Episode 36

Adapting Your Dreams with Charlene Camilleri Duca

Published on: 3rd August, 2022

Charlene Camilleri Duca runs her own clinical psychology and gestalt therapy practice in Malta. In November 2021 she started a 9-month tour of Europe with her husband and 2-year-old son, living in rented accommodation for a week at a time and shifting her work online. As she nears the end of her trip, Charlene reports on her experience and shares with us:

  • why she wanted to take time out of her busy work schedule to tour Europe
  • how she adapted her dream of travelling to her current life situation
  • how we tend to stand in the way of our own goals and how to deal with that
  • why being comfortable is not a good place to be and how to let go of comforts
  • the techniques she employs to deal with life’s stresses and challenges

The book mentioned in this episode is The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter.

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Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcript
Maribel:

Welcome! Today we have Charlene with us, and Charlene is a clinical psychologist and gestalt psychotherapist. We're really thrilled to have you with us, Charlene. Can you give us a little bit of background of what it is that you do in your work and, which is also one of the main reasons why I thought it would be great to speak with you, what you're doing right now privately?

Charlene:

Yeah. So thank you, Maribel and Helen, for having me. As you said, I'm a clinical psychologist and gestalt psychotherapist and I'm also the managing director of two psychology clinics in Malta. I work with a team of just over 30 psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors and we see people from all walks of life in therapy. I myself specialise in dealing with anxiety and depression, self growth and self development and also personality disorders. So this is something that I work mainly with, with my clients. And that's in relation to my work. I spend half of the amount of time in my work, working with clients, personal clients, and then I also manage the clinic and make sure that the service that we provide is a service that is a high quality service. So that's with regards to my work. With regards to my personal life, at the moment, I'm in my eighth month of working and travelling around Europe. So basically back in November of 2021, my husband and my two year old son, and myself and our Australian Shepherd, we decided to go on a tour around Europe. So basically we started off in Malta and we drove up through Italy, so Sicily then Italy, and we've basically been changing our home base every week. So we spend anywhere between seven and 10 days in a place and then we pack up our bags and we move to the next Airbnb. And we’ve visited six countries in total. So we've been to Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, and now we're driving back down through Italy. We're currently in Sardinia. And then around a month’s time we’ll arrive back in Malta where we started exactly nine months after. So this is what we've been doing recently. We work, so we’ve still continued to work remotely, but we also see a lot of different places and the idea was to experience as much as possible whilst at the same time spending more time with our son and more time together and being able to enjoy this experience as a family.

Maribel:

Beautiful. That sounds like a quite audacious endeavour that you're going through. How did this idea come about and how difficult or easy was it to arrange everything? Because I can imagine it was not like, “Oh, I think we should do that.” And then everything sorted out and your husband said, “Yes, of course, let’s do that!”

Charlene:

You’d be surprised. So you have to look at it over a span of years. This is something that I wanted to do since I was around 18. So basically, the idea was that I wanted to spend a year abroad and the plan originally was that I wanted to go backpacking in Southeast Asia, so I wanted to go to Thailand and Vietnam and Cambodia. And I think that's what happened along the years was, I always put my studies first and I always put my responsibilities first. And the more time went on, the older I got, the less likely it was that this year abroad was going to happen. So I started speaking to friends about maybe one day taking this trip, spending a year abroad, really experience living life outside of Malta, and then eventually it became, it would be really good if I could do this, it's a pity, now I don't think it's gonna happen. And what happened after some time is I started getting frustrated with the idea of okay, I just have to let go of this and accept the fact that I can’t. I manage a small business, I manage a team of over 40 people and it becomes much more difficult to leave. But when it came to actually making the decision a year ago, I spoke to my husband and I said, “You know, that idea of travelling for a certain amount of time, I really want us to do it.” And my husband's quite a cautious person and I tend to be the one who has crazy ideas and then he follows suit, and eventually he said, “We can't just leave, we have commitments, our son, what’s going to happen with our dog, our house?” And all of these things. But once we figured out a way that we can work and also travel, he was on board and I have to say this he does 90% of the organising that we need to do to be able to travel from one place to another. So really, what we needed to do then is just save up some money to be able to pay off our loan, and then the rest of it came because it just was a matter of where would we like to visit and what budgets do we need to work with when it comes to accommodation and living expenses. So the travelling was actually much easier than anticipated. It was just taking the plunge of saying, “Okay, we're doing this and we're doing this now. And we know it's going to be unpredictable and it's going to be new and we don't really know what we're getting into but we’re going to try it and we can always come back but at least give it a try.”

