There are a few people that go out of their way to boost others up and recognize their personal achievements. One of them is Jelena, Nenad’s cousin. I see so much of myself in her. It’s like looking into a time machine 20 years down the line. But that’s not why I like to spend time with her. It’s that every time we’re together I realize something new about myself.

Jelena and I never have ordinary conversations. We never cover dull topics that are widely disputed across the globe. We always talk about something personal, something that we find to be interesting, something new that we might have been pondering throughout the week since we last saw each other. She brings out something in me that makes me love myself. When I leave her I always appreciate myself more, I respect myself more, and I feel that I’m even more hopeful for who I will become.

Tonight, I once again left their house with another self-realization – I gave up money for happiness. That’s something that I feel like people always ponder and try to envision the decision they would make if they were forced to choose. I’ve thought about it myself, without realizing I’ve already chosen between the two.

Jelena was asking how my parents are feeling now that I’ve got a fantastic job and am completely settled into my life here. I told her that I think they’re finally seeing something that I’ve been telling them since I returned home from Spain – that I’ve never been a better version of myself than who I am when I’m traveling the world. I told her how every time I’m getting off the phone with my mother she says, “You sound great honey, you sound really really good.”

When I told Jelena that I’m a happier person away from home it was hard for her to wrap her head around. She said, “But why? You have everything where you’re from. People would love to live in America,” and she’s not wrong. I don’t take anything that I have in California for granted, but that doesn’t mean it’s obligated to be my favorite place.

I gave up everything to move to Serbia. I had a few job prospects for after graduation, I had my family and friends, I had a lovely living arrangement, I had everything for a happy life, but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t surrounded by a culture and society that stimulated me. I wasn’t pushed out of my comfort zone, I wasn’t challenged to be a better version of myself, I wasn’t growing the way I do when I’m away from home. That’s not to say that I never would have, because I’m sure with time it would have happened. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t letting it happen. I really don’t know. What I do know is that here in Serbia I may not have access to the best advances in technology, I may not have Amazon or basically any online shopping available, it may not be a thriving economy, it definitely doesn’t have many modern features to it, but I’m more than happy.

What it comes down to is that I like who I am when I’m living here. The culture is a different culture and the people have a warmth to them that I don’t feel at home in Northern California. It’s a seemingly relaxed environment, although the people work extremely hard. It’s a thriving city, although the population isn’t loaded with money. Serbia is a country that knows how to enjoy life without having everything the world has to offer. It’s a lifestyle that’s oftentimes looked down upon in America.

Despite it all, I chose to move here, to live here, to study the language, to find a job, to become closer with Nenad’s family and friends, and to be beyond uncomfortable by choosing the path not well marked. In a matter of minutes, I realized all of this, and I felt proud. I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of the choices that I’ve made, Lord knows they weren’t easy.

Our society can often tell us that celebrating our achievements is bragging, arrogant, unprofessional, hurtful to others, etc. I disagree wholeheartedly. If someone can’t be happy and celebrate your success then they don’t deserve to be sharing it with you. Patting yourself on the back and recognizing your own hard work and achievements is too crucial to be forgotten.

I was successful in California, but I gave it all up because I looked at myself and realized that I could be successful anywhere in the world. I looked in the mirror and told myself that I’m not only capable, but I’m valuable. I worked a long and hard two years so that I could have options after graduation. It’s like my parents gave me a puzzle for success, but I sat down and put all the pieces together.

My post-graduate job prospect in California was tempting. It was a lot of money, especially compared to what I’m making now. It was in a beautiful location, it had an amazing work environment, I’d already spent a lot of time there… it was honestly everything I thought I would want. It promised me security, something that I was searching long and hard for. But in the end, it couldn’t give me happiness, and I decided life is too short to waste any time unsatisfied – with my surroundings or myself.