(and here’s what I learned)
Day one, I was already beginning to regret it. I knew it was a huge leap of faith: accepting my British ex-boyfriend’s offer to temporarily move to London to live with him and work for his new booming film production company. I was so desperate to redirect my career path, to get out of my miserably monotonous life in Denver, and to return to a city that I loved so dearly, that I withheld my premonitions about this peculiar arrangement. To add to the peculiarity of all this, I arrived in London only to discover that he had recently reunited with his other ex-girlfriend, and that I would be sharing his Wimbledon bedroom on an inflatable mattress shoved in the corner. The first blow to my British fantasy had landed, but I resolved to—as they love to say here—“keep calm and carry on.” After all, I was in London with a photography job and a free place to stay; how could I not be grateful?
Three months later, as I pack my suitcases and prepare to return home, I’m still trying to process how I feel about the whole experience. I harbor some regrets, a tinge of anger, and a dash of resentment, but there’s one feeling I’ve seemed to completely leave behind: self doubt. Here’s what I learned along the way.
Don’t Move in with Your Ex
They say there are four people you should never sleep with: your coworker, your boss, your roommate, and your ex. Somehow I managed to combine all of those into one. But the weird thing was that he didn’t want to sleep with me anymore. Although it had been three years since we had dated, and we were comfortable in our platonic friendship, it was hard to not be attracted to the incredibly talented and charismatic filmmaker I once fell for. I admit I was intrigued by the idea of us getting back together, but I wasn’t dependent on it happening. This new relationship with him was supposed to be strictly business; I reminded myself that I accepted his offer because of my admiration for his work and the exciting opportunity to collaborate with him. His new lady was nothing but lovely, and obviously a better fit for his erratic personality. I figured it was the best decision for both of us. But as excited as I was to be free to dive into the dating pool of ambitious young Londoners, I couldn’t help but let the feelings of being unwanted and unworthy creep in.
The familiarity of our prior relationship certainly played a part in giving me the confidence to pursue this path in the first place, but that was abruptly stripped away. Now I was the imposing ex-girlfriend in so many unanticipated ways, and yet I had to grin and bear it for the sake of our professional relationship. If third-wheeling at a work function with your ex/boss and his new girlfriend isn’t a circle of hell, I’m not sure what is.
Vulnerability Isn’t So Bad
I hate being vulnerable, and I’m very proud that I don’t usually have to be. But for the first time in a long time, I needed a lot more help than I was able to reciprocate. My living, financial, and personal arrangements were becoming very unstable, and I was nervous. My photography work was going well, but it wasn’t as consistent as I had hoped. The clientele in London was so high-profile and exciting, but the extent of my social life ended with an after-work pint. The loneliness began to overshadow my professional achievements. I had no real friends in London aside from my ex, and now he was always with his girlfriend. I was vulnerable and felt more out of place than I had ever experienced. To my dismay, he hadn’t prepped his housemates for my living there, so they immediately resented my presence. Working up the courage to walk into a living room full of strange new roommates was a whole new kind of terror. No one was very keen on the new live-in-ex-girlfriend at first and I couldn’t blame them.
I had to work harder than ever to make friends; it felt like miserably awkward freshman year of high school all over again. I became so grateful when my roommates included me in little ways—a trip to the grocery store, a cup of tea, a dinner at Nando’s. If it weren’t for the incredible souls (shoutout Harry, Ben, hairy Harry, Elly, Laura, Nathan, Emma, Matt, Josh, Roksana and so many more) that saw my vulnerability and need for companionship, I wouldn’t have any sanity left. Despite the hard work, my faith in mankind was restored by the amazing friends I made so quickly: those that were quick to lend a hand, an ear, a tenner when I was low on cash, or a couch to sleep on when my ex’s girlfriend was around. I was in a humbling trust-fall with my surroundings, and I was pleasantly surprised by the response.
Don’t Be Afraid to Stray the Course
I quickly realized this wasn’t the healthiest situation for me. My emotional state became distracting and soiled my productivity. The frustrations of my home life were beginning to seep into my professional life, and I didn’t want to risk sullying my original goals: to build my portfolio and hone in on my career path. I had to take charge of my happiness again. I was on the phone with a friend back home one afternoon, catching her up on the whole situation, and she simply told me, “Do something for yourself this weekend, whatever it is, just do something to make yourself happy.” That simple idea struck me like lightning. I remembered hearing about Workaway through a friend, a site that connects you with hosts across the globe who, in exchange for helping out with a task, let you live in their home for free. The moment I hung up, I signed up for a membership and began my search. I wanted to continue to use my photography skills, so I found a lovely couple in Gran Canaria, a Spanish island off the coast of Morocco, who needed digital media content for their businesses. I agreed to go immediately for two weeks, just long enough to have ten days in London left when I returned.
I didn’t tell my ex about my plan until it was solidified. After all, this was a decision for myself and myself alone. It had been weeks since we had spent any time together, and at this point we were hardly even friendly. A wave of relief swept over me as I booked my flight. I spent the next two incredible weeks photographing for a yoga studio and a vegetarian chef, spending sunsets drinking €1 beers on the beach, exploring the vast array of terrain and cuisine with a fellow Workaway Hungarian couple; I was far away from my troubles in London, my soul was replenished, and my portfolio had grown.
Always Pursue Your Crazy Ideas
This might’ve been a pretty outlandish idea to begin with, but there’s no way I could have anticipated what would happen. I might have a couple metaphorical scrapes and bruises, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. There were a lot of things I doubted about myself before I left: whether or not I could leave the 9-5 life and find success; whether or not I could travel alone; whether or not I could break the traditional post-grad career plan; and whether or not I needed someone else’s approval of my art for it to be worthy of a career.
After three months in the most uncomfortable situation imaginable, I realized that I’m much more capable than I ever anticipated. I didn’t need my ex to sign off on my work for it to be worthy; in fact, I did better work without his guidance. I didn’t need to be comfortable and surrounded by friendly faces to be my happiest; I could survive moving to a new city completely alone. I thrived in the discomfort. Discomfort bred growth, and growth bred self-confidence. My last few days in London were filled with a lot of positivity, celebrating new lifelong friendships, and excitement for the future. I have a whole new stunning portfolio of work, with an insatiable drive to match. I’m even sorting a way to return to London in a few months to head up digital content for a brand new company! I’ve always sort of known I was going to be happiest breaking the mold, and I’m so happy I overcame my hesitations to do so. And even though things didn’t go exactly as planned, at least I’ve got a great story to tell when I get home.