I Turned 31 and Let My Dream Die
When I was 10 years old, my dad went to England on a business trip. He was to spend the majority of his time driving in and around a village in Cornwall called Gweek. I thought he was, as my father is wont to do, joking.
It turned out Gweek was indeed a very real place, and I was about to embark on the longest love affair of my life.
My dad came home laden with pictures of rolling green countryside and roads framed with low rock walls. He told us about Cornish pasties and navigating the narrow and ancient streets, playing cornet with the local brass band in an old stone church, and the perils of driving on the opposite side of the road. He brought back Cadbury Flake chocolate bars for me and my sister. I was smitten.
I spent my teen years periodically begging my parents to move us to England; or, at the very least, take us on a grand tour of London and beyond. But my mother didn’t fly, and a trip across the pond in the mid-1990s was unimaginable for my family. So I did the best I could with what I had. I read voraciously, from The Guardian to Harry Potter to histories of the Tudors, completely undiscerning in my consumption as long as it was set in or about England. I borrowed my uncle’s collection of BBC miniseries on VHS and practiced speaking in a British accent. For about six months in grade 12, I was an expert in Cockney Rhyming Slang.
In the summer of 2008, my long-awaited dream finally came true. Memorial University has a sister campus in Old Harlow, Essex, and as part of my English degree I was able to study there for a month. It was as formative of an experience as you can imagine: my first time travelling outside of North America and without my family; living away from home and in a dorm with 18 almost-strangers for the first time; trying new foods and learning to navigate the Underground. My program was theatre-based, so I spent most of the month in the audience of theatres in London, Liverpool, and Cambridge. The plays and musicals, combined with the cities’ architecture and history and my deep-seated obsession with England - it was sensory and emotional overload.
I had the time of my life.
When I came home to Canada, I vowed I would return and make a life in England as soon as humanly possible. My research revealed that the best way to get me back to London was the UK Youth Mobility Visa - an amazing program that lets young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 work in the UK for two years. For a little paperwork and not that much money, I could live my fantasy life. And I had 10 years to apply: this was my in.
At every milestone over the next 9 years, I told myself that I’d get all of the pieces ready and I’d soon be sipping tea with the Brits. I talked about it all the time. I dreamed about it as I finished my degree and moved to Vancouver to start another one. I planned my escape across the pond as my sister and friends got married to and I flew all over the country to attend weddings and meet newborn babies. I relocated again, finished my Masters, read books, fell in and out of love, quit jobs and found others, adopted a cat, learned to make cinnamon roll scones: while life happened, I imagined the other version of me who was supposed to be doing all these same things 5,358 km away.
In February 2017, I was at a decision point. I was unexpectedly unemployed after a government contract fell through, and, disillusioned with the public service, I was ready to leave everything behind for a new life. England would be my land of opportunity and renewal. London would save me. I was finally making good on the only promise I’d ever made to myself.
I had just over a year before I aged out of eligibility for the UK Youth Mobility Visa, so I made a plan. I budgeted the money needed to apply for the visa. I found someone interested in subletting my apartment. A friend agreed to temporarily adopt my cat. I began purging my apartment of knick-knacks and slowly parting with my large (and much adored) library. I had friends on the look-out of job opportunities for me. This was it! I was making my dream a reality!
And then suddenly and out of nowhere, a year had passed. It was my 31st birthday, and I was still living in Canada without a youth visa, and now no chance of ever getting one.
I spent a few weeks post-birthday feeling quite blue. My lifelong dream, the one big goal I had set for myself, was dead. I couldn’t get my act together to focus long enough to make it happen. Not only had I let my dream die, I had killed it with neglect, so slowly and silently I didn’t see it coming. I had failed my 10 year-old self spectacularly.
It took a few days of wallowing and a conversation with a good friend to help me ask myself why. Why hadn’t I gone through the relatively simple process of getting the Visa? I’m not inept at doing paperwork and I’ve saved money for other things I’ve needed or wanted. Why did I fail on the thing I (thought I) cared about the most?
What I hadn’t realised was that as I was building my imaginary life, things started falling into place in my real life.
I found a job and colleagues who inspired, challenged, and uplifted me. My work suddenly, and for the first time, was immensely fulfilling and meaningful. I started volunteering with my community, spending time with my neighbours, and recording a podcast with a friend. My sister had twins and I started travelling halfway across the country at every opportunity to spend time with my baby niece and nephew. I had great friends and laughed all the time. I became so happy with and invested in my Canadian life that, slowly, London took a back seat.
In talking with my friend, I realised that I had been so focused on England as my Big Dream that I had forgotten about all my other goals and things I wanted. They were less shiny and glamorous, and it was much harder to prove I had achieved them: stability, purpose, friendship, love. I thought I needed to uproot everything for my life to start, when instead it was slowly growing and blooming over the years.
I am still an Anglophile through and through, but I am also more than that. I have goals I want to achieve, other dreams I want to fulfill. I still hope to live in the UK someday, but if I don’t, I know it’ll be because of choices I made for myself, in service of my best self.