When life gives you lemons, or how to unexpectedly move countries

Meher Goel
Mar 29 · 13 min read

Guat is extra, but so am I

Guatemala from the sky. Now a home away from home, away from home.

Last year around this time, I packed up my entire life in New York (or that’s what it felt like) into boxes straight into a 12x5' storage unit. I didn’t have a clue of when I would get to unpack everything I was shelving away — literally and metaphorically. After 2 dreadful months of living life as an unemployed 20-something-year-old, I had to pull the trigger and move out of my Murray Hill apartment, hold onto whatever savings I had left and figure out where my professional-life was headed.

I was oblivious to how small this move would be in the grand scheme of things— life was getting ready to throw a truckload of lemons at me.

A lot happened this past year after moving out of my apartment, I won’t get into the nitty-gritty, possibly because I’m still partially in the thick of things, but here’s a summary: The five months before I finally accepted a full-time job offer consisted of weekly millennial existential crises of “what am I doing with my life? Am I even good at my job?!”, a lot of sleepless nights, wrapping up freelance projects, working out, somehow traveling across the country and reassessing all the life choices that had led me to this situation.

I excitedly accepted the job offer and started preparing to get into a better, more structured routine, mentally kissing all the anxiety and self-doubt goodbye. You ever heard that saying “Things get worse before they get better”? Well, it’s true. Five short weeks after accepting the offer, I finally found and applied for a lovely apartment on the East Side in Manhattan. Later that very same day I find out that the American Immigration System had worked its (dark) magic — I was unable to stay and work in the country while they processed my visa. The cherry on top was the missed deadline by one day (one freakin’ day!) due to which my employers had to relocate me to our Guatemala office. This was a temporary and uncertain relocation as the visa processing could take anywhere from five to ten months.

Remember when I kissed all that anxiety and self-doubt goodbye? Ha! A-plus for effort, right? I had been in New York for a little over 6 years. Like many New Yorkers, I actively avoided moving cities even after my best attempts to convince myself the West Coast would treat me better. Here I was, standing at a fork in the road, faced with one of those “adult-life” type decisions that my Dad would tell me about when I was younger. I had to decide between either leaving the new job that I was very excited about and permanently moving back home to Dubai or packing up whatever was left of my life that wasn’t already in a storage unit and moving to a whole new country where I knew nobody and didn’t speak the language.

Well, I knew what living in Dubai and what lacking professional purpose felt like so the only logical option felt like moving forward. This meant moving to Guatemala over the span of 3 weeks and facing the music.

Shoutout to Ms. Selina — my high school Spanish 101 teacher— who was definitely laughing at the irony of this whole thing somewhere in the world. She always told us to pay attention because “what if we moved to a Spanish speaking country” and we rolled our eyes at her in sheer amusement at the absurdity of her statement. Well, I guess it was time to revisit Spanish 101 and learn more than the swear words and sassy phrases.

Needless to say, no experience in life is complete without the unsolicited generic advice from people who can only throw you a surprise pity party. I’m not mad about this though, sympathy comes easier than empathy for most people. Moreover, I guess it’s a human tendency to want to offer words of comfort (even if it is a cliche) as a token of support in helpless situations. I can’t possibly hold it against anyone for sharing their 2 cents; It wasn’t their fault that I was salty as hell and all the cliches sounded like a pile of garbage at the time. In hindsight, I can only laugh. All the cliches now seem to suddenly make perfect sense. I guess they call them cliches for a reason.


#1 Be Careful What You Wish For

At the beginning of last year, I did my annual ritual of setting goals I wanted to accomplish in the year and made room to adjust them based on life circumstances. One of my main goals was to 1) travel a lot more 2) do a solo trip somewhere by myself, even if it’s only for a weekend. I prayed long and hard for the courage to make my goals happen and more specifically for the self-sufficiency to go through with this one.

Nonetheless, finding out I had to move countries 3–4 weeks before actually moving had me in panic. I tried to look up all the sayings in those self-help books about “choosing your intentions purposefully” and “ask, believe, receive” and thought to myself:

“Is this what I REALLY asked for? …well, not to this degree? I wanted a vacation! A quick little Eat, Pray, Love! This seems a little excessive! Why couldn’t the universe have delivered in other ways?! I asked for a day where calories wouldn’t count too!”

It’s always been difficult for me to go on vacations and be completely present without missing the plethora of high-quality people in my life who I wanted to share those experiences with. For instance, If I was witnessing a magnificent Malibu sunset, the awe of nature would likely come with a side of sadness from missing my Mom who would have basked in this blissful glory with me. This personal goal was more about finding a way to be self-sufficient and “living in the present” instead of the Chris McCandless way of “happiness is only real when shared.”

