To Do or Not to Do: Unbrave Girl Battles Indecision (and wins… maybe)

December 16, 2010

A while back, I sent in an essay I had written to an online travel magazine. Hey, I figured, I’ve been doling out my writing for free for four years on my blog; wasn’t it about time I became rich and famous through the lucrative world of freelance journalism? (Right, guys? That’s how people become rich and famous, right? That is, if your reality television show ideas never get off the ground – although I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before I finally get a Hollywood producer to agree that a television show entitled “The Battle of the Librarians” is maybe the best idea ever. I mean, who wouldn’t love a show that regularly features a challenge called The Dewey Decimal System of Death? Now that, my friends, is some good TV!).

A month after sending the essay in, I received an email back from the editor saying that she liked my piece but she wanted me to revise it. “I’d like to see what you’re saying said really strongly, with no maybes,” her email read.

I dutifully emailed her back to say I would look it over and revise it as soon as possible.

This was almost three weeks ago.

I looked it over. I did nothing.

It’s not that I’m lazy. (Okay, I am lazy. But I swear this wasn’t the reason why I haven’t revised it yet.)

It’s just that I didn’t know what to do.

Edit out the maybes?

But I am the maybes.

My personality could at best be described as whimsically wanton or refreshingly capricious; at worst, I’m perpetually wishy-washy, annoyingly indecisive and easily weak-kneed. Just choosing lunch throws me into fits of despair. When I finally do make my decision, I worry that I made the wrong choice and I’m plagued with thoughts of the sandwich that got away.

I love going out for meals with people who will order for me. In fact, I’ll find any excuse to force someone else to make my dining decisions. “Oh, you’ve eaten here before? You know what’s good. Why don’t you just order?” or “Wow, this menu has so many words. I’m not really good at words. But you are! Why don’t you use your word-skills and figure out which meal I want?”

It’s usually pretty easy to find someone willing to tell you what to eat. Unfortunately, I haven’t had as much luck finding someone to tell me what to do with my life. I’ve heard these people exist – everybody on the Internet is talking about them. Chris Guillebeau on his website, The Art of Non-Conformity, says, “If you don’t decide for yourself what you want to get out of life, someone else will probably end up deciding for you.” He’s not the only one who says this – I read blogs and websites and watch interviews with famous people who say you should listen to your heart and not listen to other people telling you what to do with your life.


But what if I have a really hesitant heart that can’t even decide what it wants for lunch? What if my heart hems and haws over the simplest decisions? How can I possibly trust it with important tasks like figuring out what to do with the rest of my life or where I should live or whether or not I want pickles with that? What if I would really rather have people to tell me what to do with my life rather than my stinking, no-good, doubtful heart? Who are these people and how can I get some?

A month ago I really could have used these people. Faced with dwindling savings, a volunteer job that ends this month and absolutely no plans on the horizon, I had a whole bunch of maybes on my plate.

Maybe I should settle down. There is something liberating about knowing all of my possessions can fit into a suitcase the size of a Golden Retriever, but wouldn’t it be nice to own more than one pair of shoes? Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a home and a couch and dress-up clothes that are considered such because they’re pretty… and not just because they don’t have any holes in the crotch?

Maybe I should get a real job. For the past nine months, I’ve worked odd jobs and volunteer gigs that have paid me in cat cuddles, sickles, sanding wounds and warm fuzzies. I’ve really enjoyed my time off from the whole 9-to-5 thing, but, unfortunately, the government agency that issued my graduate school student loan refuses to be paid back in cat cuddles… or sickles. (I’ve tried to reason with these folks, but they just won’t listen. Bureaucracy, I tell you!) By now, I could really use some real wages and a retirement plan that doesn’t involve my living under a bridge and threatening small children for their lunch money.

Maybe I should stay in Asia… or move to Cairo… or, hey, I hear Ohio is nice this time of year. There are lots of places in the world I still want to see: Mongolia, Mozambique, Cambodia, Columbia, Ecuador, South Africa, Italy, Ghana, France, Germany, Kazakhstan. (Come on, don’t tell me that you’ve never wanted to visit Kazakhstan! It’s national drink is fermented mare’s milk! Isn’t that reason enough?). I’d love to go back and spend more time in Japan, too. Yet, some days I dream of buying my own little house in small town America with a porch swing and a bookcase full of books and a cat… or twelve. (I really like cats. And given the current real estate situation in America, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if you can pay for your mortgage with cat cuddles. Anyone know if this is the case? Anyone?)

