I wondered what it would be like.
I’m talking about waking up in Italy after making the most life-altering choice and change of my life. I wondered if I would wake up excited, thrilled at being part of a different culture and language. Or would I I be freaking out and saying to myself, “Jed Smith, what the hell have you done? You know, there’s no going back now.”?
Thankfully, it was the former, though I did have to wake up to the enormous effort and willingness to change that would be required of me over the coming years. Eventually, I got on board, and I’ve since learned that this transformative process will continue even though I’ve been living in Italy for 10+ years now. I can pat myself on the back that I can participate robustly in casual conversations. I can feel secure that I can navigate more precise situations solo, like going to the doctor without a translator. But I’m far from having mastered speaking Italian at a more advanced level. And the Italian culture…whoa, having an appreciation and understanding of that comes through years of living it, not reading about it.
So, I’ve been a good patient and I’ve downed my reality pill. I’ll be working on these things until I draw my last breath.
Now, to speak to the BIGGER waking up.
As if the above wasn’t enough.
When you make a life change of this magnitude, you’re really moving the furniture of your life around. You’re begging to have all the old worn-out furniture (aka conditioning) exposed. And that, my friends, can be mighty uncomfortable.
It has been for me. But that discomfort was already in my sights when I decided to move to Italy. I knew, at a fundamental level, that cruising to the finish line with my old, well-worn ways of being just wasn’t an option. I knew I wanted and needed to be knocked off my cushy know-it-all and entitled American perch.
Yeah, be careful what you ask for. But the discomfort can be worth it.
Here I am, ten years later and I’m still waking up in Italy—waking up to myself, that is. And I’m practicing deep breathing more than ever.
Removing the safety of the familiar is like yanking the rug of comfort out from under your feet. For me, the crap, the stuff that hasn’t worked for me, has floated to the surface and said, “Look at me.” Once you’re aware of something, you can’t unsee it. You can try to sweep it back under the rug again. Or you can embrace the opportunity, hoping that some of the dysfunction of your life can be transformed into something heretofore unimagined.
For me, Italy has given me the space to understand some of the fundamental things I’d adopted from a very early age. For starters, a need to try and manipulate and control all forces outside of myself. I took on a don’t-trust-the-universe stance probably before I was out of first grade (thanks partly to Mrs. Anderson, my first-grade teacher, and her extreme meanness). Then somewhere along the way came my need to always be doing something and to be achieving. Starting to unwind and unpack that hyper-productivity angst isn’t something that just falls away overnight.
Now, you might be saying, “Hey, being an achiever is an admirable thing.” Yeah, you’re right, but in the correct measure. Yours truly has been supercharged much of his life, and that is flat-out exhausting, especially when you’re in a country that invites you to slow down soak in its beauty.
Overthinking vs being.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll come up against this one. When you finally see and turn down the noise of your ingrained conditioning, you might begin to consider and explore that the you that you’ve thought of as “baked and done” is actually malleable and capable of profound change.
Getting to know your escape strategies.
Italy easily can turn into yet another escape from oneself. Yet, as you are waking up in Italy, you might start seeing the many ways you’ve been chasing away times of uncomfortable feelings, looking to get a quick dopamine hit somehow. I believe Mark Zuckerberg and his team lean into that heavily for their bottom line. And watch out for how AI enters the equation and has the potential to drive all this to an even darker place.
For me, many of my escape strategies have developed to avoid boredom and worry (talk about getting trapped in circular thinking). For too much of my life, I’ve believed something was wrong if I wasn’t always surfing a feel-good state.
And those stubborn “shoulds”
“An unexamined life isn’t worth living.”
“Shoulds” can rule your life if you’re not aware of them. Having the space to get quiet and examine one’s life has the potential to reveal yours and allow you to challenge them. Buried underneath the mountain of conditioning that cemented these “shoulds” into place is where the truth of what really makes you happy and fulfilled resides.
But it takes work. It takes waking up and not falling back into the comfortable sleep of the familiar.
So, here I am, living in Italy at a “mature” age and I’m entering another growth spurt.
Go figure. But I’m more excited than ever. It’s like getting a second wind that will help take my life in Italy to an even more robust level. Sure, I’d like to have figured a lot of this stuff out way earlier, but I’m trusting the process, my process. I’m not suggesting that your journey will mirror mine.
I’ve been reading about brain plasticity for at least fifteen years. I’ve been fascinated by the breakthroughs in neuroscience that are turning long-held beliefs about the mind on their ears. The short story is that we are NOT prisoners of our past conditioning. Decades of old ways of thinking and being CAN be changed. And we can keep evolving and growing in surprising ways until our last days.
I’m reading a book called “Mind Hacking” by Sir John Hargrave. With great humor and insight, this author talks about the human brain and how it is like a computer. He talks about how our brains, our conditioned behaviors and thinking, mirror the loops that drive much of computer programming. It makes for compelling reading while offering real ways to start rewriting your own internal programming. (It was my dinner companion tonight at the port!)
“While you are certainly aware of your mind, the challenge in mind hacking is to increase your powers of awareness. From here on out, I encourage you to approach your mind with a spirit of openness and curiosity. Observe it. Imagine how it could be used differently. In other words, approach your mind like a hacker.”
Be prepared for waking up in Italy!
You may think that by moving to Italy you’re just cruising into La Dolce Vita. Sure, you’ll find that, but be prepared, changes bigger than you’ve conceived just may be in store for you!