Now friends-like-family in Antigua, Guatemala.

Fast forward 3 months after my move, I’m happy to report that it’s true when they say ‘be careful what you wish for’. Here I was, really living in a new country, completely oblivious to the culture, language and lay of the land. I was really taking solo walks, day adventures, dinner dates ALL by myself. Of course, this newly found liberation came with occasionally shared photo-updates with the people I love but hey, baby steps, right? I mean, what other choice did I have? Rome wasn’t built in a day & neither was my now-friends-like-family in Guatemala. Ask, Believe, Receive, people! The universe truly delivers. Sometimes a little too much.

#2 Dance Like No One’s Watching

Lemme tell ya somethin’, If you’re ever in need of some serious R&R and emotional healing, you gotta prescribe yourself a strong dose of ‘Dance Yourself Clean’ because ain’t nothin’ better than a good solo-dance party.

It doesn’t matter if you can’t dance, this is not about being a pro-dancer, it’s about catching the vibe and just feeling the beat. Plug in your earphones, turn on your speakers, queue at least 10 songs.

Move, shake, feel all the feels, drop, and dance till your heart can float above water again.

Biologically, the endorphins from all the dancing will energize you. Emotionally, realizing you can be with yourself and completely zone out without a care in the world will give you a glimpse of all the good within you.

If you’re sad and you know it, have a solo dance party! If you’re new to this (and possibly think I sound like a ‘crazy hippie’), here are a few tips:

  1. Airplane mode your devices (no distractions).
  2. Remove any mirrors from the dance floor (no self-consciousness).
  3. Preferably dance around a large water body so you can truly understand what Susanna Clark meant when she said “Dance Like No One’s Watching!”
Thanks to my radiant sista-friend Ana for secretly taking these. Someone was in fact watching, it didn’t matter!

#3 We’re Not Laughing At You, We’re Laughing With You

You ever have that dream where you walk into school butt-naked and everyone points and laughs at you? Yeah, me neither. However, I imagine this is the real-life equivalent of that.

Early on in my quest of figuring out the local life in Guatemala, I made it a goal to learn a few new words every day to bridge the language gap. Like any true foodie, most of my new words were chosen from food-related-vocabulary and helped me make sure I was being served a vegetarian dish without chicken instead of a vegetarian chicken.

Sundays were meal prep days which meant frequent trips to the local supermarket. One of these Sundays, 1 of my 5 new words of the day was “libra” which translates to ‘pound’ as in “Can I get 2 libras of oranges?” and what better way to learn than to practice? At the end of filling up my cart when I got to the counter and convincingly made it through any awkward small talk, the cashier was trying to ask me if I really wanted 2 pounds of tomatoes (I think), to which I kept responding “Si, dos libre!”. I could tell I was saying something wrong because his confused look turned into an angry one very quickly. He ushers over his manager and they proceed to exchange some snarky comments, realize I’m not a local and laugh at this whole thing. Meanwhile, I’m nervously laughing along trying to awkwardly shuffle through Google Translate to find out what happened. Turns out that ‘libre’ means free and he thought I was trying to take the tomatoes for free. Apparently, ‘dos librAs’ and ‘dos librEs” are not interchangeable, who knew? I mean…its basically the same thing?! I laughed at myself the entire way home.

Honestly, this whole thing was so worth it. $5 for this fruity deliciousness!

#4 Distance Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

How come no one ever tells you that this often goes hand and hand with ‘out of sight, out of mind’? Last spring, a friend asked me “if the saying ‘you are an average of the 5 people you spend the most time with’ is true, would you be happy with your average?” I had heard this question before but it still caught me off guard. I don’t think he was expecting an answer but nonetheless, it left me wondering:

“Who would make up my average? Especially considering how drastically the people I surrounded myself had changed in the recent months…do I even have 5 friends?! #NoNewFriends #ForeverAlone”

Many months later as I was packing my suitcases about 15 hours before my flight, I sat in a room with 5 of my girlfriends who were frantically packing, labeling sandwich bags and weighing my luggage. Meanwhile, even though I work best under pressure and can find clarity in stressful situations, I moved at sloth-speed, half emotionally paralyzed and half in denial of the upcoming changes. Strong female friendships truly are very underrated. They say home is where the heart is and I was leaving behind my heart in the safe and capable hands of some very high-quality humans. Little did I know, I would have to find ‘home’ all over again.

In the first few weeks of moving to Guatemala, as we’ve established, I had plenty of me-time. I often used this time to ponder on all things life and more importantly on what makes a meaningful human connection and specifically the character-changing relationships in my life.