For a month, I wavered and waffled, disputed and doubted, shillied and shallied. I sent my resume to schools in Turkey, Korea, Rangoon, Egypt, Macau, Dubai and Beijing. I applied to be a camp counselor. I registered for an online au pair agency. I dallied with the idea of working on a cruise ship. I contemplated staying put here in Chiang Mai. I looked into teaching online and writing online. (And learned that, thanks to the wonders of sites like Fiverr you can do pretty much anything online and get money for it – including doing other people’s homework, doling out etiquette advice and casting out demons. Who knew even shamanism had gone 2.0?)

In the end I chose a job teaching academic English at a university in China. I realize this sounds pretty much just like my old job teaching academic English at a university in Japan. And it is very much like my old job — except it’s in China, which is like way different from Japan. China resembles Japan in the same way I resemble Kate Moss. (Hint: I have ankles the same width as Kate Moss’ entire body. So, yeah, me and Miss Moss aren’t exactly twinsies).

I’ve never actually been to China, but I’ve heard the stories (oh, the stories!). In fact, it’s those stories which have scared me away from China until now. You’ve probably heard that it’s common to spit on the streets in China despite many recent public campaigns to stop it from happening. (Including one campaign which consists of having volunteers wearing a sign with the word “mucus” on their front while handing out tiny plastic bags for people to spit into). But the public bodily excretions don’t stop at hocking a few loogies, my friends. Apparently, you can also burp, fart, slurp, snort and shoot “snot rockets”(as my friend delicately referred to them in an email she sent to me). Additionally, babies are often seen peeing freely in the streets thanks to the use of split-crotch pants. Littering is commonplace. Standing in line is regarded as a competitive sport. And, you know, there’s the whole air pollution thing.

As your typical germ-phobic, clean-freak American who is big on personal space and fresh air and not so big on things like spit and smog and having to dodge peeing babies and missiles of snot on my way to work, I was pretty sure I wasn’t ready for China when I left Japan. In fact, I’m still not so sure I’m ready for China. But I am ready for a paycheck. (A much lower paycheck than the one I used to get in Japan, mind you, but, that’s okay, I don’t need money! I’ll be gaining life experiences! Does anyone know if the U.S. Department of Education accepts life experiences as payment for student loans? Anyone?)

So why did I decide to take a job that sounds a lot like my old job but with a lot less pay and a much higher chance of getting covered in human excrement? Well, despite all the stories of free-range infants and free-flying snot rockets, I have been wanting to go to China. I’d like to see the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors. Many of my colleagues have taught in China and enjoyed it. I have a major fascination with any food that so much as bares a passing resemblance to a dumpling. And I heard it’s perfectly acceptable to wear pajamas in public there, so I’m pretty psyched about that. (Especially since my pajama pants are one of the only pairs of pants I own that don’t yet have a hole in the crotch).

And, well, it was one of the few reputable gigs I could find that was willing to sign me on for short-term. My contract starts in mid-February and ends at the end of June.  When I’m done, I have the option of signing up for another semester, or pursuing a teaching job elsewhere… or, heck, I could chuck it all and take up selling love spells on the Internet or yak-herding in Kazakhstan or cat cuddling in Cleveland, Ohio.

I thought that taking nine months off from a “real job” to travel and volunteer would give me a better idea of who I am, where I want to be, what I want to do. When I left Japan, I was tired and burnt out. I wanted to take a break from working. I wanted to see a little bit more of Asia. And then I wanted to go home.

Now I’m not so sure where I want to go or what I want to do or who I am anymore. I thought traveling was supposed to help you find yourself. (Yoohoo, Self! Where are you?!)

Instead of keeping to the six countries on my original itinerary for Asia, I’ve started to add a few more to my list of must-sees. Instead of thinking my international employment options were limited to teaching jobs, I’ve learned there are lots of things I could do to earn cash while overseas. Instead of seeing travel as an all-or-nothing, black-and-white, either-you’re-traveling-or-you’re-not kind of thing, I’ve started to see it as more fluid, more flexible. I’ve toyed with the idea of going home for a bit to rest and recuperate and reunite with family and friends (and a jumbo-sized platter of nachos… or twelve) and then hitting the road again. After all, who says you can’t go home again? (Besides, err, Thomas Wolfe… but what does he know, anyway?).

Maybe I’ll love China, and end up staying their long-term. (Have I mentioned the pajamas in public thing? I mean, how awesome is that?) Maybe I’ll get freaked out by the spit and snot and split-crotch pants, and high tail it out of there after my four and a half months. Maybe I’ll continue teaching or maybe I’ll take up selling English homework and exorcisms online. Maybe I’ll continue traveling. Maybe I’ll find a country I like and settle down. Maybe that country will be Cleveland.