Maribel:

Wow. There's a particular space in our heads that you experience that I'm interested in trying to understand how people, and how you did it, how to break that pattern, that it's so easy to think, “Oh, this is not going to work” and find all the excuses how something is not going to work and thinking, “Oh well, now I'm not 20. I have a family and I have all these things that keep me from doing what I really want.” But what you seem to have done is to have adapted that dream to your personal situation now with a son and husband etcetera. How can someone change the approach and instead of saying, “This is a dream, I need to let go” and try to see possibilities in their current reality?

Charlene:

That's a really good question and a really good point, because I think I came to the decision because in therapy, I sit with a lot of people who stand in their own way. So basically, who limit themselves, who limit their, let's say, opportunities. For example, someone saying, “Listen, I'd like to study for a new course. I'd like to take a new job, I'd like to travel, I’d like to have a particular type of relationship, but I can't.” And I know that the only thing that stands in their way is usually their limitations, so what they think that they can do or what they feel that they can achieve. I went through this basically when I went from working for someone to being self-employed. For me, the idea of structuring my own working schedule, structuring my own life schedule felt completely impossible. And when I went from that, “Okay, I want to decide what I do with my life. How many hours I spend with my family, how many hours I spend working, how many hours I spend with friends, how many hours I spend learning new things, trying different experiences, and I don't want to be in a situation where I feel like I can't because someone else is deciding things for me.” And once you take that step and you take that responsibility, and you see actually, there were a lot of fears before and the fears were mainly in my head and it's not actually something that is being imposed on me, then things actually start changing. With more experiences that you have where you say , “Actually, you know what? I think I can and I think if I give it a try and test it out and do more of it, then I'll step back.” So with a lot of people it's actually shifting the mentality from “I can’t, this isn't possible” to actually going, “Why can’t I? What’s stopping me? Who’s stopping me? What's so difficult about this?” And asking these questions usually brings you to a situation where you go, “You know, it's probably because it's never been done before, or no one in my family has done it before.” It's something that's new, but actually, you know, it's not so outrageous. It's not such a big deal and just seeing where it can take you.

Helen:

Thank you for sharing that, Charlene. That was lovely to hear your story and particularly the part that you're talking about fear at the end there, because you said earlier on that when you actually came to do your trip around Europe, it was easier than you'd anticipated. So where do you think the fear, in your instance, was coming from? Because there's a wonderful expression that says, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” So I'm curious as to where, for you personally, the fear was coming from and how you were able to deal with it and make that start.

Charlene:

I think for me it was how are the people around me that I feel so responsible towards, that I take care of, how are they going to feel about me just leaving? So I think mainly it was, “Are people going to feel left behind? Are people going to think that I don't care about them?” For example, mainly it's my psychology assistants and my therapists and my clients. Are they gonna feel like I'm flaky, like I just decided to let go of them? So I think the fear was mainly, “Are the people in my life going to feel I still care for them, while still being able to pursue a personal dream, and will they support me in this or will they feel like this isn't something that they can accept in their relationship with me?” So for me, I think this was the main thing. Once I gave myself permission to be able to say, I can still be there for other people and be a good mother and be a good wife and be a good friend, and at the same time still do something that allows me to feel alive, because I think what tends to happen is that when I commit mainly to people or to responsibilities, I really commit and I really understand how much I need to give. So I think eventually it starts feeling like I'm giving too much of myself and I have to sacrifice a lot of time or lots of energy for others. And actually I realised that this is what I say to myself, because other people don't expect me to completely let go of my own dreams or my own ideas. And actually what I found around me is a lot of support and a lot of people going, “Yeah, we’ll still meet online. This is no big deal.” So it was mainly about giving myself that permission of saying, “I trust that people are going to be okay, that I'm going to be okay. And that I can do this.” The travelling itself didn’t really worry me because we visited a few different places and I always try to take it as, I might not fully feel like I can live in this place right now but I'm actually going to try to understand the place, understand the culture, understand the people and take as much of it as I can without wishing that it were different, or wishing that some situations were different. So the travelling didn't worry me, it was more about my relationships with people in my life that I was mainly fearful about.

