In my youth I was underestimated. It was so freeing! I was underestimated by people whose approval I didn’t absolutely need. That created some space between my heart and the hurt of distrust. My parents saw me and liked me and believed in me. Most other adults I suspected they didn’t have eyes for my potential and they didn’t particularly liked me. But that didn’t matter. It actually helped me rise above seeking their approval.

In my early teens I strived to prove myself. I relished in the attention of the teachers who saw potential in me. And performed. Grammar, Literature, Math, Sciences… I loved the conquest of knowledge and conquering and surpassing expectations. My parents’ approval was left in the dust. I went to exams by myself and I didn’t perform for them. They appreciated me from the fog of distance. They were comfortably far and reliably close. I did not seek their approval.

When I left for the states I was so eager to conquer new worlds, new territories, new challenges. I thrived with myself setting the high standard. There was no fear of failure.

But as we were considering going back to Romania, I took into consideration the challenges of working for Romanian companies, re-adapting to the culture. Exchanging the financial freedom of Californian dual income for long days in Romania. We were determined to try because of our dream to adopt children. We gave ourselves a 2-4 years. And in this time of preparation, my brother discouraged me to move back. Or so I heard his cautioning. I tried to objectively analyze his comments. Then I felt silly for overthinking his opinion. I bet he cared deeply for my wellbeing. And he hoped I can prove him wrong but didn’t say it like that. I don’t even know if it would have helped.

Romanian work culture, rigidity, difficulty in formulating questions or accepting someone who asks a lot of questions, aversion to the phrase: “I don’t know” which was paramount in a time of extraordinary learning and development in my career: “I don’t know but let’s find out!” Bureaucracy, convoluted laws and taxes and hoops one has to jump through even and especially when trying to do everything by the book. Even if you are eager to learn, the opportunities are few and far between. One has to pursue knowledge in unorthodox ways and often be self-taught. I mean the practical stuff. Learning on the job, with clear guidance and appreciation and encouragement.

So my brother says: “it will be hard to live and work here”. And I dread the thought of having a long day job in Cluj. It would have to be a pretty good team or work on a project I would be passionate about, but that is because I have already put in the years, in Cluj and in California, and got to work for one of the coolest teams in Apple Retail. Young people would take a lesser pay for the chance to develop and acquire lifelong skills. So I am indeed picky about work. But one thing California didn’t change in me is my income level mindset. I have low standards in spending money. I have always been frugal. And this is how we build a low-maintenance, self-sufficient lifestyle. And my husband adapted to my view of money. Our first five years we aggressively paid off his school debt. And we had low paying jobs. Then we saved enough to buy an apartment outright. Rent was money down the drain. A lot of money.

Life in Romania proved to fit us perfectly. Simple. No debt. Travel on budget. Cook and have time for hobbies. Rest. Read. Daydream. Write books. Adopt and fill our time with fun parenting adventures. Work enough to live comfortably.

One can have it all but not at the same time.

My first year out of college, working full time, was so depressing. I had a college degree and a demanding boss, and no development. It felt like I was treading water with our finances and we are going nowhere. A day job to make ends meet after the freedom of college is a rude awakening. I was working for a research corporation, with many people I liked, but it was rough. My husband worked in a cafe for even less money and odd hours. We rented a very nice apartment I thought, and at least our home was comfortable and safe. But it costed half of our combined monthly income.

I remeber all this and I worry about our kids’ future. What jobs will take have to get. I try to motivate them to study hard to have options and I hear myself talk like my brother: life is difficult. Earning an income is not easy. And in this worried state I stop myself in my tracks and acknowledge that I can’t predict the future. Maybe they will both find fulfilling careers and yes, some days will be long and depressing, exhausting and seemingly futile, but that is part of life. I don’t have to have such a pessimistic outlook on their future life. They will probably have a completely different life trajectory and not struggle in the same ways I did. They will struggle diffusely. But even those struggles will shape who they become. And pain shapes character. Allowing disconfort. Allow the growing pains. Not overanalyzing them or doomsday planning for them.

I choose to believe that they will put to good use every gift of knowledge I share with them. And may we continue to practice having fun. Because at the end of life, remembering to have fun, to be happy, to delight and be grateful, these are the things that I want them to master. Kindness, gratitude, grace. Courage and work ethic, vision and creativity.

I believe they will be alright. And we don’t have to fit the mould.