Risky Business

By Donnie Conley

“Some people see things that are and ask, Why? 
Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? 
Some people have to go to work and don’t have time for all that.”

-George Carlin

I’m not a risk taker.

It’s just not my style. My brain has always been incredibly logical and that has shaped many of the important decisions of my life. Spontaneity doesn’t come naturally to me and it’s something I’ve tried to work on.

I did go skydiving in 2012. It’s something I never would have considered doing if my then-girlfriend (now my wife) didn’t ask me to try it. Of course, I also spent hours researching skydiving accidents and felt comfortable with the odds. Leave it to a nerd like me to turn an extreme sport into a math problem. Even so, on the way to the drop zone, I almost backed out.

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I decided to go through with it, and can honestly say it was one of the coolest, most exhilarating experiences of my life.Truthfully, I can’t jump into any decision without considering some of the underlying factors. This is a blessing and a curse. When it comes to big decisions, I try to consider every possible factor and make a good, informed decision.

When it comes to little decisions (like where to eat dinner), I’m horribly indecisive, I spend way too much time researching individual restaurants (“Well, BigButtz57 on Yelp said the spring rolls were overcooked and the service was horrible”) and end up wasting 30 minutes before just giving up and settling on something familiar.

This past fall, I was faced with the biggest risk of my life. I might have a chance to move to Australia. A process that started as an off-the-wall suggestion had turned into a very real possibility. In the early days of this process, I didn’t honestly think it would happen. Sometimes, I secretly hoped that it would just fade away and I wouldn’t have to confront this incredibly challenging decision. Yes, we had discussed it at length, but it wasn’t until I officially had a job interview scheduled that things began to feel real.

I changed my mind around 100 times. One day I would be super excited about the move, the next I was near tears at the thought of leaving my life behind. I was worried about so many things. Some practical—how much of a loss would we take on our house after owning it for such a short length of time? How would we manage to get out of a car loan that we are upside-down on? What would we do with our dog? How do I avoid a lapse in health benefits? Some less practical—can I survive if I only watch the Vols on sub-50-inch TV? How will I watch the NFL during work? Does Cracker Barrel deliver to Australia?

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For about four weeks, my mind was going 100 miles per hour every single day. It really wore on me and it wore on Emily as well. I am not the type to drop everything and make a major life change. I’ve always been jealous of those who were wired that way, but it’s simply not me.

In that respect, meeting and falling in love with Emily was my greatest achievement. She has a much greater sense of adventure than I have ever possessed. And while sometimes, I can keep her grounded more than she would like, I think we do a great job in bringing out the best in each other.

People often talk about the value of stepping outside of your comfort zone. For most of my life, I rolled my eyes at that. I knew what I liked and didn’t see a need to experience anything different. Once, early in our relationship, Emily asked where I would consider living. She was asking what foreign countries or cities I would move to. My response was “certain parts of Georgia and South Carolina.”

Suffice to say we’ve come a long way since that conversation. While some of that growth can be attributed to simply getting older and wiser, I think most of it is a result of spending my life with someone who is so willing to embrace the unknown.

The truth is, you can always come up with reasons not to do something. Sometimes these are imagined and sometimes they are very real. Either way, it’s very easy to maintain the status quo. If we had stayed in Tennessee, we would have had a wonderful time. We loved our life there, and for good reason. We were so close to family and friends in a house we built from the ground up.

We didn’t leave because we were miserable or in need of a change. We left because the chance to move to this incredible country was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will enrich us in ways we could never have imagined.

There is plenty of adventure and possibility surrounding you. My advice is to ignore the noise (looking at you, BigButtz57) and focus on trying something new.

 

 

 

 

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Saturday in Sydney

Saturday dawned bright and clear, a perfect day for some city exploration. Donnie and I got ready and jumped on the “fast ferry” to Circular Quay. There are several options for getting to Sydney from Manly Beach, which is where we are currently living. There are two ferries– a regular one and a fast one. We pay a little more to ride the fast ferry ($17 for a return ticket/person) because it is nicer, takes half the time as the other ferry, and you can sit on the front of the boat to enjoy the view and the occasional sea spray. You also get a killer view of the skyline as you come into the harbour.

IMG_2740.jpgOnce we disembarked, we headed beyond the Opera House to the vast Royal Botanic Gardens. These gardens are beautiful, with all kinds of exotic and endangered plants and trees, as well as flowers, statues, and sculptures. We meandered through the gardens with the goal of visiting the Government House and then continuing to a rock formation known as Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair.