Helen:

Your relationships. It sounds to me, so when you were talking there, I was thinking we have the inner critic within ourselves, and then there are the outer critics, people who are conveying their fears onto you because they have internal fears, and they're the ones saying, “Oh, it's never gonna work and don't do this.” But it seemed to me that when you were explaining it, it was only your inner critic and you were projecting your own inner critic onto your friends, so they were saying things but only in your head. Is that right? Have I understood that correctly?

Charlene:

Completely. I remember my main worry was, “How am I going to tell the therapists? How am I going to tell the psychology assistants?” And I had one to one meetings with each one of them and I tried to explain, “Okay, so this is what I'm thinking of doing. How do you feel about it? Let me know if there's anything that I can...” And I remember the reaction that I got was, “Why are you so worried? This is absolutely fine. Yeah, go ahead.” So I think we tend to be our own worst critics. And a lot of the time what I found is that if you test it with reality, if you get your words and your fears and the things that you think other people are thinking about, or seeing in you, and you say, “I got this feeling, I got this idea that you might be feeling this way because of something that I did or something I said. How do you feel about that?” And that you trust the person is going to tell you the truth, tell you how they see things and if there is something that they’re not okay with, they’ll let you know. And once you trust that, this isn't really a problem. So this was more in my head.

Helen:

So you would advise just speaking to people, speaking your fears, and listening to whatever comes back, and you might find that it's not as bad as you thought in the first place?

Charlene:

Yes, I always say if you come from a place of respect and love and of genuine care, then usually the replies that you get back are very authentic and very true to the person and that is information that you can trust. So, yes.

Helen:

I have a question, Charlene, about something that you said at the beginning, about when you decided to take this tour, because you said it's never the right time. First you wanted to study and then you wanted to work and then you opened your business and then you had a baby and so, it's never the right time. And previous guests have said this before, it's never going to be the right time, there's always going to be obstacles in the way. So I was just wondering, was there a specific thing that triggered you to say right, okay, November 2021, we're going to start it. Can you remember, or say something about that?

Charlene:

Yes, covid made a big difference. So before covid it wasn't really possible for me to do my work remotely. So even though there are people who carry out online therapy sessions, our sessions were usually carried out face to face. So covid changed a lot of things because it changed what we thought was never going to happen. So I remember when we were getting to know about the covid pandemic and what changes it would bring, in my mind it was, “This is impossible. It's impossible that a lot of things will come to a standstill, that a lot of services will change or stop.”. And once we understood that yes, actually something can happen and really change the way of living your life. It really got a lot of people into thinking, “Okay, so maybe there are certain things that I can also change that weren’t possible before.” And I see it a lot with my clients. A lot of people have to change something. And since the pandemic, they've done things that before they wouldn't have taken the plunge to do. So there was that, but also, it was because we realised that my son would soon be starting school. So we wanted to take this trip before he did that, before he started to get to know his friends. We didn't want to interfere with his schooling so we said, “Okay, now's the right time because he hasn't started school yet.” So we can take him out for nine months, which we wouldn't possibly be able to do once he started school. So that was the point where we said, “Okay, now's the time. This is when we should do it.” And maybe also our parents, thankfully, are still quite healthy and so we said, we want to go at a time where we know that we don't have to worry about our parents being unwell. And so, again it seemed like the right time. All things aligned and we said, “Okay, let’s do it.”

Maribel:

Wonderful. And once you started travelling, how do you manage? Did you have some kind of rituals or day to day, because I'm imagining… basically the question is how do you manage work and travel and changing every week? Doesn't that confuse your brain, or how is it for you and how do you deal with it?

Charlene:

