond my wildest dreams in The Philippines, I had to remember that first “single step” was not a physical one, but rather one in my mind. In the past I have wrote plenty of articles about how I got here physically, but have never really touched on crossing that huge mental threshold which was crucial in leaving the life I had always known behind. Recently, through my involvement with the “Dumaguete Wants You” campaign, I was fortunate to meet many Canadians who seem to be exactly where I was a decade ago. The common theme was this emotional factor rather than the actual physical act of making the change. The latter is actually the easy part. For me, and most others, it seems the biggest barrier is state of mind. To help others potentially overcoming this first huge hurdle, I decided to share my own experiences in the “mental” battle I faced.
A Pretty Typical Canadian Upbringing
I am pretty a pretty typical Canadian in many ways, except that I not only decided that there was more to life than what I had been taught to expect from our society, but also faced my fears, took the chance and set out on a path which I hoped would lead me to a life I had always really dreamed of.
I come from a middle-class suburban background, growing up first in the suburbs of Montreal then moving to the national Capital Region of Ottawa-Hull at the height of the FLQ crisis. I spent the rest of my youth in the suburb of Nepean, then as a young adult lived around town with even some stints up the Ottawa Valley in towns like Arnprior and Renfrew.
The schools I attended were good middle class public schools and for the most part I achieved better than average grades. I had good parents and believe that my upbringing left me with a good set of morals and value, and though we were never rich, I cannot say that we ever went without.
When I reached my 20’s I took over the family construction business and over the next two decades was a small business owner/operator who went through good times and bad. There were successes and failures along the way but I certainly never struck it rich. I worked hard, made some good money sometimes, and survived the more challenging times.
Like most of my friends, I got married in my late 20’s and had a kid.
What Did Canadian Society Tell Me My Life Should Look Like?
Now would be a good time to interject my story with a little picture of what I had been taught to expect my life to look like. This picture was painted not only by my parents, but also, I believe Canadian society in general. Sadly, I believe that this “life” which I was expected to live, is not only unreasonable to expect in this day and age, but even if it worked out as perfectly as it was supposed to, would simply not be one that I found satisfying.
Here goes, and for simplicity, I have laid it out in bullet points
- Study hard a school and get the best grades so I could get a good job
- Work hard at my job or business so I can become financially successful
- Meet and Marry the girl of my dreams
- Have kids
- Buy the house in the suburbs with a white picket fence and pay it off over the next 20 years
- Enjoy neighborhood block parties and Sunday BarBQs, maybe if I am lucky get a cottage at the lake to spend my weekends at
- Save for retirement and maybe travel a South for a 2 week holiday each year
- Retire at 65, enjoying a few rounds of golf weekly, a hobby like woodworking or babysitting grandkids, with enough money to live out the rest of my days at some decent standard of living
- Die and leave a decent estate for all those I left behind
Gaaaaaawddd,, when I write it down on paper like this, all I can say is I am glad it did not work out as planned, because personally, I do not see anything in this that would qualify as living life, rather than simply existing.
I actually now remember an idea my Dad repeated often in different forms and reinforced in me regularly since I was a young kid, which went something like this. “Life was not meant to be easy . You better work hard and be grateful you get by. If you are lucky after you die you will be remembered well”. I mean really, with all due respect to my Dad, who was a good man and worked hard all his life, WTF does this mean. This type of thinking so deeply ingrained in my father, Canadian society, and by extension, me, was basically saying that “surviving “is the goal in life? What I was being told, but did not recognize it at the time, was that I should feel guilty if I actually had a life that gave me enjoyment, and in the end, my true reward in life might be a few good words said about me at my funeral.
Talk about shooting low, lol.
The Reality of This Life I was Supposed To Have
Well, with this thinking ingrained in me, I gave the life that I was taught to expect the good college try. Here’s how it worked out for me, which I am sure many other Canadians can relate to.
I did get good marks in school and graduated, then took over the family business in my early 20’s. I worked 15-hour days 6-7 days a week. In my late 20’s met the girl of my dreams, married her and had a daughter. Bought the house and got the mortgage.
Honestly, even though I was following the path that was expected of me, and though it looked like I was successful to the society looking in from the outside, it never really gave me happiness. I don’t recall even once really having those feelings of real joy, satisfaction, peace or serenity.
Then it all fell apart anyway. The business struggled, I lost the house, my wife left, and I struggled with both the bottle and my mental health. How quickly I turned from a shining example of success in society’s view, to a complete and total failure. And to compound things, those years of success had brought me very little except for a constant never-ending need to get “more” and the approval from those people who had me convinced that this was what life was all about.
Ironically, the very things that almost cost me my life at that point was the catalyst for me to learn what true living was all about to ME not society. Most people do not have to face the life and death situation I found myself in, so just keep plugging away, only to wake up sometime in middle age or older and realize, “is this all there really is?”
My descent into the pit of alcoholism and mental illness, without exaggeration, brought me to death’s door. In the battle to drag me out of the deep depths of a hell I cannot fully put into words, I was fortunate to learn that I had to take a hard look at myself in the mirror. That involved not only trying to find some understanding what was important to me, but also teaching me that though fear was a normal human emotion, it could be overcome. These realizations were my first real step to my eventual life beyond my wildest dreams here in The Philippines.