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IMG_2758.jpgWell, we ended up a little lost, and the building we thought was the historical Government House was actually an InterContinental Hotel. We ventured back into the garden to find our way. We discovered a beautiful section of flowers and Donnie found a map, so we were well on our way.

IMG_2762.jpgThe sun was out in full force. I put on sunscreen (or suncream as they call it here) but conveniently forgot my face. Oops. We finally made it to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. This sandstone bench was carved by convicts in in 1810 for the then-governor’s wife. There are some of the best harbour views from this point.

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IMG_2784There was a lovely breeze and lots of shade, so Donnie and I took a little break by the water to soak in the sights and sounds. There is something utterly peaceful about the sound of water punctuated by Aussie songbirds. You can also see my lovely sunburn setting in.

IMG_2788After our little rest, we headed back to Circular Quay to find a Hop On-Hop Off bus. We still hadn’t seen much of Sydney beyond the harbour and we wanted to understand how things were laid out.

While buying tickets for the tour bus, one of the teenage girls working the ticket booth asked Donnie where we were from. When he said Nashville she exclaimed, “Ah! I watch that show all the time! I feel a little starstruck.” Hah!

We hopped on the bus and enjoyed a narrated tour through the CBD. We learned that we’ve basically been pronouncing everything wrong: Bondi is Bond-eye not Bond-ee, Macquarie is MahCory not MaKerry, and I still can’t say Woolloomooloo, though we learned that it’s an Aboriginal word for “baby kangaroo.”

IMG_2797After our tour we felt like we had a much better handle on the city, and we’ve planned several trips to different areas for future weekends. I’m really excited for Chinatown yum cha (what we call dim sum in America) and taking my picture with a koala at the Sydney Wild Life Zoo.

After our busy day, we were happy to grab some gelato and hop back on the fast ferry to Manly.

Do you have any suggestions for things to do in the Sydney area?

Best sunscreen that doesn’t make your face break out? (This is becoming a daily necessity.)

When You Leave

While we were preparing to move to Australia (or “On-cherry-ah” as my nephew says it) I did a lot of research: what cities and countries could we visit, where would we live, how do people dress, what is the climate like, what kind of food do Aussies eat, and so forth. I also did a lot of dreaming. I dreamt of warm, sunny days spent on silky sand beaches and traveling to exotic new places. I dreamt of cuddling koalas and watching Cockatoos from my balcony. And honestly, some of those dreams have already come true. The beaches are absolutely lovely, with warm, soft sand and cool, salty waves. We’ve already booked a cruise to the South Pacific (rather impulsively, but the deal was incredible and we set sail in 22 days!) and I’ve seen more Cockatoos than I can count.

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With all of the excitement and adventure looming, I didn’t give a lot of thought to the leaving part. This isn’t the first time I’ve been away from “home.” I went to college in Indiana and lived in Tulsa, OK for the first two years after graduating. I spent a semester studying abroad in England and traipsing across Europe. I’m independent and adventurous. And I’m grieving the loss of my home and family.

It’s very important to keep things in perspective: my family and friends are all still very much alive and surprisingly easy to communicate with, thanks to FaceTime and WhatsApp. But leaving created this vacuum, this hollow space that used to be filled with family dinners, hugs and cuddles with my niece and nephew, and the ease and comfort of being surrounded by so many people I love and who love me. No one tells you that giving something up, even voluntarily, and even for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, will hurt like it does.

Burton, my nephew who just turned 3, told my mom today that, “Sometimes I don’t like Donnie.” (He loves Donnie and literally asks to talk to him every time I call.) My mom asked him when those times are, and he answered, “When he moves away.” Cue tears.

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I questioned publishing this post. This move is our grand adventure, and no one wants to read about the unglamorous, slightly depressing side to becoming an expat. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge– especially in today’s “Instagrammed” world where everything looks perfect and sometimes we find ourselves trying to measure up to someone else’s life that isn’t even reality.

This is my reality. I live in the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. I spend my days reading on the beach or walking up and down the Corso to find the perfect takeaway lunch. I thank God every single day that I wake up here, unbelievably happy to be taking this one day at a time with my fabulous husband. I also cry sometimes. Some mornings even the beach loses its appeal and all I want to do is get on a plane and head back to Nashville. I feel uncomfortable grocery shopping because food has different names and I’m bad at converting kilograms to pounds. I never know what the temperature is because Celsius is dumb. (Actually, I’m starting to learn that one, too.)

I’m learning that feelings of loss are not negative, these feelings are simply part of the process. We had to give up some really important, really wonderful things and people to be able to make this adventure a reality. The joy and wonder we get to experience are magnified, not diminished, by our parallel sadness. While I’ll continue to miss home (and Chickfila) I am confident that we made the right decision in coming here. And December, which means a trip home and Christmas with our families, will be here before we know it!