So usually on any given week we have three full days of work. And then we have three or four days where we're travelling. It's usually three full days of work, three days where we travel and then one day where we're doing the moving from one place to another, so we're packing and we're changing. That's usually constitutes our week. When we work, we work very long hours, so I start work from seven to nine in the morning, then my husband works from nine to four, at which time, I usually take care of our son, the home and I cook. And then I work from four to eight or nine in the evening, and that's again when we do the switch, where my husband will take care of our son. So we have three full days of work and we don’t do much, maybe go for a walk here and there, but there's no travelling. And then on the other three days, we decide which three places or four places we’d like to visit in the area. And we usually plan it so that we're not more than an hour and a half or two hours away from the place where we'd like to visit. So again, the travelling by car is limited so that we're not constantly driving. And then on the seventh day, we usually pack our bags and we've managed to get packing down from somewhere like four hours to around two hours and we wake up early, we pack our bags and usually leave one Airbnb to go to the next one and we arrive there in the afternoon. Usually travelling days are easy days because we keep stress levels to a minimum by eating out or just making it as comfortable as possible, because we know that those days are usually a little bit more challenging. But it's not hard to leave a place and it's not hard to live with just a few bags, a few items of clothing, we really don't need anything else and again, we have a very limited number of clothes with us, number of things with us. We carry a bag that's our pantry, where we have some of our staples mainly for my son, the peanut butter, the things that he tends to need. And you actually start realising that you need much less to be able to live and be happy than I thought that I did before I started this journey.

Maribel:

Is it something that surprised you, that the more you travel, the more you realise, “Well, I don't need that, I can leave it” and it becomes less and less?

Charlene:

Completely. I think we could get rid of half of the things that we have now, now that we've been travelling for a while, because you start realising that if I haven't used something for the last two weeks, then it means that I don't need it. And again, you start realising that you adapt, you get by with a lot less. Throughout this journey I’ve also made it a point to read more and I've been reading a few books that have really influenced this idea. One of them is The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter. He talks about how, when we get used to being comfortable all the time, we feel worse because we're constantly wishing that we were more comfortable, wishing that we had AC, wishing that we had… and as soon as you let go of these wishes then you go… there were a lot of places for example, especially towards the north of Europe where it was very hot and we didn’t have a fan. And back in Malta I needed my AC to be able to work, I needed a good desk, a good chair. Now you realise you can do most things without actually having the necessary comforts we must have, or we think we must have.

Maribel:

I can imagine this experience not only being something special for your family but also, let's call it, self-searching or getting to know yourself better. What have you learned, besides knowing or realising that you need less stuff? What have you learned about yourself and how do you think this experience will impact your life? I know you're gonna have to be predicting now but…

Charlene:

I think I've learned… it's been a journey of self discovery. And I think as psychologists, I've been in therapy for many, many years. I’ve been in therapy since I was 18 on and off. And we do a lot of self-awareness, self-searching, and something that I've known to be true wherever I was, was that if I don't do at least 30 minutes of yoga or meditation four times a week, that I feel a difference in my mood, I feel a difference in my ability to be grateful, to make the most of things. So, for me, allowing some time for physical exercise and for meditation or for some time alone, I realise that this is important for me whether I'm in Malta, whether I’m travelling, whether I'm anywhere. Other than that, I've come to realise, I think what I'm really charged to do is to understand how I can provide myself with most of the things that I need in terms of support. So if there are some difficult feelings that I'm dealing with, or some challenges that I'm facing, I try to understand what I need to be able to face them with more certainty, with more peace of mind. And I try to do this basically by limiting challenges, or things that I’m going to challenge myself with, to a small amount of challenges at any given time. So for example, something that I challenged myself in in the last few months is public speaking. It's not something that I usually, I'm very much an introvert, so I challenged myself with that. And just keeping the balance between communicating and being with others and also spending time by myself and in my own company. So I think these are the things that I have really come to understand over the last few months.

Helen:

Talking about challenges, Charlene, I'd like to ask a technical, logistical question. So you said you're staying in Airbnbs during this tour. So that must have to be quite carefully planned because you need to know where you're going to the next stage. When you started talking, I had it in my head that you were in a campervan, which means you could stay wherever, but Airbnb, obviously there's a bit more logistical planning there. So I wonder if you could say something about that and also, whether there have been any challenges or obstacles along the way, either in connection with your accommodation or in anything else.

Charlene:

So we usually don't plan ahead. And again, that's something that we've set as a challenge for ourselves because we're big planners. So whenever we're going on holiday, we usually have an itinerary with where we're going for lunch, what we’re going to be doing. So we wanted this to be different. And we usually don't know where we're staying up until, let's say, two to three days before we get there. And we just trust that, so we have a budget, which is quite a low budget, considering that we're three people living in an apartment. We have a budget of 50 Euros per night. And we understand that we need to make some amendments, so that we're not in the centre of any city, we're usually in a rural area. But the thing is that we make sure that we have good WiFi because obviously we need it for work, a bedroom that is separate from the main living area mainly because of my work. So I need a place that allows me to be on my own, it's confidential. And that's mainly it. We haven't had any horror stories or anything that didn't work out. Again, maybe the thing that affected us most was not having a fan in some places, and maybe in some areas not having a place where there’s a playing field where we can take our dog out for a walk. But that's mainly it. We've adapted, we realise that wherever we are, no matter how nice the place is or how basic the place is, that we always adapt, and even there are times where we don't have washing machines, where we don't have an oven, but you adapt, you cook something else, you go to a launderette, you make do. So we usually don't know where we're staying until a few days before we get there.