Who knows? I certainly don’t.

But maybe you do. (Are you one of those people — you know, the kind of people who tell others what to do with their lives? Can you be my people?)


I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On December 16, 2010 at 6:36 pm Jodi said:

    Sally, you are going to love China. The quirks, the food, the people, the small things that each and every day make you stop and smile and feel lucky for being there to witness them. Where will you be? I’ve got some lovely decisive-when-it-comes-to-food people who I can put you in touch with.

    And, as you know from reading & commenting on my latest post, I hear you on the indecision and difficulty in nailing down a plan for yourself (like nailing jello to a wall….). You’ve taken a big step and if you don’t like it, you can do something else thereafter and have some great experiences under your belt. Looking forward to reading all about it.
    Jodi recently posted..The Limits of Long-Term Travel- It Doesn’t Fix Everything

    • On December 17, 2010 at 12:12 am Unbravegirl said:

      Jodi — I’m really excited about China. So many people I know keep on telling me I won’t like it because I’m such a clean-freak, but, hey, you can wear your pajamas in the open and they have dumplings. How bad can it be? I’ll be in Wuxi which is not that far from Shanghai. Would love to hook up with any decisive people you know there who would be willing to make my meal choices for me!

  2. On December 16, 2010 at 6:52 pm Rose said:

    Yeah, if you find some of those people, let me know. I could use a few of them about now.

  3. On December 16, 2010 at 10:18 pm MaryAnne said:

    Oh, Sally, if I wasn’t so waffly myself I’d tell you exactly what to do with your life! I do have this horrible feeling we’re twins, which must come as a shock to the triplets you shared that womb with. I think you’re younger than me as well, so that complicates things somewhat. Anyway. That waffly indecisive thing isn’t so bad because waffly indecisive people are buffeted by the winds of chance and change so much more than mere mortals who have made up their minds and who have 5 year plans! When you can’t make up your mind, all the options (and then some!) are so very, very much in plain sight, taunting you with their multiplicity… And some of the most interesting choices in life only show themselves to those who haven’t already pencilled their path into their day planner.

    By the way, China’s not that gross. Especially the eastern bits. Shanghai’s absurdly tidy. And remember the Oreos!

    PS I’d like to live in a world where I could pay my bills in cat cuddles. That would be awesome.

  4. On December 17, 2010 at 12:22 am Ashlee said:

    I’m just as lost as you… I’m interested in too many things, my mind darts all over the place and I don’t have any gradiose life goal to guide my decisionmaking. But I guess, when all is said and done, as long as we had fun along the way, that’s the most important thing right? Right?
    Ashlee recently posted..Baby- it’s cold outside

    • On December 17, 2010 at 1:00 am Unbravegirl said:

      Yeah for being lost! I did have the realization while I was writing this that this really isn’t such a bad thing, my indecisiveness — at least it means I have lots of options & interests & will always be capable of providing sparkling dinner conversation, right? We may never figure out what we want to do with our lives… but I’m sure we’ll always get invited to parties! Yeah!

  5. On December 17, 2010 at 12:29 am Erica said:

    Oh good lord it is like looking into a mirror. I’m the queen of maybes. Most often I blame it one being a Libra (if you’re into that type of thing) which married another indecisive person (also a Libra). So you can imagine how our conversations go when it comes to finding a bite to eat – much less trying to figure out what we’re doing with the rest of our lives.

    Oh yes, and that wonderful school loan.

    This is the first time in my life where I have a million paths to go down and I can’t imagine trying to pick one.


    Congrats on making a decision to go to China! I’m sure that you will have an amazing time!
    Erica recently posted..Hometown Tourism – Santa Rampage-Santa Con

    • On December 17, 2010 at 12:55 am Unbravegirl said:

      Yikes! How do you two ever eat? I actually had this thought this week: “I really need a husband who will just make all my life decisions for me.” Yes, that’s right, I’m willing to forego women’s liberation, just so I can find someone to make up my mind for me. Lovely, huh? My Women’s Studies professors would be so proud of me now! (Now taking candidates for position of life-deciding mate).

  6. On December 17, 2010 at 5:52 am Emily said:

    I was in Beijing in November 2008 and didn’t see any bare bottomed babies, but I think its common in the warmer months (my boyfriend reports seeing this in August and September). China has a million beautiful quirks. I went to China purely to visit my boyfriend (and see the Great Wall) but now I can’t wait to someday return and see more of the country.
    Emily recently posted..Victoria- BC

  7. On December 17, 2010 at 2:59 pm Megan said:

    Okay, first of all, congratulations on your next move to China. How exciting! Second of all, yeah, I’m totally like you in the decision-making thing. I can be completely paralyzed by decisions as small as where to eat for dinner. It’s miserable. I used to–and this is embarrassing–have my boyfriend buy plane tickets for me because the second I had pressed the confirm button I panicked that I was making the wrong decision (the wrong date, the wrong airplane, the wrong whatever). So, yeah, I get it.