What Did I Learn?
My first lesson was, that though it was healthy to have good relations with others, it was not necessary to seek their approval. The only person responsible for my happiness was myself and what may be good for others was not necessarily what was good for me. This definitely was a hard leap. As my upbringing was rooted in shame and guilt, I struggled with the whole concept that if I took my own path, this was somehow being selfish. After all, I had responsibilities to the people who loved me, did I not? Well, the simple answer to that question is no. Just as I am responsible for myself, others are responsible for themselves as well. Though I would like to be a positive part of the people I love life, I am not responsible for their happiness and truth be told, if they love me, then they should never be expecting me to sacrifice my happiness for theirs. If this is what they expect, then is it not them who is selfish rather than me?
The second lesson came when I had to seriously consider what made me happy. I think the first step though was to consider also what made me unhappy. Basically, my life boiled down to this. Work my arse off for 6 months a year to be able to financially afford surviving the next 6 months, so the big one there for me was of course the climate. I was absolutely 100% fed up with Canadian winters and could not enjoy the summers because of the big winter shadow constantly hanging over me. Though this probably affected me more than some other Canadians due to my career in the construction industry, I am sure that most of my brethren did feel this “angst” to some degree. The next largest thing that I discovered about myself which certainly impeded any hope for true happiness was a mindset which focused on potential hardship rather than enjoying the here and now. Of course, changing this mindset is not easy and I have found that for me it is routed in fear (which I will talk about further below). It just seems to be way in western society that we plan for the future and all the problems it may bring, far more than we enjoy what is in front of us today. Granted, most of this fear is based in financial insecurity.
At the end of this self-introspection process, a clearer picture formed in my mind which looked like this: Getting up in the morning knowing that I could go outside and do things I wanted to do without bundling up into 4 layers of clothing, and have the enough financial security that I could afford to do those things with only one thought in mind, enjoying myself. Of course I was not naïve enough to believe that there would ever be any challenges that needed to be dealt with, but if the financial security issue is not prevalent, the others always seem to be so much more inconsequential.
So now that I have explained how I identified my “dreams”, let me now talk a little about my fears and how they affected me attaining the life I wished for.
I have already talked about “societal fear” and my challenge getting from worrying about what other think to focusing what I think and want, but should expand a little on the financial fears.
For most Canadians, like myself, there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and I fully grasped the reality that I would not be able to retire financially comfortable, ever! Stop! End of Story!
Being self-employed, there was no awesome private pension to fall back on and with minimal CPP contributions throughout the years, I would be lucky to receive 1,000 dollars a month by the time I retired. What would that get me in today’s world, let alone in another decade or two down the road as the cost of living continues to skyrocket? Maybe a small apartment and a few basic groceries? The only hope would be if I was able to amass enough cash or equity to add to that, but even if it did, cutting into that stash for living expenses every month to supplement my pension, would quickly wipe it out. I had done the math and even if I somehow got to the $400,000 – $500,000 position in equity, and retired at 65, by the time I was in my early 70’s, I was done, unless I seriously curtailed any fun or entertainment expenses. What if I live until I was 75, 80 or beyond, which certainly is likely these days? What happens if my equity was tied up in real estate or the stock market and either of those tanked? Pretty simple equation to figure out. Like it or not, I would be living in that dingy small apartment and going to the grocery store once a week, passing over the food choices I wanted and focusing strictly on the basics. Instead of that great Canadian dream I had been sold, all I had realistically to look forward to was existence, not living, and certainly not enjoyment.
So, What Was The Alternative to The so-called Canadian Dream
After crunching the numbers, it became abundantly clear that my dream of achieving anything resembling financial security to the point I was able to focus on enjoying my day-to-day life, now or in the future, was a simply a pipe dream in Canada. Unless I found a way to earn considerably more money quickly, which will rarely happen for us average Canadians, the next best option I could think of was to find a place where my money just went a whole lot farther.
That’s when the idea of moving to a different country first started to slowly creep into my head. As the thought jelled, I was also given hope that I might be able to leave the dreaded Canadian winters behind to live where I could walk out my house ANY morning, into a warm and tropical climate.
Was this even possible for this average Canadian?
That’s when the next almost debilitating fear hit me. The fear of the unknown! This fear is something we all face and I certainly was not immune to it. Yes, my life brought me little joy and happiness and yes, the future looked bleak, but if I stayed in the life in Canada I was born into, at least it was a known quantity. Making the huge decision to say good bye to that life and comfort zone was a huge hurdle to get over, simply because the unknown scared the bejesus out of me.
Fortunately, this is where the irony came in. Though the hell I visited during my fight with the bottle and mental illness is something I would not wish upon anyone, I figure I was fortunate. I knew that no matter the challenges I would inevitably face if I made such a huge change in my life, things could probably never get as bad as what I had already been through! I had been given the chance to understand that no matter how bad life got, I could deal with it.
As the saying goes, and I can attest to, “The only thing to fear, is fear itself”.
So, learning what I wanted in life, the solution to achieving it and the then gaining courage to face the fear that would stand in my way, I started the physical portion of my journey, which has brought me to The Philippines and what I can only describe as a life beyond my wildest dreams.
If there are any Canadians out there reading this and want to discuss your own journey and how my experience may help you, please feel free to contact me on our “ambassadors” page