Helen:

That sounds like a good attitude to have as well, to be able to adapt to whatever it is that turns up.

Charlene:

Yeah, it's helpful. If you want too many things, then you feel disappointed for most of the time and then you can’t really enjoy the experience of… We always say we'll enjoy whatever there is and we'll try to make the most of it and we've always found something in each place.

Maribel:

Do you think this is something that you'll do again some other time?

Charlene:

At the moment I'm looking forward to nesting. So I do want to get home and I do want to experience now the staying still and the being with friends and family. But it's really helpful to understand again how easy it is to be able to do something like this and we definitely do want to visit a few more places and do this again. So, yes, absolutely.

Maribel:

Are you proud of yourself?

Charlene:

I don't really associate the feeling with pride. I think I'm happy that I can be open and flexible to new situations and that, maybe I'm proud that I can try, that I give myself the possibility to try. I think maybe that's the feeling. I don't think I feel proud about the travelling, maybe I’m proud that I was able to take care of my son and make sure that his needs are met whilst we’re travelling, my commitment to my son has remained very much there. So maybe I’m proud of that.

Maribel:

Excellent. Helen, you have any other questions?

Helen:

No, Maribel, we can go ahead and ask the last one.

Maribel:

Okay. All right. So, you know our podcast is AudaciousNess and audacious is the part of having the audacity to go away for nine months and continue working. And the ‘ness’ means the solid grounding to do that audacious work that you're doing, or goal. So, our last question is, while you're pursuing this goal, where do you get the solid grounding to continue while everything else is literally on the move.

Charlene:

In gestalt we use a term called ‘ego function’. So basically, the idea is that ego function helps me to understand my actions. And then there's also a term called ‘personality function’ which means reminding yourself of who you are, of what you know, and of what you tend to do. So when everything is changing, if you go to that space, you're in meditation or when you're reflecting on yourself, reminding yourself of the things that you know you are, who you know you are, then you can go anywhere and you still have that grounding. So for example, with me, things I’ve tested over and over again in my life that I know to be true is that I am a psychologist, so I know that wherever I go, I can’t leave psychology too far behind because I always move towards it. My grounding is my role as a mother, my role as a wife. So by understanding who I am and who I am to others, I can then find a lot of stability and safety and security, even though everything else might be changing around me. That and the awareness that my control and my effect on the world around me is limited. So I don't have a lot of control for things to go in one particular way and that I just have to trust that I will be able to deal with whatever is presented to me when it does.

Maribel:

Thank you. Amazing. Thanks very much. It was a beautiful conversation, Charlene. Thank you for being here today with us.

Charlene:

Thank you for having me. I hope it was interesting for you and thank you so much for again asking such interesting questions that help me reflect on the experiences in life.

Helen:

You're very welcome, Charlene. Thank you.

Charlene:

Thanks a lot.

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About the Podcast

AudaciousNess
A solid grounding on which to practice your audacity.
AudaciousNess showcases individuals who have set themselves bold, audacious goals and have worked to achieve them. Our purpose is to inspire people to act with the courage to create a positive impact in the world.

Through interviewing 'regular people' about their audacious goals, we highlight the fact that role models are everywhere. Each and every one of us can have an impact in some way. Our goal is to enable a courageous community that honours their genius and lives their calling.

The name 'AudaciousNess' has two components: audacious, meaning 'bold', and ness, meaning 'a strip of land projecting into a body of water'. We believe having a solid grounding on which to practice your audacity is crucial, or, in the words of the great philosopher king Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, 4.49):

"Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it."

About your hosts

Maribel Ortega

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I help women find their worth and be confident so that they can use their voice, speak up, take new opportunities and ultimately lead fulfilled lives.

Helen Strong

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I run an eco-friendly, vegan B&B in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. This is just one of the many audacious goals I've pursued in my lifetime.