    Good luck in China!

    • On December 19, 2010 at 11:43 am Unbravegirl said:

      That is awesome. I need to find a boyfriend who will make my decisions for me. Than I can just blame him when I mess everything up. Genius!

  8. On December 17, 2010 at 3:10 pm Andi said:

    I’ve stopped trying to plan my life. It never goes according to plan, but well I’m pretty good about making decisions. If you need me to make a decision for you just shoot me an email. 😉
    Andi recently posted..Chile- Argentina &amp Uruguay- Day 1

  9. On December 18, 2010 at 8:26 am Heather said:

    Even in my career counseling wisdom I can’t tell you what to do — or maybe it’s because I’m a career counselor I know I can’t do that O:-) Heck, I quit *my* job to travel!

    Good luck in China!!
    Heather recently posted..Life of an Americaussie

  10. On December 18, 2010 at 1:24 pm Andrew said:

    I’ll tell you want I want to be when I grow up, when I actually grow up. Until then most things are open. No decision is final, even for those that make decisions; except probably lunch. Once you eat lunch that decision is final, but you get another lunch tomorrow; so at a nice abstract level those decisions aren’t really final either.

    So yes you are directionless and indecisive, but so are most people. You have the advantage of knowing this about you.

    Ok, done with philosophy, now for beer and cookies.
    Andrew recently posted..Distance

  11. On December 18, 2010 at 4:29 pm Michael Hodson said:

    You made a decision? Is it possible to back out? Cause there are sooooo many other options out there….. 😉

    Congrats on pulling the trigger. I bet you love China. And best of all…. it means you just have to make another destination/income decision in a few months. Whoo hooo!
    Michael Hodson recently posted..Cold Showers from Hell

    • On December 19, 2010 at 11:20 am Unbravegirl said:

      I think next time I’ll just make my blog into a “Choose Her Own Adventure” story & have all my readers decide where I should go to next!

  12. On December 18, 2010 at 4:30 pm Michael Hodson said:

    and you put a PHOTO in one of your posts!!
    Michael Hodson recently posted..Word Lens – Instant Visual Translator App for iPhone – Travel Game Changer

  13. On December 19, 2010 at 2:17 am Amanda said:

    Well, I’m certainly not one of those “people” you’re looking for who can make all the decisions for you and tell you what to do with your life.

    But I do live in Ohio. And I can tell you, fairly definitively, that it is NOT nice this time of year, especially in Cleveland. (Unless your definition of “nice” consists of feet of dirty snow and frigid temperatures…).

    Congrats on making the decision to head to China next!
    Amanda recently posted..It’s a Small World- After All

    • On December 19, 2010 at 11:38 am Unbravegirl said:

      Actually, I’ve been to Cleveland this time of year (and even lived near there for 4 years), so I know it’s not all that nice right now — but it IS better than Buffalo in the winter. And I have really found myself missing cold temperatures this holiday season. It just doesn’t seem like Christmas when I’m wearing a t-shirt & flip-flops! (Not to rub it in or anything)

      • On December 19, 2010 at 9:22 pm Amanda said:

        Yes, I imagine Cleveland probably does at least have something on Buffalo this time of year. I’m already sick of snow and ice and cold, though, and it’s not even officially winter yet! Ugh. I’ll trade you my boots and winter coat for your t-shirt and flip-flops any day!
        Amanda recently posted..3 Places to Catch the Travel Bug

  14. On December 19, 2010 at 9:17 am Conrad said:

    As the King of Rain and other moody (my niche) thoughts I doubt China is the perfect place for you, but perfect is boring and overrated anyway. Nothing new eh?

  15. On December 19, 2010 at 12:44 pm Adventurous Kate said:

    So exciting! I’m really happy for you. This will be a huge adventure! And I do hear you on the indecision…big time. Heh. 🙂
    Adventurous Kate recently posted..Bangkok Lodging Battle- Fancy Hostel vs Simple Guesthouse

  16. On December 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm AudreyDez said:

    I love your maybes! Keep them please! I recognize myself in your writing and it’s fun. I’m not really brave either, haha. Hope you’ll have a good time in China, although it can just be an awesome one as you’ll wear pj in public! China knows how to live for sure.