 

World’s Longest Flight and a Treehouse

Moving day finally arrived, after several attempts and delayed visas. Donnie and I chose to fly from our home, Nashville, to Dallas, and then to take a direct flight from Dallas to Sydney. We would enjoy a two-hour flight to Dallas, have a three-hour layover, and then climb aboard the two story Qantas A380 for the world’s longest flight, scheduled at 16 hours and 55 minutes to travel an astounding 13,804 kilometers (8,577 miles.) Woah.

image1 (2).JPGWe obviously couldn’t leave America without a curbside airport selfie.

We chose not to ship any of our belongings, as it takes up to several months to receive a shipment, and we figured we would need any “necessities” before our shipment arrived. Instead, we opted to pack all of our clothes and accoutrements in two full-size suitcases each, with a wheeled carryon each as well. Not an easy load to maneuver.

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Once we checked in and paid approximately $360 in overweight and extra baggage charges (ouch) we were officially on our way across the world. Fortunately my mom kept it light and cheery, so we didn’t leave in tears. (Those would come later.)

We made it to Dallas after an easy flight and had plenty of time to enjoy an airport meal. We lucked out and found a place in DFW’s international terminal (so much quieter than the domestic American terminal) that served up delectable crab cakes and solid burgers. After dinner, Donnie bought me some Bose noise-cancelling headphones because he is the best. I really thought it was stupid to spend so much money on headphones when he got his, but the difference it makes in a flight (especially a really long flight) is worth every penny.

We checked in at our gate and asked if there were any upgrades available– a girl can dream, right? While I didn’t get business class lay-down seat, they did let us purchase an entire row of 4 seats for just the two of us for only $250. (I should also note that Donnie’s company gave us substantial relocation funds to cover our moving costs.) I really can’t explain how excited I was to have extra room. I was not looking forward to being scrunched up next to a random stranger for seventeen hours.

The extra fee was absolutely worth it– we had so. much. space. The A380 is an enormous plane, so we never felt cramped. The Qantas flight attendants were incredibly attentive and kind– offering up a “welcome drink” of light berry juices and consistently passing through the cabin with water so everyone stayed hydrated. They also have “snack stations” through the cabin, so you could get up to take a walk and grab an apple, a Kit-Kat, or a bottle of water at your leisure. The food was even on a different level: quinoa, golden raisin, and chicken salad for dinner and a lovely selection of fruit and yogurt for breakfast.

I was really nervous about jumping on such a long flight, but it honestly did not feel any longer than the 8-hour flight to London that I’ve taken several times, despite actually being twice as long. Just call it Qantas magic!

When we arrived in Sydney, it was 6:30 am, two days later, and very warm. We left 30 degree winter and landed in 90 degree summer. Flying is so weird sometimes.

We took a cab to our Airbnb, which held a few surprises for us.

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After scaling a million steps (or 45) we were halfway up the hill to our “granny flat” and it was at this point that our super fit Aussie host handed Donnie a huge stick and casually said, “I usually bring this down with me in the morning to clear out the spiders.” Umm.

We continued up 20 more “stairs” (more like rocks staggered in the super steep hillside) and reached our granny flat. Thank goodness our host was willing to help lug our 6 giant suitcases up the incline. He didn’t break a sweat. Perhaps Donnie and I did. Our flat did have really incredible views of the lagoon.

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Things it did not have: air conditioning.

Honestly, the flat was clean and spacious, in a great location, and very reasonably priced. All of that was hard to remember when the sun was blazing and the highs sat in the mid-90’s. Donnie bought a fan on day 3 which significantly helped. However, it was hard to feel anything but incredibly lucky when we sat outside to enjoy the sunset.

IMG_2680.JPGIn the end, we survived our week in the “hot spider house” as it has affectionately come to be known. Stay tuned to see where we moved next!

See Ya Later, Alligator

I’ve never been good at saying goodbye. I tend to slip out of parties and gatherings, choosing the sometimes awkward “Irish exit” over having to say rounds of farewell. Unfortunately, when you are moving 8,700 miles away from home, you generally have to say goodbye in some form. Luckily, we have the best friends and family who made this process easy and even fun!

Leaving my job was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I was incredibly lucky to work with a close team of truly amazing, passionate people who became a second family.