I wondered how often we let people stick around solely based on their proximity to us versus the value and growth we bring to each other's lives.

Somewhere between a solo-dance party and jumping off this dock.

What better time to find out? I was 3,000 miles from my New York people, another 3,000 miles from my San Francisco people and halfway across the world from my other special people scattered all over. I had all the space I needed and then some! Although, it definitely helped that I found a best friend in the man that I love (even though being 3,000 miles apart from one another wasn’t my favorite thing in the world). Fortunately, it meant I always had a sounding board for introspective realizations. He actively engaged and kept me from falling into unproductive rabbit holes while simultaneously trying his best to support “free-spirited-Meher” (as he’d like to call it).

Perspective really is everything and evaluating the time and energy I invested in the present character-changing relationships I had, helped me better understand the average of my 5 people. The average of my 5 people was not based on proximity, it was based on the strength and stability of what I consider ‘the four relationship-pillars’ — physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. The average of my 5 people is embodied by kindness, thoughtfulness, audaciousness, open-mindedness, spiritual receptiveness, unconditional support and above all, the ability to call me out and laugh with me and at me. Especially when life gets hard and maaaan! Did life get hard! Distance truly makes the heart grow fonder, but what happens when it doesn’t? Out of sight, out of mind.

#5 Fake It Till You Make It

Someone once told me that having the uncomfortable conversations is what makes things comfortable. So here I am, a 20-something-year-old, trying to have all the uncomfortable, ugly, honest conversations with myself in hopes that these public displays of affections to myself will seamlessly translate off-screen too. This one’s a little bit of a love letter to myself.

Another cliche. But you know what I say about cliches… ;)

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed that most people don’t really like talking about the F word — feelings, of course. Oftentimes, this meant being all sunshine and rainbows on the outside when I felt more like tangled headphones on the inside. This was confusing (and frustrating) for many reasons.

I grew up in awe of my Mom who has always been unapologetically her joyful, over-friendly, loud, inquisitive, empathic and welcoming self. Clearly, being anything other than your authentic self was never an option.

However, walking the line between being your unapologetic authentic self and maintaining boundaries was going to be a challenging adventure. A one that I eventually balanced by finding the right time and place for my favorite F word — feelings! I think Brene Brown in Daring Greatly explains it best:

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable but they’re never weakness.”

So this one’s for the strongest person I know besides my mom, this one’s for myself: I’m in awe of the loving, fierce and incredible people you surround yourself with at all times. However, most of all I’m in awe of the strength you move forward with. Your ability to roll with the punches day after day with gratitude and perspective outweighs the negatives by a million. Guat is extra, but so are you!

#6 When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

By now, I am well acquainted with the few dozen lemons life has thrown my way, and know better than to think these are all the lemons life has to serve. Of course, that never stopped me from going down the “why me?” spiral, I often thought to myself:

“No one ever said anything about not being able to ‘make my own lemonade, and drink it too’ that only applies to cake, right? C’mon! When do I get to have it all, on my terms? @universe, why you gotta come at me like this??? Let a girl live!”

Well into this cycle of destructive thinking, I stumbled upon a poem by Lucille Cliffton that read “every day something has tried to kill me and has failed” and just like that, something clicked. This empowering reminder was all I needed to fall back into the “Ask, Believe, Receive” cycle — okay yes, I was raised with Bollywood influences, sue me for being a little over dramatic. Just like clockwork a few days later, as I was mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed I came across another nugget of encouragement that said: “So my heart is in a constant state of thanksgiving” a quote by Abdu’l-Bahá from the Baha’i Writings. Call it a divine confirmation, destiny, an omen, or looking for signs in places they don’t exist, whatever tickles your fancy, it may seem so insignificant but a gentle hug in the form of a reminder from the universe is all you need sometimes.

Even though I’m predominantly still in the midst of this life experience, in true Meher-fashion, I have to reflect back on the last few months. As much as I’d like to channel my inner Beyonce and Hattie Mae White and consider myself to have “had my ups and downs but found my inner strength” since life “served me lemons and I made lemonade”, I gotta be real and call my own bullsh*t.

I don’t think I’ve made lemonade quite yet. However, I’d like to think that it’s work in progress and I’m getting pretty close based on the comforting words of Dr. K.

“you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade.”

So now that we’re here, you’re all invited! I may as well make my lemonade and drink it too. I’m intolerant to gluten and can’t have cake anyway. Salud!

Lookin’ out for all those lemons this time around & praying they’re a little sweeter than the last dozen.

Meher Goel

Written by

Product Designer. Feminist. World Citizen — On an adventure 🚀 www.mehermakes.com

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