Today is the first of the nineteen days I have left, before the life I know is over.
I know it sounds a bit dramatic to identify this upcoming lengthy trip as a new life, but the way I see it the life I’m leaving here is not going to exist when I get back.
If you think about what defines a person’s experience in life, you’ll find it consists mostly of variables. Take the same person, but give them a different job, different routines, different social network and different outlook, and you end up with a different life. The personality at the center of it might stay more or less the same, but it too is evolving. Under different circumstances, certain parts of it will become more active, and other parts more dormant.
For example, if I’m going to be wandering foreign countries alone, my social skillset will need to be more active, and will gradually form a more prominent part of my personality. It’s adaptation, it just happens. The more unfamiliar the environment, the more one naturally adapts.
Just the same, if I find a different line of work, my math and engineering muscles will atrophy and weaken. Woe is me.
I’m 28 and I live with my mom!
I moved out of my apartment yesterday and will spend the remainder of my time in Winnipeg living at my mom’s. Already I am experiencing lifestyle changes. When I woke up this morning to do my usual slow shuffle to the bathroom, I became acutely aware that there was another person in the building. Suddenly I was more conscious of the amount of noise I was making, and whether I left the door open while I did my business.
It occurred to me that it will be a long time before I’m living somewhere that is solely my own space again. Accommodations in all three legs of my journey — BC, Thailand and New Zealand — will be shared in some way. Either I’ll be sleeping amongst other twentysomethings in a hostel, or surfing some almost-stranger’s couch. The freedom I’ve enjoyed as a bachelor insistent on living alone is now gone, for a long time. I had been so used to it. Gone!
Yesterday’s morning-routine adjustment is just a small taste of the lifestyle changes I’m bound to encounter over the next twelve months.
Some can be foreseen. For example, my diet can’t possibly stay the same; subsisting on tomato and avocado sandwiches won’t be terribly practical if I’m living out of a 40L backpack. After I leave Thailand, I won’t be able to afford restaurant meals. Will it be thrice-daily peanut butter sandwiches? My glorious pillowtop queen bed is just too bulky to fit in my backpack, so who knows what sleeping surfaces lie in my future.
But most changes will probably hit me over the head right in the moment they happen. I can try to picture how the day-to-day details of life will change, but any visions I have of places I haven’t been to can only consist of what is already in my head: scenes from movies, travel stories from friends, assumptions and beliefs. When I assemble all those mismatched bits to form a picture the next year of my life, the best I can achieve is speculative fiction.
If I were to stay with my job and regular routines, the next day’s unfoldings would be pretty easy to predict for the most part. But with these upcoming drastic changes to my surroundings, no matter what I do, life from here on in is a mystery.
This is Not Temporary
Of course I do plan to come back, so it might seem that this lifestyle change is temporary. Certainly the change of scenery is, but I will not be able (or willing) to resume quite the same life I left off. Too many things will have changed. Circles of friends have a way of mutating a bit over time, with some people moving away, having babies, breaking up, drifting apart. My evolving interests and values are urging me not to remain in Winnipeg, and not to work in the engineering industry.
The last two years (and especially the last six months) have given me dramatic shifts in perspective that don’t allow me to stay comfortable in my current routines. I’ve become overtaken with the compulsion to spend my time in different ways than I have most of my life.
I guess what I’m getting at is that the very consistent life I’ve been living for the last six years or so is disappearing in a hurry, and it isn’t coming back. Its days are numbered. Nineteen, to be exact.
Without the Routines, What is Left of You?
As with most cliches, the adage of traveling to ‘find yourself’ does make sense. I figure when you change your surroundings and your routines, familiar patterns drop away, and whatever is left over — the common threads that run through your life wherever you go — is you.
For example, after having spent a few months not drawing up engineering plans in an office for forty hours a week, I suspect I might find that I am not an engineering tech after all. It’s just something I did with my time, for a while. I’m excited to see what is left after I shed the regular roles I’ve fallen into. Yet when people ask, “engineering tech” what I tell them I am.
However, I may find I am still curious, still compelled to write, still in awe of civilization and nature. If those things survive the change, and I suspect they will, I can safely call them “me.”
I have heard of many instances of people who exit a particular role in their life, and struggle to comprehend who they are without it. The classic case is that of a mother whose kids grow up and move away, and they don’t know what to do with themselves.
I am learning that a crucial part of good health is to challenge the roles we find ourselves in, lest we become lost in them. We could all use a good shakeup now and then. The global economic woes are triggering existential crises of this sort in a lot of people, judging by the accounts we’ve been hearing. Twenty-five years as a staunch disciple for the same company, and suddenly they’re told that’s not who they are anymore. Financial concerns aside, that would be quite a shock to the system.
Emerson recognized this discouraging phenomenon over a hundred years ago:
“If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life.”
Best not to get attached, I suppose.
A precious few though, have used the recession as an opportunity for reinventing themselves, finally pursuing a livelihood that feels like them. And all it took was a drastic change in circumstance, and not a particularly welcome one. New, unfamiliar surroundings, for better or worse, and the willingness to adapt, can rescue a life from doldrums. Evolution at work.
Simmer and Stir Occasionally
Before I started blogging, “stagnant” was probably the best word to describe my life. I did the same things every day, acted on the same impulses, and the days flipped by without a lot of variation. The draw of comfort was the culprit. I set up my life to present the least resistance possible. So it never got too bad, and predictably, it never got too good.
But it’s friction that creates new forms. There is no adaptation, and therefore no progress, without resistance. Sandpaper creates a smooth and beautiful surface by making it difficult for the wood to pass by it. The sharp grit gouges, cuts and grinds, and paradoxically, it leaves a silken surface that is the opposite of rough and difficult.
For a career introvert like myself, negotiating my way through a different country is not always going to make for the most comfortable experiences.
In particular, job searching has always been a painful and intimidating experiences for me in my home country, and somehow I’m going to undertake it with no fixed address and two changes of clothes, and with my weirdo Canadian accent.
I’m virtually addicted to having my own established personal space, and I’ll be bunking with a grab bag of strangers every night, and sleeping on strange couches.
My lifeline will be a nylon backpack that someone else could pick up and run off with if I’m careless for a moment.
Overall, I’m super excited of course, but I know I’ll get some scrapes and gouges along the way. I am thrilled to find out though — after all that friction — what form I take when it’s over.
Photo by Loozrboy