12362904_888807087899391_9205960148626982163_o.jpgThese people work tireless hours to make sure that every high school graduate in the state of Tennessee can go to college tuition-free and with personal mentor support. I grew so much, both professionally and personally, in my time with tnAchieves, that I can say with certainty that I left a better person than I arrived. Saying goodbye to this group was tough, but made better by delicious Thai food at the ever-so-classy Thai Phoo Ket (it’s a restaurant in a trailer in a parking lot across from Nissan Stadium– but with some of the best Thai food in Nashville.) So with noodles and some tears, I said goodbye to my work team (for now.)

My friends are scattered across the country, and with no concrete moving date, it was somewhat impossible to plan any group gathering. However, my sneaky bestie Hailey surprised us with a gathering of our Nashville friends in January. Donnie and I went to dinner with Hailey at Farm House (highly recommend the rabbit confit with sweet potato gnocchi) and then to have a drink at Green House. We walked in to a bunch of Donnie’s friends and my friends all sitting together– and I was so confused! It took me a beat to realize they were actually there to see us! We were so glad to get to see everyone together before leaving.

I didn’t know how I wanted to say goodbye to family, but my mom had the perfect idea for a fun, Australia-themed gathering with our parents and siblings. She cooked up a storm for a delicious pasta bar, and we played Australia games that turned out to be hilarious.

IMG_2412.JPGOne game required everyone to try to guess the actual meaning of Aussie slang. For example, do you know what a budgie smuggler is? If you guessed a man’s bathing suit, you would be correct. (I had my first budgie smuggler sighting yesterday.)

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We also played a game where we threw baseballs that were designated “Aussie threats” like Stone Fish, alligators, box jellies, funnel-web spiders, into a “Great White Shark” mouth to save me and Donnie from imminent death. My Dad won pretty handily.

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Donnie’s mom brought these delicious cupcakes with flags representing all of our homes: TN, NY, US, and Australia. Donnie kept the flag display and put it on his desk at work!

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My brother and sister-in-law wrote a hilarious song to the tune of “Rocky Top” and sang it to us all. My favorite lines include: “You’ll abbreve all the words” (if you know me at all, you know I abbreve anything possible, and the entire country abbreves everything here), “supes fun life,” “Eat all the vegemite and stream all your games to root for your TN Vols,” “when you’ve had years of cramped up Sydney life” (because how clever) and most of all “Enjoy those gun-free laws!” This was easily one of my favorite gifts ever.

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I learned that saying goodbye isn’t easy, and sometimes it involves tears, but also it’s such a blessing to have so many people who care about us. I was so thankful to my Mama for creating such a fun, lighthearted party to allow us to spend time with those we’ll miss the most.

We also expect as many visitors as possible, so if you miss us, book a flight and come stay with us!

Changes in Latitude

My personality is vibrantly orange, almost overwhelmingly so. If you aren’t familiar with the True Colors personality spectrum, orange personalities are spontaneous and action-oriented. We “oranges” make decisions quickly and emotionally and we are energized by risk and change. In addition to my natural “orange-ness,” I grew up in a family that prioritized traveling and adventure.

This orange married a green. Donnie is analytical, strategic, and logical. He has otherworldly critical thinking skills and makes every decision based on facts. We both have pretty strong personalities, which makes for some interesting joint decision making. I leap to an immediate, emotionally-charged decision, and Donnie is able to pull me back and assess the situation to make sure I’m not doing something crazy that will harm or bankrupt us. So far, our system has worked beautifully.

Rewind to last August: We were staying on 30A for a week of beach relaxing.

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The relaxation kicked in and we began idly discussing why we didn’t live closer to the beach. I’ve been a beach bum since birth, enjoying family trips to the same beach house each summer for years.

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While Donnie is a newer convert, we both feel peaceful by the water and agreed that we were happier when the waves were close by.

Donnie had a previous opportunity through work to relocate to Sydney, Australia. Being the orange that I am, I was 100% ready to move. Do it, just say yes, let’s go! Donnie was not so sure, but we decided to go ahead and see if it was even still a possibility. After weeks of back and forth with managers, several interviews, and a lot of waiting (not my strength) we finally got the go-ahead: We were moving to Australia!

This process sounds compact and simple, but in reality it was drawn out, confusing, and somewhat stressful. My green husband had so many questions and concerns, and my orange self got frustrated with the delays and second-guessing. I couldn’t imagine why we wouldn’t take advantage of someone paying us to move to an exotic, adventurous new continent, and Donnie couldn’t imagine leaving the land of the free and home of the Vols.

Eventually, we decided we couldn’t, or shouldn’t, say no to this incredible opportunity. So the Conleys packed up and headed down under, and we are so excited to see what this adventure holds!