It’s not martyrdom or luck. It’s my life. It could be yours.
It’s all perception, baby. I promise you I’m no hero or martyr.
If I told you I live in Siem Reap, Cambodia, what associations come to mind? Do you see photos of Cambodia during and after the Vietnam War?
You wouldn’t be alone if you imagined me living in a wooden shack with dirt floors, roughing it to help the people of Cambodia. You wouldn’t be the first person to warn me of landmines.
Do you see me as some sort of modern shepherd, bedraggled and exhausted, steering people towards the wells of progress and money and empowerment? ‘Cause others do.
Many perceive my relocation as a form of martyrdom, minus the torture. Completely devoid of amenities and luxuries. An overwhelming sacrifice.
And, this just doesn’t sit right with me. I live a really good life in Siem Reap, one filled with art shows, dinner plans, massages and swimming pools.
I’m not a lone cowgirl ushering in capital-p Progress. I haven’t given up everything to help the people of Cambodia. My journey isn’t epic or heroic.
You’re so lucky, Leigh. I wish I could do that too.
So, I rock social business. I’m creatively and intellectually fulfilled. I love my community. I’m living my dream.
Are you thinking, “I wish I could do that?” This is a phrase I hear often.
Well, I’m going to let you in on a secret – you can.
I know how very hard that is to accept. I used to send my mentor -who had moved to Cambodia- whiny emails about how I wish I could be so bold. And she would respond, “but Leigh, you can.”
And I’d scoff. Yeah, right. How? I have debts to pay. And responsibilities. And excuses. And fears. Big, enormous, giant, all-consuming Fears. Plus, anxiety.
I wouldn’t have had the courage or gumption if I didn’t have my mentor telling me I could. So, I am telling you –loud and clear with deepest conviction- you can.
It all comes down to decisions and priorities. I hereby give you permission to be selfish.
I made a choice to move to Cambodia to start a business. What motivated me to seize the opportunity?
- The idea of being of service without having to swing hammers, dig latrines or build wells. I’m not really into hard labor.
- The validation that comes from being a project manager + designer + creative director. Oh yeah, I wanted those titles and this project on my resume.
- Adventure. I wanted to travel.
- Distance. In some ways, I wanted to get away from my life. From who I’d become, a person that didn’t make me happy.
So, my reasons for moving to Cambodia were selfish. And, I won’t apologize for that. I’m not sorry for wanting what I want. And, I don’t think you should be either.
Find a way to be honest about what motivates you without feeling guilty. It is one of the best gifts you can grant yourself.
Know that wherever you go, there you are.
Regardless of the differences, my life in Cambodia is strikingly similar to the one I led in the States. I might have been searching for a geographical cure, but it turns out that moving doesn’t immediately refashion you into a new person.
I’m still trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to navigate the dating scene. To find love and partnership. To face romantic rejection with grace and aplomb.
I still struggle with depression. It’s no longer caused by job dissatisfaction or fear of where I’m going to live. Now, the transient nature of Siem Reap might send me into a tailspin.
Despite my amazing job, I worry about the future. I still stay up late at night thinking about whether I’m any good at what I do. If I’m capable or worthy enough. If my coworkers like me. Those anxieties haven’t gone away.
When I look back at the last decade of my life, it’s permeated with yearning. For love, acceptance, confidence, approval, permission. And, that hasn’t changed.
I trust and know this to be true: moving isn’t an overnight cure or fix-all.
That said, leaving your comfort zone will rock your world in unexpected ways.
So, I’m still Leigh. And, if you move across the globe, you’ll still be you.
I didn’t turn into a shiny and new person upon stepping foot on Cambodian soil. However, much subtler shifts have been taking place.
My friends and mentors used to always tell me, “Leigh, you have to get out of your own way.” And I’d look at them and think, “What the fuck?”
I was outraged and ashamed. I knew I was self-defeating but couldn’t figure out a solution. I wanted to scream, “Don’t you think I would have fixed this already if I knew how to?”
While moving to Siem Reap didn’t rid me of depression or make me a flirting superstar, it did help me to get out of my own way.
Living in a place where only one person knew me gave me the freedom to make modifications. All of the new experiences started a quiet revolution, which led to evolution.
And that is one of the true gifts of travel. Space to explore. An opportunity for healing or reinvention. The good news is that it’s universal. If you let it, travel will transform you.
I didn’t leave my life behind. I’m continuing it, here.
I didn’t put my life in the States on hold. This isn’t a break or a phase. This is my life. My career. My vocation.
This could be your life. Don’t listen to the people who tell you it’s irresponsible or reckless. Tune into your own inner compass. You alone have the authority to decide how and where you live + work.
If you’re willing, then you’re able. You can be lucky, too.