On March 15, 2018, I said goodbye to Canada and moved to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is nestled between Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Gulf which sounds super scary, but is paradoxically, incredibly safe.  Abu Dhabi is also extravagantly wealthy, a glittering jewel in the heat of the desert. Even with oil prices down, there is still no income tax which means you can save loads of cash (assuming you don’t get sucked into the spending vortex that so many do). For those of us with the travel itch, Africa, Europe, India, and South East Asia are all a few hours away, so it’s also an ideal home base. As for the weather, while the summers are oppressively hot and muggy (high 40s with high humidity), the rest of the year is warm and sunny.  By warm and sunny, I mean perpetually. It never rains unless they seed the clouds.

I left Canada for a career opportunity that a friend recommended for me. We both happen to work in the same industry, and we happened to be good friends, and when the opportunity presented itself, it was something I could not pass up.

It’s not like I was unhappy or dissatisfied with the career I had before coming. In terms of my internal success barometer, I pretty much had it made. I specialize in educational technology start-ups, and I was working for one of the best in the industry – a darling in the Kitchener-Waterloo startup world. Plus, my CEO at the time, Carol Leaman, is the gold standard as far as leaders go. If you’ve ever watched Dragon’s Den, she reminds me a little of Arlene Dickinson. Level headed, fair, transparent, incredible business acumen, and an amazing human being.  Plus, I worked from home, so yeah, I had a sweet gig.

And it’s not like we didn’t like living in Cornwall, Ontario.  We had been living there for ten years, and we had a fine flock of friends. Both of our families were nearby, and I loved living so close to my mother. But the icing on the cake was our waterfront home.  If you’ve ever passed through Cornwall, you know it has majestic views of the St. Lawrence River. Six years ago, my husband and I had snagged our ‘dream house’ which (in my opinion) has one of the best views along the riverfront. Every morning when I looked outside, I marvelled at the view. The view that never got old never got tired. I said over and over to myself, to friends, to family, that I’d never sell that house. And yet here we were planning to sell our beautiful, perfect house.   

The reason why I’m explaining all of this to you is to emphasize that preparing for this massive change wasn’t predicated on fixing a life that was broken.  I was, in fact, living the life I’d always envisioned. But if I’m really honest, there was an undercurrent to try something new. Like many Canadians, while I love the summers, the winters ARE HARD. Especially last winter. The double whammy of frigid temperatures coupled with endless snow was draining.  Feet and feet of snow. Shovel, freeze, repeat. And while I loved working from home, I also missed connecting more closely with peers. Secretly I wondered if working from home might be inhibiting my chances to promote up. But the other important consideration was that Steve and I had often talked about doing something drastic. Living on the beach, re-inventing ourselves, stepping outside our comfort zone. We talked about this regularly, but it seemed impossible to get the stars aligned to make a change.  

And then the morning that changed everything – January 2, 2018. My friend Carla had messaged me on Facebook to let me know that her company had an opening in an area where I specialized.  She had recommended me to the CEO. I spoke with the CEO that very day, and we chatted a few days a week until I flew out for a more formal interview. It was a whirlwind. It was crazy. It was insane, and I had doubts – Huge, nagging doubts that kept me up at night. What if the company tanked and we all lost our jobs? What if I hated the company? What if we hated the UAE? What if my dogs got lost, escaped from their kennels, were mishandled, or died on the flight over there? What if my husband wasn’t able to find work in the UAE? What if the life we currently had were the best we would ever know? What if we made no friends? What if leaving my cozy, secure job was a huge mistake?  The list of doubts went on and on and on. The reasons to not go weighed heavily.

BUT YET… The UAE was an opportunity for us to step into the space we had talked about for some time. Start over. Live on the beach. Leave winter. Reinvent ourselves. Travel more.  Slowly, the other side of ‘what if’ came out: What if we pass this up and it’s the biggest regret of our lives? What if this is the chance we’ve been talking about and we said no because it was too easy to stay comfortable?  

And so here we are. On the other side of the world. It has not been without its hardships. In 10 weeks, we sold our dream house. I quit a job a loved. We sold (nearly) everything we owned. We planned a wedding AND got married (UAE law doesn’t recognize common-law, and to sponsor a spousal visa, you have to be married). We had countless parties and gatherings and goodbyes. I packed my bags and moved to the other side of the world.  

It is not a path I would recommend for the faint of heart. At times I regretted it as the stress was unbearable in those first months. Jetlag plus a new job plus all the hoops to jump through to get settled. And the costs! I burned through my first paycheck in four days (we get paid monthly) with all the deposits, utilities’ set up, furniture buying, and ongoing expenses back in Canada. I need to say this because it’s important to let you know that it hasn’t been perfect or easy.

I remember when my friend Carla left Canada for the UAE, and I would read through her Facebook feed. I thought her life was so glamorous and exciting. And then I stepped into her shoes and experienced firsthand the hard work, the stress, insomnia, the doubt, the fear, the financial drain, the complications, the curve balls, the loneliness. But yet, it’s all worked out.  Here I am. Here we are, and we are all in one piece. And we are finally starting to have fun- loads and loads of fun. There are weekend excursions. We are going to Sri Lanka next month. We are making friends, and we have family and friends coming to visit in the fall.

The moral of this story is to stay open. You never know when the universe will crack open and present you with the opportunity of a lifetime. The other important lesson is to pay attention to the narrative that plays in your mind. Those doubts and what-ifs come from a place of fear and ego. Listening to that voice will lead you down a dark path of saying no to life.  You are not that voice. No matter how things play out, you’ll be fine. Trust that everything happens for a reason. Create the life of your dreams. Regret nothing.

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5 Comments

  1. Hi Tracy,
    Thanks for sharing the story. I felt like I am reading my story at some points. There are many similarities in thinking, and while I was reading I was telling myself “exactly”, “yes”, “I was there” with very high emotions.
    I am living with my family in Amman Jordan and we have been living here exactly for two years now. Just like what you mentioned in your article many questions pop up in my mind plus struggling with cultural difference, people, and life convenience. For me, it was a very hard decision to move here but my husband (Jordanian) persuaded me in many ways plus I wanted to change my lifestyle.
    I and my family had been living in Taiwan for fifteen years and as you know the country is very famous for its development, convenience, pleasure, and openness. Very friendly people.

    In Jordan, I am working as an English teacher in a secondary school for a living and still many ups and downs going on in my life. I am a very optimistic, adaptable and open-minded person so always encourage myself for change and openness in many cultural contexts. By the way, I am originally born in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

    At last, it was great to read your story and share my experience with someone who has been on the same track in some experience. Thanks for the share and for sure I will be the writer of my story.
    Love, Maggie

    • Tracy Reply

      Hi Maggie, I finally figured out how to reply here! Thanks so much for the note…it’s been such a looongggg time since I saw you. Feels like a lifetime ago. Glad the story resonated with you. There’s always comfort in knowing others ‘get it’. I’ve got so many colleagues from Jordan and have heard so many great things about it. Glad you are enjoying teaching. I certainly enjoyed this as well. All the best, and again, thanks for your note….

      • Thanks for your reply. You are awesome, and enjoy your adventure! Best wishes to you too.

  2. I’m so happy to have you here sharing your story with us, Tracy! I’m looking forward to seeing your adventures unfold. What an inspiration!

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