  17. On December 20, 2010 at 3:47 pm choi kun fook said:

    V dery exciting! going to such a great country–China. As I have mentioned, mostly Chinese is a great eater. Almost they eat everything except the table, so there have many delicious and fatanstic food you can find. Ha! Ha! be careful, don’t overtake with mouth! On other hand, joyous with eyes, you can see many fascinating spots especially the historical thing. Miss Sally, I am very sure you will have a unforgetable memory trip!!

  18. On December 20, 2010 at 6:30 pm Margo said:

    How exciting… good for you. Marrying up the creative maybes w/the left brain definitelies is no easy task… and something I’ve struggled w/daily for years… occupational hazard of any personal essayist. Ever want a pair of eyes to look over something for you – let me know and I’ll try to help =)
    Margo recently posted..Montenegro- Small Country with a Rich History on the Adriatic

  19. On December 21, 2010 at 3:54 pm LeslieTravel said:

    I like your writing style! Hope you get published in a travel mag 🙂 Have fun in China

  20. On December 22, 2010 at 3:47 am Odysseus said:

    I’m looking forward to hearing about your adventures (unadventures?) in China. Truthfully, I didn’t like a lot of aspects of China when I visited — especially all the peeing in public, and not just the babies, mind you! — but at the same time, I really want to go back. There’s so much to see. And even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable, it’s always INTERESTING.
    Odysseus recently posted..Our Wall Is Greater Than Yours

  21. On December 23, 2010 at 7:11 am Edna said:

    China china china! How exciting! My aunt actually lives in Wuxi (my family’s originally from Shanghai) so I can’t wait to hear your perspective about this crazy mad awesome country [in your own crazy mad way words =)]
    Edna recently posted..Where has Edna been- and where is Edna going

    • On December 23, 2010 at 9:23 am Sally said:

      Yes, I’m getting super excited about China. After a very easy few months in Chiang Mai (appreciated… but easy!), I think China will be a good challenge for me. And I’ve been hearing some good things about Wuxi, too. Let me know if you’re ever in town visiting your aunt!

  22. On December 23, 2010 at 11:08 am Sweet Batik said:

    Just found your blog. So excited for you. The green tea flavored Oreo sounds pretty good actually..

    Share the Love, Dina @
    Sweet Batik recently posted..Ode to Green Smoothie

  23. On December 24, 2010 at 6:26 am Ali said:

    If there are babies wearing split crotch pants so they can freely pee on the street, and you mentioned you own several pairs of pants with holes in the crotch, why not join in on the fun? Don’t fight the disgusting-ness, embrace it.

    I totally get the indecision stuff. I’m constantly weighing my options and looking at the “what-ifs” and often end up doing nothing. Sounds like you made a good choice though. If you hate it, you won’t be there long, and if you like it you can stay longer. No matter what, I’m sure it’ll get you a little closer to finding yourself or figuring out if you want to go to Cambodia or Cleveland.
    Ali recently posted..Camping Protesters in London

  24. On January 7, 2011 at 9:36 am Marie said:

    I need to check out Erica’s blog because I was going to say the same thing about my husband and I. Some weekends we don’t even get out of the house because we can’t decide what to do. But then, pajamas are OK in our house all day just like China.

    Congratulations on your decision! China will be filled with awesomeness for you, I’m sure. Just one more fact about the babies with the crotchless pants…they wee when their parents whistle. I’m not joking. The parents train them to do that since they don’t use nappies/diapers. And that fact, my friend, is why I travel!
    Marie recently posted..Lessons From a Jealous Friend

    • On January 7, 2011 at 9:44 am Sally said:

      Whoa. You can train your child to pee when you whistle? You know, I never thought I wanted children… but now I’m starting to reconsider. I mean, that would be one impressive party trick!

  25. On January 26, 2011 at 5:54 am Colleen Friesen said:

    I completely understand your to-ing and fro-ing mind. We could call it an inclusive mindset. Instead of saying it has to be a) or b)…it can be a) AND b)…which is why you can see travel as not having to be an all-or-nothing concept.
    Magazines generally want a definitive stand on something. You could write back and try defending your ‘maybe’s..if for no other reason than to see what they might say…then again, sounds like it’s not really what you want to pursue.
    China sounds like it will be an interesting experience – snot rockets and all 🙂 Keep writing whatever you do and wherever you end up. Your writing is great stuff.
    Colleen Friesen recently posted..Writing Versus Reality

  26. On February 3, 2011 at 11:08 am Gorilla Safaris in Uganda said:

    Well……for one called unbrave, i think these experiences are truly brave.


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